1999 James A. Fowler
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I. Biblical references to "suicide"
A. Word "suicide" not used
in NASB or KJV
B. Biblical accounts of persons taking
their own lives, or attempting to do so
9:50-57 - Abimilech severely injured; seeks assisted suicide
motivated by gender pride, male
ego, not wanting death to be caused by a woman.
16:21-31 - Samson causes own death in enemy camp, motivated by
the avenging of their
torture of him.
31:1-7 - Saul and armor bearer fall on their swords after Saul
was injured in battle and did
not want to be taken by the enemy and tortured.
17:23 - Ahithophel strangled himself after his military counsel
was rejected by David
16:15-20 - Zimri defeated in battle, sets his house afire and
dies therein to avoid capture.
- Jonah seems to have attempted suicide by jumping into the sea.
- Judas hung himself in remorse for having betrayed Jesus.
C. Passages used to evaluate suicide
20:13; Deut 5:17 - "You shall not murder"
30:19 - "choose life in order that you may live..."
1:21 - "the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away"
16:27,28 - "jailer was about to kill himself, but Paul said,
'Do yourself no harm..."
Cor. 6:19 - "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
who is in you...you are not your own"
5:29 - "no man ever hated his own flesh"
Jn. 3:15 - "no murderer has eternal life abiding in him"
8:34,35 - "take up cross, and follow Me. ...Whoever loses
his life for My sake and the gospel's
shall save it"
13:37 - "I will lay down my life for You"
15:13 - "Greater love has no one than to lay down his life
for his friends"
5:7 - "one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps
for the good man someone
would dare even to die"
14:7 - "not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies
1:21 - "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain"
Jn. 3:16 - "He laid down His life for us; and we ought to
lay down our lives for the brethren"
2:13; 20:4 - martyrdom
Biblical accounts do not present a definitive evaluation of suicide
in their context, and the
other passages are not directly related to suicide contextually.
II. Brief history of interpretation in the Church
A. Some early church writers in their
encouragement of martyrdom seem to accept suicide
B. Other writers cautioned against suicide
C. Augustine used Exod. 20:13 to prove
that suicide was sin of self-murder
1. no possibility
D. Thomas Aquinas added arguments against
nature's law of self-preservation
God has right to give and take away life
E. John Donne (English writer, 17th cent.)
first to argue for positive perspective of suicide.
III. Attempting a definition of "suicide"
A. English word "suicide"
is etymologically derived from two Latin words: sui =
= to kill.
B. Inclusive definition: "the taking
of one's own life, or causing it to be taken by another, inclusive
motive, circumstance, or method used."
1. By this
definition all of the Biblical accounts (cf. I.B.) would qualify
as suicide or attempted suicide.
Is it possible to so focus on a self-oriented perspective of
self- preservation, that one diminishes
an other-oriented perspective of God's love?
Is it possible to so posit an inordinate value of human life,
that we diminish the ultimate value
of life beyond this life?
Is it possible to be so involved in legalistic determinations
of moral right and wrong, that we
lose sight of God's eternal perspective and character?
C. Exclusive definitions
- "the taking of one's own life, or causing it to be taken
by another, exclusive of the
willing death of martyrdom for God, deference for the lives of
others in love, or the avoidance
of undue torture and suffering."
- "the taking of one's own life, or causing it to be taken
by another, exclusive of any
evaluative explanation since every man has an autonomous 'right
of the Biblical accounts (cf. I.B.) would qualify as suicide
or attempted suicide by these
Is it possible to so focus on the human-oriented determination
of life and death, that we diminish
the divine prerogative and determinations of life and death?
Is it possible to so emphasize the altruistic and other- oriented
motivations for the taking of
one's life, that we diminish the divine determinations of His
Is it possible that our human evaluations of the situation are
so limited by finiteness and self-concern
that we might fail to understand God's supernatural options?
D. Factors to consider in defining "suicide"
Is subject a rational, competent decision maker?
Is there a desire and determination to die?
Does the subject intent to terminate his/her own life?
Not just power to avoid such, but willing intent and choice to
Is the subject fully appraised and cognizant of the situation?
Has subject been made to feel guilty about living, breathing,
taking up a bed, medicine, resources?
Must be free of any pressured or forced coercion.
Freely chosen determination to act in direct causation of that
which would be a means to one's
own end in death.
Is there a self-oriented motive for the self-destructive act?
Do other-oriented motives reduce culpability, changing suicide
into sacrificial acts or martyrdom?
What qualifies as an other-oriented motive?
welfare of animals?
psychological welfare of others?
convenience of others?
IV. Attempting a Christian evaluation of "suicide"
A. Differing world-views contribute
to one's perspective of "suicide"
or humanistic world-view
God is not part of the equation
Man is autonomous and independent
right to determine own destiny; right to die
Human life is a result of evolutionary process
evaluated physically and psychologically
strive for "quality of life"
objective: to be as productive as possible in bettering the conditions
Utilitarian motivations in life and death
"do what you think and feel you have to do"
avoid inconvenience to others, that they might pursue their "quality
when you are no longer useful to yourself or others, get out
of the way.
or Christian world-view
God alone is autonomous and independent
God gives and God takes away
God is the owner/operator of His creation
Man is derivative and dependent
man has freedom of choice in his derivation
sin is a result of man's attempt to usurp God's prerogative,
to "be like God," and to self-determine
his own life and death
Human life is God's creation; a God-given gift - Neh. 9:6
evaluated physically, psychologically & spiritually
teleology of life is prime concern
objective: to glorify God - Isa. 43:7
Ontological motivations in life and death
to be and do what God wants to be and do in us
receptive to express God's character in all situations
trust God to determine duration and destiny
B. Evaluating "suicide" in
light of God's revelation
The action of taking one's own life when self-determined (with
intent), self-caused (without
coercion), and self- concerned (without concern for others) is
a very selfish act.
It is a final and ultimate selfish act, without opportunity for
repentance or recovery.
Selfish acts are sinful acts; self-interest is a basic factor
Satan, the Destroyer, tempts man
personal aspiration, gratification, reputation
fight, fright, flight responses to life's situations
to take God into account.
Self-determined taking of one's life fails or refuses to recognize
the possibilities of God's action
by natural processes
by supernatural or miraculous processes
Suicide preempts the opportunity for God to act in the situation.
Self-concern of suicide fails to recognize that there can be
divine purposes in suffering.
to take others into account.
The sinfulness of self-concern is contrary to the Love of God
in concern for others.
Suicide usually harms and damages others, contrary to love
left "holding the bag," "picking up the pieces"
often questioning or blaming themselves
the living have to deal with the consequences
Suicidal persons fail to recognize community responsibility
every person is part of community - family, social network, church,
"we are in it together," "no man is an island,"
"what one does affects us all"
and ultimate destiny
Traditional, fundamentalist, literalist interpretation
"You shall not murder" - Exod. 20:13
Suicide is self-murder
"no murderer has eternal life" - I Jn. 3:15
No one who commits suicide will go to heaven
Suicide is unforgivable sin.
Compassionate Christian perspective
God's love reaches out to those who are self-absorbed and desperate.
The love of God in Christians should reach out in love, compassion,
sympathy and empathy
to those who regard their pain and pressures as overwhelming.
It is not our place to attempt to determine eternal destiny for
another. (Samson regarded
as one of the faithful - Heb. 11:24)
V. Relationship of "suicide" to other behaviors
A. Self-destructive behaviors in general
Mentally destructive - drugs, alcohol
Emotionally destructive - schizophrenia, fantasy, unreality
Spiritually destructive - witchcraft, occult
Morally destructive - immorality
Socially destructive - desertion, dereliction, crime
Physically destructive - masochism, suicide
these to be evaluated in the same manner as "suicide"
etymologically derived from two Greek words: eu = good;
thanatos = death.
was originally used to refer to keeping terminally ill patients
free of pain during last
days of life. Palliative care. Cf. Prov. 31:6
"passive euthanasia" might be called "mercy-dying"
usage predominantly refers to "active euthanasia" or
"mercy-killing," an active
involvement in bringing about death.
euthanasia" obviously relates to "suicide" or
for such usually use same naturalistic/humanistic premises of
an unlimited definition
of suicide with its premises of a "right to die."