100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

#58: Is Suicide and Euthanasia always wrong?

Suicide and Euthanasia are obviously somewhat related. One might choose to end their life for any number of reasons – that's suicide. In the case of Euthanasia, a person may choose to end their life because they are soon to die anyway from some painful disease or injury, and their immediate death will allow them to escape a long and painful one. But Euthanasia also includes the situation where the choice to end a person's life is made by someone else, in the name of mercy, because the patient is unable to speak for themselves, perhaps being in a coma. What these two things really have in common is that the time of one's death is chosen by some person and not by God.

The chief characteristics of God are justice and mercy. In the Bible, God instituted the death sentence for certain acts of disobedience. Really, this is killing for the sake of justice. The men who executed the death sentence were performing acts of justice, sanctioned by God. They needed to exercise godly wisdom in doing so; they had to judge the case carefully to establish the undeniable guilt of the offender, and execute them according to God's commandment. In parts of the Bible we read about people being put to death, and God approves of this judgement which is being executed upon them. But sometimes God does not approve, and will later avenge their deaths. Nevertheless, if God might approve of the death of someone in the name of justice, what about in the name of mercy?

The very purpose of death is to be a punishment for sin. For the unbeliever, there is no hope beyond death – the time for repentance is finished, and only eternal judgement awaits. Therefore, it is no act of mercy to cut off their life and seal their eternal fate. Rather, on their death bed and in their final days of suffering, they need the gospel more than ever. From what I understand, only having heard from various documentaries, even a person in a coma can hear and understand our voice. To have the gospel read to them is far better than to cut them off from their physical suffering.

What about the born again Christian suffering in their hospital bed? Since they are going to go on to heaven, should we relieve them of their suffering? The words of Paul come to mind...

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:23-24)

Paul is saying that it is, of course, better to be with the Lord; but for the sake of those we minister to, it is better to be here on the Earth. If God wanted us to be with Him, He would take us up to heaven the moment we were saved. But the reason we are here is to share the gospel with the world – to be a light to the world in how we live, and even in how we suffer and die. When we suffer and the world looks on, they ought to see the reality of our hope in Christ. But Paul isn't even speaking about his ministry to unbelievers, but is speaking to a Church of believers, saying that for their sakes he would rather stay on the Earth, “for your progress and joy in the faith”. The Christian life is about “endurance to the end”, despite whatever misfortune comes our way – a steadfast faith especially in the face of adversity. But if a patient is in a coma, in which they are unable to communicate anything to anybody, it seems acceptable to allow them to die naturally. I'm not getting into all of the hard cases here; it takes God-given wisdom to assess each case on its own. But I agree with many Christian ethicists; that allowing someone to die when it is time for them to die is quite different from taking their life.

What of suicide, then? Obviously, after what I've said about Euthanasia, it is never short of tragic for an unbeliever to take their own life, for whatever reason. For a Christian, again we've seen that endurance through all of life's hardships for the sake of others is better than departing from this world. We have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as mental illness and clinical depression which can lead to suicide, and while some Christians believe that no genuine Christian should suffer from these things, I don't agree. We live in a fallen world, and a Christian is just as susceptible to mental illness as they are to cancer or heart disease. I don't think that suicide is ever right. Again, it is better to suffer whatever hardship, whatever loss or grief, so that we can show how God upholds us through it. Whilst life might be unbearable now, God has a plan to glorify Himself through your experience.

Today's “memory verse” would be:

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)

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