Saturday, November 02, 2019

Your life is not your own

You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). 

1. Scripture says nothing directly about the permissibility or impermissibility of suicide, so evangelicals fall back on inferences from general biblical principles and cautionary tales in Scripture. 

1 Cor 6:19-20 is cited as an indirect prooftext to show that suicide is intrinsically wrong. I'll get to that in a moment.

My own position is that suicide is a special case of taking human life in general, like other special cases of taking human life. Taking human life is generally wrong, but there are exceptions, like executing a murderer or killing a sniper to save the school children. 

By the same token, I think suicide is prima-facie wrong, but there are situations where that's overridden. Take the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to shield his comrades from being killed or maimed. That's altruistic suicide.

If you think suicide is intrinsically wrong, you might be conflicted about that example. Presumably, you think what the soldier did was noble. You don't wish to condemn him. So you might try to classify his action as something else. But I think that's special pleading. The only reason to classify it as something else is if you think suicide is necessarily wrong.

If, on the other hand, you think suicide is contingently wrong, then circumstances determine the morality or immorality of that action. BTW, I'm not saying circumstances determine the morality or immorality of every action. Some actions are intrinsically wrong. They can't be justified by good results or the avoidance of bad results.

2. Back to the prooftext. It lays out a general principle that's germane to suicide (among other things). But does it make suicide inherently wrong?

St. Paul himself had a high-risk lifestyle. When he was initially put on trial he had a chance to get off on a technicality. But instead he appealed to Caesar because he wanted to witness to the Roman higher echelon. He deliberately endangered his life when he had an out. And, indeed, he died a martyr. 

The problem with the appeal to 1 Cor 6:19-20 to prove that suicide is always wrong is that it fails to distinguish between putting yourself in harm's way and putting others in harm's way. There are situations where it's permissible or obligatory to endanger yourself to save another or others but impermissible to endanger others. That despite situations where both of belong to God, you were bought with a price. 

Suppose a man and a woman are waiting for an elevator when they're approached by gang members. In one scenario, the man rushes into the elevator, but pushes the woman away, to make his escape while they direct their attention at the hapless woman. In another scenario, he pushes the woman into the elevator and confronts the gang, even though he's outnumbered and bound to lose–to buy her time to escape.

Even if, in both cases, their life is not their own, there's still a moral difference between risky heroism and risking the life of another. So the general principle is too indiscriminate to rule out suicide regardless of the circumstances. 


  1. Some of the Puritans called suicide self-murder. They would cite 1 John 3:15 which says, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Based on that verse some argued that self-murderers will not enter the Kingdom of God because they did not have eternal life, and were therefore not regenerated. I think that's too simplistic.

    However I do think that Christians are generally way too quick to conclude and pronounce that such and such a person who successfully committed suicide went to heaven. For two reasons. 1. The person may not have entered heaven, and 2. Readily saying so plants seeds in people's minds that may eventually lead some to justify their own unforeseen/unplanned future suicides. Some of these people aren't truly saved and end up in hell, and those who are may be severely reprimanded by the Lord in the afterlife.

    Even in cases where suicide might possibly be justified [given the assumption that ordinary providence will continue to move along its natural course], I suspect in many (not all) cases doing so would be instances unbelief or a lack of faith. Since God's special providence or (greater) extra-ordinary providence might kick in just in time. Though, admittedly, in many instances you can't predict or ensure a positive answer to prayer. For example, God might still heal a terminally ill and/or chronically pained patient. Or, God might still provide abundantly for a family who otherwise might lose all their savings paying for medical intervention if (say) a father doesn't commit secret suicide and thereby provide for his family through insurance. The latter might involve the intention of fraud.

    In such instances it might make a lot of common sense to commit suicide, but faith sometimes goes contrary to common sense. And Christian ethics, while necessarily taking into account consequences, isn't consequentialist in its morality. So, my general advice is to avoid suicide if at all possible. Since you may end up in hell unexpectedly. The suicide itself might be an act of apostasy. While I strongly hold to the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, I'm not absolutely dogmatic on it. It's logically possible for unconditional election to be true AND genuine believers can permanently fall away and end up in hell. General Augustinianism (as found in Augustine, Aquinas, Luther et al.) affirms both possibilities. One's eternal destiny is not something to bet on based on a doctrine of perseverance that's only been around since 16th century. The perseverance of all the Saints, is not equivalent to the perseverance of only the Elect. The latter is broadly Augustinian, the former is narrowly Calvinistic.

    In the case of jumping on a grenade or other similar cases, one is actually doing so, not in selfishness, but to protect other people's lives in keeping with the spirit of John 15:13. The father who's thinking of committing suicide to financially protect his family might see it as a fulfillment of the same verse. But preventing the likely injury and death of comrades, is not exactly equivalent to preventing poverty and debt of family members.

    1. Yes, we should avoid the opposite extremes of assuming that someone who commits suicide presumptively went to heaven or presumptively went to hell.

  2. I wonder about someone who is terminally ill or consumed with depression praying that God will end their life if that is the same heart as suicide. Or if it's not trusting God or something along those lines.