Calvary Road Baptist Church

“TO BE OR NOT TO BE? – A Consideration Of Self-Murder”

 

“A 29-year-old Oregon woman chose to end her life on Saturday by doctor-assisted suicide. Brittany Maynard, who had stage four brain cancer, was an advocate for Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit that supports the right-to-die movement and the 1997 Death with Dignity Act, a law that permits adults with terminal illnesses to voluntarily end their lives with lethal medication.

 

Maynard, who was diagnosed Jan. 1 and told she had six months to live in April, moved from California to Oregon, where the law allowed her the choice of ending her own life. Since she learned of her condition, she spearheaded a campaign with Compassion & Choices to spread awareness of the right-to-die movement.”[1]

 

The term suicide is derived from two Latin words that have been combined and is the act of killing oneself intentionally.[2] At the risk of sounding harsh, but for the purpose of being absolutely clear and unequivocal, suicide is actually self-murder. On November 1, 2014 Brittany Maynard became a murderer by murdering herself. I urge you to consider the truth of this morning’s message, and to do your best to address the factuality of what I say rather than being offended by a breach of your sensitivities.

It is a harsh subject to address on a Sunday morning in church, but there is no better place to deal with life and death issues with the kind of clarity that only the Word of God provides than in the church house under the oversight of Almighty God. I will do my very best to be respectful and careful with the facts. I am old enough to remember when suicide was catapulted to our nation’s consciousness in the 1980s and 1990s by a Detroit pathologist named Jack Kevorkian, who was prosecuted four times, whose medical license was revoked, and who was eventually sent to prison for his activities related to the assisted suicides of several people diagnosed with terminal illnesses.[3] Kevorkian’s attempts to popularize physician assisted suicide were affected by his very strange appearance and manner.

It should be recognized that historically Christian countries are most usually nations that enforce laws against suicide, even when suicides are assisted by physicians to end the life of a terminally ill patient. However, an increasing number of states in the United States of late are legalizing physician assisted suicide, and the same is true in other countries.

 

“In Europe there are four countries who have legalised either euthanasia, assisted suicide, or both; the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland. Euthanasia is when a doctor intentionally ends the life of a patient and assisted suicide is where the doctor prescribes lethal drugs for the patient to take under their own steam.

 

In Belgium there’s been a 5,000% increase in the number of annual euthanasia cases recorded since the first year in 2002 and the Belgium Federal Parliament are now attempting to widen the boundaries to include gravely ill children.”[4]

 

This would enable doctors to end the lives of sick kids or kids born with severe birth defects without seeking anyone’s permission. Of course, Japan has a long history of socially acceptable suicide, as do all of the Muslim countries because of Islamic encouragement of suicide during jihad or holy war as a guarantee of entering Paradise.[5] However, in the West suicide, the murder of self, is looked upon quite differently than in the Far East and in the Muslim world, where killing yourself is thought to be acceptable so long as you are also killing infidels in a holy war by the same act. Muslims call it jihad. The Japanese call it kamikaze.

Our Western understanding of the evil of suicide began when the LORD gave the ten commands atop Mount Sinai to Moses, with the sixth command being “Thou shalt not kill,” Exodus 20.13. Of course, that command is not an absolute prohibition against ever taking human life, since death by execution was mandated by God for certain crimes.[6] However, suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is certainly included in this sixth command. We also read in the Bible of King Saul, Israel’s first king, while mortally wounded by enemy arrows, committing suicide by falling on his sword to avoid being taken alive by the Philistines in battle.[7] However, is that really suicide or is that a general denying his enemy a moral victory when they were certain to win a victory on the field of battle and when his fate was already sealed? In 73 AD, a Roman legion laid siege to Masada to subdue the Jewish rebels who held that desert mountaintop fortress. When the main gate of the fortress was breached and Romans entered, Jewish historian Josephus writes that they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had committed mass suicide.[8] Such suicides among the Jewish people are quite rare.

It is interesting to take note of the way the cultural winds are blowing regarding self-murder these days in the West. Remember, the law in Oregon permitting physician assisted self-murder is labeled the Death with Dignity Act. Increasingly, we see evidence that it is thought by secularists and those influenced by them to be a noble thing for someone to “seize control” of adverse circumstances that overtake them by murdering themselves rather than enduring the so-called humiliation of continuing in a disease-ravaged body and wasting away until death takes you. However, I take serious exception to that portrayal of self-murder. I do not see those who murder themselves as either courageous or noble. Let me list a considerable number of fairly well known people who have by one method or another murdered themselves:

 

ź  In 30 BC Roman politician and general Mark Antony murdered himself by sword.

ź  In 30 BC Cleopatra committed suicide by poison snake bite.

ź  Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh shot himself to death in 1890.

ź  Chicago gangster and successor to Al Capone Frank Nitti killed himself in 1943 with a gunshot to the head.

ź  Nazi Gestapo leader Heinrich Himmler killed himself with cyanide in 1945.

ź  In 1945 Eva Braun, wife of Adolf Hitler, committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.

ź  Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide by gunshot in 1945.

ź  Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head with a shotgun in 1961.

ź  In 1973 Salvador Allende, president of Chile, shot himself during a coup d’état.

ź  Freddie Prinze, American actor and comedian, killed himself with a gun in 1977.

ź  In 1978 French actor Charles Boyer killed himself with a drug overdose.

ź  In 1989 Abbie Hoffman killed himself with an overdose of phenobarbital.

ź  In 1994 Kurt Cobain killed himself by a shotgun blast to the head.

ź  American actor Brian Keith shot himself to death in 1997.

ź  On 9/11/2001 Mohamed Atta, Egyptian member of Al-Qaeda, and leader of the hijackers, died in a plane crash.

ź  American actor David Carradine killed himself by hanging in 2009.

ź  Don Cornelius, the creator and host of the Soul Train, shot himself to death in 2012.

ź  English film director Tony Scott killed himself by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles in 2012.

ź  All-Pro football player Junior Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest in 2012.

ź  Of course, Robin Williams hung himself this year.

 

Do any of these famous self-murders strike you as noble deeds or as selfless acts of bravery? I think we will agree that what normally comes to mind in the case of suicide, when there is a self-murder, is quite different than those poor souls who jumped from the twin towers on 9/11 when they chose certain painless death by falling over certain painful death by fire. The same is true of the selfless soldier who throws himself on a hand grenade, choosing to confine the lethal explosion to himself to avoid at the expense of his own life the deaths of his brothers in arms. Such cases as I have mentioned are not really suicides, but are immediate decisions made by individuals who have no option about their own imminent death.

Suicide is most usually the permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is so serious a matter that William Shakespeare chose to address the issue in at least two of his plays, “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet.” You will remember that two young Italian lovers, Romeo and Juliet, both ended up committing suicide. Romeo drank poison and died, after which Juliet stabbed herself to death with a knife.”[9] In Hamlet Shakespeare writes the very famous line, “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” At this point in the play the character Hamlet is contemplating, or at least talking about suicide.[10] For all his talk of suicide in the play, however, Shakespeare’s end for Hamlet comes in a duel.[11] Make no mistake about it. In Shakespeare’s world, and in the setting of those two plays, suicide was a mortal sin that resulted in the certainty of Hell for those who took their own lives. “John Bunyan, the renowned English Puritan preacher [and author born twelve years after Shakespeare died], made his views on suicide clear in his famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. When the main character, Christian, and his companion, Hopeful, are held prisoner in Doubting Castle, Hopeful responds this way to Christian’s desire to die: ‘He that kills another can but commit murder upon his body, but for one to kill himself, is to kill body and soul at once … but let us not be our own murderers.’”[12]

It is very clear that suicide is viewed very differently by different groups of people. However, variation of opinion does not suggest any lack of clarity in the Bible. Taking the life of any human being on one’s own authority except in self-defense or the defense of another is wrong. Taking one’s own life is also clearly a violation of God’s will as revealed in the Bible. Human life is sacred, and while God has granted to human government the authority to wield the sword of justice (even to the authority to take life after due process of law), He has not granted that authority to individuals, except to defend the lives of the innocent.[13]

All this said, there are really two considerations I would like to set before you with respect to this very serious matter of suicide:

 

First, THERE IS THE SUBJECT OF SUICIDE WITH RESPECT TO THOSE WHO ARE LOST

 

Dispute it all you want, the Lord Jesus Christ declared that He came to seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19.10. That means, if you have not trusted Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your eternal and undying soul . . . you are lost. You may not think you are lost or feel that you are lost, but the Lord Jesus Christ declared that you are lost. Deny it if you want to. Dispute it if you think you need to. The fact remains; the eternal Son of the living God has clearly stated that if you are not His and He is not yours . . . you are lost. The practical spiritual outworking of that situation in the here and now is that you have no hope, Ephesians 2.12. You have no confident expectation of the blessings of God in the future based upon His promises. God does not figure in your thoughts, dreams, or aspirations, and He is not a deciding factor in any of your decisions. Therefore, all of your thoughts are about the present and your immediate future this side of death.

Thus, the upshot of being lost is that you have no connection with God. Being lost, though you give little serious thought to the matter, your eternal destiny is unalterably one of ceaseless and endless torment in the lake of fire. That means, when you die (notice I did not say if) you will pass through the portal of death and enter the eternal state, of which there are two varieties and only two varieties. Either you will be in glory for ever and ever, an eternity of bliss, or you will be in outer darkness, the bottomless pit, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. However, having no connection with God, there is no possibility of heaven for you.

What does this have to do with suicide, with taking your own life, with self-murder? A great deal, I assure you. Suppose you are thoroughly embarrassed by your own folly and you are arrested for a crime, shamed by it in front of those you love, or you find yourself considering a future that you feel you simply cannot face. You are that person who fears men or the opinions of men but who does not fear God. However bad it seems to be for you, I promise that when you die it will not only be infinitely worse, it will be forever. Thus, suicide for someone who is suffering humiliation will lead to an eternity of infinitely worse shame . . . and torment. You will wish (too late) you had feared God rather than fearing any man or all men. Then there is the case of someone who is diagnosed with a terminal and debilitating disease. The temptation by some who are faced with such is suicide as a way of avoiding pain and suffering. That is what happened with Robin Williams and Brittany Maynard. They feared disease rather than fearing God. They murdered themselves so they could avoid the humiliation of wasting away in front of their loved ones, and to put an end to their anticipated pain. However, the suicide of anyone who is unsaved guarantees “shame and everlasting contempt,” Daniel 12.2. Thus, whether it is self-murder to avoid the humiliation of suffering the consequences of despicable deeds (shame for having done great wrong), or an attempt to cut short what is anticipated to be great pain and suffering, suicide in fact has exactly the opposite effect. Successful murder of oneself makes death and the entrance to eternity immediate. For a lost person, going immediately to Hell is never an improvement. Hell, and then the lake of fire, God’s unending vengeance, is always and in every case infinitely worse and more agonizing in the next life than any kind of suffering can ever be in this life.

Thus, the last thing the lost person should do is expedite his own death by killing himself. He should rather put his death off as long as he possibly can, because the worst possible experiences this side of death can only be so much better for the Christ rejecter than anything he must endure forever in the next life.

 

Then, THERE IS THE SUBJECT OF SUICIDE WITH RESPECT TO THE SAVED

 

I know there are always those who argue that it is possible for someone to be a Christian and to commit suicide, to be guilty of self-murder. However possible such a thing is, it is highly unlikely and a very remote possibility. Let me tell you why:

First, the Christian is not without hope. The Christian has hope. This hope is demonstrated in the believer’s life, especially in the worst of times. A believer in Jesus Christ has been given a new heart and promises about not only his present life, but also his future life. A believer in Jesus Christ is also indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.[14] What does this mean? It means that though we can become discouraged, we can also hope, Psalm 42.4:

 

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God.”

 

Psalm 43.5:

 

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God.”

 

Further, it means that not only can the child of God have hope in God, but that our God is our hope, Psalm 146.5:

 

“Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God.”

 

Consider also Romans 5.1-5 to see the relationship between our faith in Christ and hope:

 

1      Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2      By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3      And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

4      And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5      And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

 

As well, there is an aspect of our hope which is nothing less than the return of our Lord Jesus Christ for us, Titus 2.13:

 

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

 

Not only is the Christian not without hope, not only does the Christian have hope for better things in the future (no matter what), but the Object of our faith the Lord Jesus Christ is in a very real sense and based upon His glorious appearing our blessed hope. What does this mean, this hope we have? Someone with hope does not kill himself. No matter how great the suffering or anguish of soul, no one with hope engages in self murder. Why not? He has hope, he hopes, and his Savior is hope. Consider what believers in Jesus Christ come to understand, Romans 8.17-18:

 

17    And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

18    For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 

As well, the Christian has purpose. Granted, sometimes our sense of purpose is clouded by events at hand, by great suffering, and by profound discouragement. Nevertheless, we know whose we are and why we are here. Revelation 4.11 is very clear about that:

 

“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

 

We exist for God, not for ourselves. We were created by God and we were created for God, not for ourselves. His glory is our absolute highest purpose and is the driving compulsion that should motivate every child of God. And what is the best way to glorify God? According to His own Son, it is to bear fruit, John 15.8, where the Savior said,

 

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

 

Since salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, the child of God seeks to witness to the lost, seeks to testify of God’s goodness and greatness, and seeks to minister grace by the spoken word to those around him, both saved and lost, Ephesians 4.29:

 

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

 

I say all that to say this about the Christian’s hope and purpose: When the child of God finds himself overwhelmed by affliction of some kind, perhaps even a painful bout with a terminal illness, he considers more than just himself and his suffering. He reflects on God’s design for his life in such experiences, and how he might glorify God during such trials. He recognizes that great affliction is a very effective platform from which to speak to others about God’s grace, God’s love, God’s sufficiency, and the comfort and peace of mind and heart that comes from having your sins forgiven and a place reserved for you by the Savior in heaven. This is not to deny the pain of suffering, or the discouragement that can sometimes overwhelm even the strongest and most mature of believers. However, it is to recognize that it is not all about you. It is never just about you. It is always and ever about God, about His Son Jesus Christ, and about those God enables you to minister to for His glory even when circumstances seem darkest. At such times, God’s people may not always know how do to what we should do, but we have a good idea what we should do. Therefore, all the while praying, and with encouragement from God’s Word and other Christians, we speak and seek to minister God’s grace to other people. Does a Christian choose to murder himself? Not at all likely. Not so long as he has hope. And certainly not while he has ongoing opportunities to minister grace to a doctor, to a nurse, to a physical therapist or respiratory therapist, to a spouse, to a child or other family member, or to a friend or coworker. Life is no accident and the events of our lives are not coincidental, are not related to either luck or karma, but are the result of the unseen hand of the invisible God moving in the affairs of men to accomplish His purpose. That, my friend, is God’s Providence. And Christians bow to God’s Providence and respond to the opportunities afforded by His Providence to bless others and to glory our great God and Father.

 

Because of the advance of technology, patients afflicted with terminal diseases these days often face complex choices not faced by the sick, the aged, or the infirm in days gone by. Therefore, there are sometimes decisions that have to be made by those suffering terminal illnesses. May God grant wisdom to those who seek such wisdom from Him.

When faced with terminal cancer, or some other terminal disease, do you fight it or do you give in to it? If you choose not to go through debilitating chemotherapy that may make you so violently ill that you are physically alive but incapable of ministering grace to anyone, without much more than the slightest hope of surviving, is either option really a choice between suicide or not? I am not so sure. As simple as the definition of suicide seems to be at a superficial level, a bit of thought suggests that in reality suicide, self-murder, is the act of someone who has given up all hope, is the act of someone who for the most part seems to be thinking about himself, and is the act of someone who thinks that by murdering himself he is escaping certain consequences, such as shame or pain.

The soldier who throws himself on a hand grenade to save the lives of his buddies is not committing suicide. He is not seeking to escape anything. In like fashion does the child of God sometimes opt for one type of response to a terminal illness over another type of response. I think it boils down to this consideration: Is the person who makes a choice that affects the length of his life seeking to avoid the consequences of a sin, seeking to cut short his opportunity to minister grace to others, or seizing upon a choice based upon faulty premises (such as thinking there is no God, or there is no afterlife)? Generally speaking, self-murder is a sin that one would not expect a believer in Jesus Christ to commit. Suicide is the act of someone who has no hope. It is the act of a person seeking to exercise personal sovereignty while failing to bow to God’s sovereignty regarding the timing and the manner of his death. It is the selection of quality of life issues as being more important than the sanctity of life and God’s right to give and to take life.

This message on the topic of suicide is not comprehensive, but seeks only to show in broad strokes some of the more important considerations related to this issue of suicide. Know this, my friend. Your life is important because you are important, because you bear the image and likeness of Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. Therefore, even if you do not approve of the quality of your life, your life is still sacred to God. It may very well be that if you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, what God takes you through at the end of your time here on earth is designed to bring clarity, to bring into sharp focus, truths and realities you have been to this point unwilling or unable to address. Let us therefore urge people not to take their own lives, not to murder themselves, but to seek the LORD while he may be found.



[2] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1822.

[5] Abd El Schafi, Behind The Veil: Unmasking Islam, published in secret in 1996, page 281.

[6] Genesis 9.6; Exodus 21.12

[7] 1 Samuel 31.1-5

[9] Margaret Drabble, editor, The Oxford Companion To English Literature, (New York: Oxford University Press, Fifth Edition, 1985), pages 843-844.

[10] Shmoop Editorial Team. “To be or not to be.” Shmoop.com . Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

[11] Oxford Companion, page 430.

[13] Romans 13.4

[14] Romans 8.9


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org