Updated Friday, Aug 22, 2003

SUICIDE


Sub-Headings:

The Bible Speaks!
What Other Literature Says
Where Does the Bible Mention Suicide?

An Extra-Biblical Account - Josephus
Early Christian Suicides
Last Comments


Related Articles


The Bible Speaks!

It is interesting that most people are not aware of some of the more pessimistic views of God's servants. It will help us in trying to understand suicide. I will start with Job chap. 3. In this chapter, Job complains and mourns about the day he was born. To him, birth and life were a curse, something to lament and regret. He states how wonderful death might be as it would bring peace and an end to suffering. Verse 3 reads:

"Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night which said, A man child has been conceived."

And verse 11: "Why did I not die from the womb, come from the womb and expire? Why did the knees go before me; or why the breasts, that I should suck? For now I would have lain down and have been quiet; I would have slept." [Jay Green's Literal Translation].

Job is expressing that he wished life would have passed him by. He would have preferred to have missed it and be at peace. Life was not wonderful for him; it was a curse. This chapter is loaded with beautiful language expressing a deep message of how life can be quite bitter. It was not desirable to him, anyway. And Job was said to be a faithful servant of high standing with God.

Next, let's look at Jeremiah 20:14 for his view:

"Cursed is the day in which I was born; let not the day in which my mother bore me be blessed. Cursed is the man who brought news to my father, saying, A man child is born to you; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which Jehovah overthrew, and did not repent. And let him hear a cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontime; because he did not kill me from the womb; and that my mother would have been my grave, and her womb always great with me. Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and my days consumed in shame." [Jay Green's Literal Translation].

Pretty powerful sentiments to come from a prophet of a God who supposedly forbids abortion, isn't it? Solomon, the wise king of the Bible and writer of Ecclesiastes expressed this in Ecclesiastes 1:18 - "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he increasing knowledge increases pain." [Green's Literal Translation].

As Solomon contemplated the absurdity of life, the vanity of it, the insanity of it, he exclaimed in chap. 2:17 - "So then I hated life; because the work that is done under the sun is evil to me; for all is vanity and striving after wind." [Jay Green's Literal Translation].

Solomon next states in Ecclesiastes 4:1:

"Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive: but better than both is he who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun." [Revised Standard Version].

Well, I think that blows a rather sizable hole in the idea that life is nothing but wonderful and everyone should want it for themselves and for others. Some of us might have preferred to have been spared the misery of life. This seems to be the sentiment of Solomon, anyway.

All these writers and servants of God express a curiously morbid sense of life; that it was something to be despised, deplored, even rejected. Something you might want to spare someone from having to go through. A person feeling this way might feel that sparing a child birth into this world and into this life would be showing them kindness and mercy. And often, this may be the case.

What a contrast between what the Bible expresses in regards to life from what someone on the Religious Right has to say. They seem to feel that life is nothing but beautiful and a blessing and why would anyone not want it. And there is nothing wrong with that view. One is very blessed to never have experienced the more bitter side of life. But hopefully, our bliss will not blind us to the fact that like many servants of God, some people may have experienced the more painful side of life which makes it hard to continue to love life and see it as a blessing. The Bible passages of God's servants should demonstrate that life can be viewed in more than one way depending on how fortunate you are. Do not judge one another on how you view life. God certainly intended it to be a blessing but since our rebellion in the Garden of Eden, it has not always been that way and God knows that as does His servants, too. That is why their views are in the Bible for us to read.


What Other Literature Says
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I am going to start off with an episode from the history recorded by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Xerxes, the King of Persia had just got done surveying his military forces from upon a hill and was afterward seen by his uncle weeping and his uncle Artabanus had inquired as to why when Xerxes replied:

"Commiseration seized me when I considered how brief all human life is, since of these, numerous as they are, not one shall survive to the hundredth year."

"But Artabanus replied, saying, We suffer during life other things more pitiable than this; for in this so brief life, there is not one, either of these or of others, born so happy, that it will not occur to him, not only once but often times, to wish rather to die than to live; for calamities befalling him, and diseases disturbing him, make life, though really short, appear to be long; so that death, life being burdensome, becomes the most desirable refuge for man." Herodotus VII:46.

Artabanus suggests that nearly all men will have wished for death many times. Life is not a bowl of cherries. The Bible book of Revelation describes a time when "men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them." That could apply to various people at nearly any time in history, really. We have already examined some of the Bible characters views on how death would have been preferable to birth and life.

It is unfortunate but true that suicidal thoughts are all too common among mankind. I know that psychologists and other mental health workers might call this dangerous, or unhealthy, and uncommon. How so? This is kind of ridiculous and very dishonest on their part. If nearly all have felt suicidal at one time or another, or perhaps even frequently, it should not be a surprise, given the state of the world throughout history. And if most have felt it than we really can't call it uncommon. And even calling it a dangerous disease when nearly everyone suffers from it at one time or another and lives seems sort of pretentious and deceitful.

I do not think that psychologists and the like are being honest, fair, or correct in their assessment of this "problem." I do not believe it is within their providence to judge this right or wrong, healthy or sick. It is a moral/philosophical issue and not a "scientific" or "medical" one. If we judge what is healthy based on what is common then suicide should be considered normal as it is a common trait that we nearly all suffer from at one time or another if we are honest about this delicate issue.

I would say that those with rose colored glasses are perhaps the delusional ones who need help. If we all had the courage to say what the world really is then maybe we could begin to improve it so we wouldn't be wishing for death deep down inside sometimes.


Where Does the Bible Mention Suicide?
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Suicide is not directly addressed in the Bible so one can not equivocally state what the Bible's stand on this issue really is, as is the case with some other topics. It must be inferred from other passages and the issues addressed by them. So how is it that suicide came to be viewed as wrong for Christians? I don't know. I only know it was not addressed in the Bible which is the only authority I accept for any decision.

Many assume that because the Bible prohibits murder, it would also include the taking of one's own life as well. But there is an important difference in taking one's own life as opposed to taking someone else's life. Where taking your own life involves your own permission, of course; taking another's life, as in the case of murder, is not the victim's choice but the choice of the killer. The victim likely wants to live.

If someone did not want to live and asked another to take his/her life, then you would have a sort of assisted suicide such as is performed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Men wounded on a battle field will sometimes ask to be quickly relieved of their little remaining life so as to spare the last few minutes of suffering. Terminally ill people will sometimes do the same.

We have both a lone suicide and a request for an assisted suicide in the Bible. This is often overlooked by those professing to know something of the Bible. The account of the very well known Samson is hard to ignore. Samson was dedicated to God as a Nazirite. Among other things, a Nazirite could not eat or drink anything having grapes or wine. A Nazirite could not cut his hair. Samson was given unusually great strength by God for dealing with the enemy of God's people, the Philistines. Samson went on to kill (on a direct order from God in the Mosaic law) many Philistines in his skirmishes with them.

However, Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman whose own heart still sided with her people and not Samson or his God. It is not wise to fall in love with those whom you consider an enemy but Samson did. Samson finally let out one of the conditions that enabled him to have God's blessing of power, the uncut hair. Having cut Samson's hair, the Philistines were able to gain power over him and gouge out his eyes and make him a prisoner and a slave. As time passed the hair grew back and the period for rededication had passed as well. Samson neglected to mention to his wife that one could regain the status after a waiting period.

No doubt Samson felt that his life was pretty much over. He was blind and would not likely be able to escape and find his way home. He had lost his power along with his Nazirite status. And even if he got them back, he would still not be able to get home or be a provider for a wife. An opportune situation came along. First, his hair had grown back and the waiting time for a Nazirite to be rededicated had passed and been fulfilled. Philistines did not know about Hebrew law and were unaware of such things. Second, the Philistines and their Axis Lords came together at Gaza where they would offer a great sacrifice to their God, Dagon, and to rejoice that Dagon had delivered Samson into their hands. During the festivities they decided to bring Samson out of prison to "entertain" them. Samson asked a boy to show him the pillars upon which the building rested. Perhaps Samson was aware of the time that had passed and hoped that maybe his status and strength would be returned to him by God. Having been shown the pillars, he calls out to his God, Jehovah/Yahweh (which ever form of God's name you prefer):

"Lord Yahweh, I beg you, remember me; give me strength again this once, and let me be revenged on the Philistines at one blow for my two eyes." Judges 16:28 [Jerusalem Bible].

Samson then knocked down the pillars and brought down the temple upon himself and all the Philistines attending. He killed more that day than in all his previous killings added together. But lets look at what really happened that is not given attention.

Samson was not obligated to kill himself like a Japanese Kamikaze in order to get his enemies. It was his choice to do so, though, apparently. He could have remained a prisoner with the Philistines. But he preferred a "death sentence" to "life imprisonment." Life is not always desirable, is it? Not when conditions are miserable to bear. And notice that God heard Samson's voice and responded favorably to Samson's request by granting him the strength to do what he intended, thereby killing himself as well. What? Couldn't God see what was going to happen to Samson if God honored Samson's request? Of course God could. Hell, even I could have seen that. It seems that God, Himself, also permits suicide in the right circumstances, given the actions that He took in aiding Samson.

I am not in anyway suggesting that anyone and everyone run out and kill themselves in their first moment of despair or grief. But there are circumstances that may justify the taking one's own life. I, for one, would suggest extreme caution if one feels like committing suicide, for grief can be quite overwhelming though very temporary. Secondly, it is difficult to expect God to give you back your life either here on Earth or up in heaven if you so quickly throw it away here on Earth the first time.

But let us not also forget that the promise of a paradise Earth or a Heavenly bliss is a far cry from what we now live in. But the experiences that we are going through are meant to teach us some perhaps valuable lessons (see Romans 5:3). We do not want to be neglecting our studies do we? That is if we entertain some sort of eternal status with God and life everlasting. But all the same, the time can come when one may have exhausted most of one's options for a long enough time and the only real relief from bitter suffering may be judged to be death. I believe this was the case with Samson and God understood and accepted.

(RSV) Romans 5: 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint us, because Godís love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

God does not demand that people suffer for sufferings sake. God is kind, merciful, gracious, and generous. He knows when enough is enough. There could be a real possibility that there are situations that could merit suicide. Loving one's neighbor as one's self would mean letting them decide whether that is the right thing for them to do, provided they have given it no small amount of time and thought to consider with you trying to persuade them otherwise to test their rationality.

The other case suicide, an assisted suicide (sort of), is in the account of King Saul of Israel. Saul had been badly wounded by Philistine bowmen and was near to being captured, and possibly or likely tormented by the Philistines while in a wounded state, and then killed. When the impending defeat of Israel became apparent, Saul decided to have his own life ended before falling into the hands of the Philistines. So he asked his armor-bearer to run him through with a sword but the armor-bearer was afraid to do so and would not consent. So Saul fell upon his own sword and died. The armor-bearer then did the same. The account is in 1 Samuel 31:1-7.

Now it should be understood that Saul was not in favor with God when this occurred. But he nonetheless preferred to choose his own way of going out since it seemed clear he was going one way or the other. And he wanted to avoid unnecessary suffering. So he took his own life.

I do not think that his armor-bearer doing the act would have made any difference. It was at Saul's command so the armor-bearer would have been guilt free. The choice and order were Saul's not the armor-bearer's. That is an important distinction to make when deciding whether this would be considered suicide or murder. And too, the motive of the armor-bearer would make a difference. If he felt that he was "helping" Saul by sparing him a cruel painful death then the armor-bearer's intentions would be good, kind, well-meaning ones; benevolent ones. He would be innocent.


An Extra-Biblical Account - Josephus
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We also have the recorded history of Israel's wars with the Romans as recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian of some note among religionists, scholars, and historians. Josephus records three (maybe more) mass suicides or suicide pacts during these wars, one of which he, himself, was involved with. This mentality seems to be rather common in the recordings of Josephus and is perhaps no better explained than by a speech recorded by Josephus. It was said to have been given by Eleazar, the leader of the group of Israelites held up and surrounded by the Romans at the fortress at the top of Masada, which was shortly to be conquered by the Romans.

This is from Book 7, Chapter 7:343 of the "Jewish Wars" containing Eleazar's speech:

"For the laws of our country, and of God himself, have, from ancient times, and as soon as ever we could use our reason, continually taught us, and our forefathers have corroborated the same doctrine by their actions and by their bravery of mind, that it is life that is a calamity to men, and not death; for this last affords our souls their liberty, and send them by a removal into their own place of purity, where they are to be insensible of all sorts of misery."

These are rather interesting claims for him to make. And there is some truth to them as well. It is not to say that it was right for Eleazar and his group to commit suicide in the situation that they were in. We each have to judge that for ourselves. But they had determined that it was the preferable thing for them to do and that there was a sort of outlook expressed by God and their tradition that made life less than desirable in certain circumstances. None refuted him on this point or any other. This was the Jewish view of things. We see that in the Bible, clearly.

What is important to consider here is how life can be experienced in very different ways and circumstances. For some, life may be very wonderful and pleasant. For others, life may bear nothing but bitterness and displeasure. We all have a unique experience of life which shapes our view of it and affects how attached to it we are. Since we only know our own experience and not that of another, we can only judge for ourselves whether we shall live or die, love or hate, cry or laugh, etc. These are all very personal decisions. Here is where tolerance and respect for other people's choices, based on their personal experience, is so important.

And as regards parents, they need to make that choice for their unborn children as well since the unborn are not able to make that decision themselves. All other life risking decisions such as dangerous medical operations and treatments are made by parents even when the child is born and living so how much more so when it has yet to even be born.

There are cases where the mother may not have even had a choice in the conception as sex could have been forced upon her against her will by forced prostitution or rape. Should the mother not also have a choice in whether she (consents to sex and) becomes pregnant or not? Is she obligated to get pregnant? And with any man that demands her to carry a baby to term for him? Sounds crazy to even suggest, doesn't it? Does the interest of the unborn outweigh the interest of the mother? That would seem difficult to suggest in view of Exodus 21:22 that we discussed earlier.

The important thing in suicide or abortion is the motive. A person with sincere genuine concern about an unborn child's life or a person asked to assist in euthanasia for relief from a painful terminal illness may decide that it is genuinely kind and merciful to carry out the request of a pregnant mother to abort or assist a terminally ill patient in ending their life. It may be the only real option left or the most beneficial one for the lives in question. We can not judge for others. Each must judge for themselves only or for those in their care who can no longer make decisions such as the unborn or the mentally incapacitated like those in a coma are.


Early Christian Suicides
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Most noteworthy, I thought, was Eusebius' 8th book of Ecclesiastical history. It describes the many and horrific persecutions endured by faithful Christians throughout those early years of the 1st couple of centuries of the Christian Church throughout the Roman empire. Notice what Eusebius writes:

Eusebius Book 8
Chapter 12 (XII)

>"Some, shrinking from the trial, rather than be taken and fall into the hands of their enemies, threw themselves from lofty houses, considering death preferable to the cruelty of the impious. A certain holy person, in soul admirable for virtue, in body a woman, who was illustrious beyond all in Antioch for wealth and family and reputation, had brought up in the principles of religion her two daughters, who were now in the freshness and bloom of life. Since great envy was excited on their account, every means was used to find them in their concealment; and when it was ascertained that they were away, they were summoned deceitfully to Antioch. Thus they were caught in the nets of the soldiers. When the woman saw herself and her daughters thus helpless, and knew the things terrible to speak of that men would do to them, and the most unbearable of all terrible things, the threatened violation of their chastity, she exhorted herself and the maidens that they ought not to submit even to hear of this. For, she said, that to surrender their souls to the slavery of demons was worse than all deaths and destruction; and she set before them the only deliverance from all these things, escape to Christ. They then listened to her advice. And after arranging their garments suitably, they went aside from the middle of the road, having requested of the guards a little time for retirement, and cast themselves into a river which was flowing by. Thus they destroyed themselves."<

Some Christians actually killed themselves rather than face the horrors or torture, rape, and other agonies they might likely suffer. And this apparently had the admiration of Christians at the time Eusebius wrote. Clearly, they believed there were situations that allowed suicide. Can we say that the prospect of a painful bout of cancer or chemo therapy is not very similar? True, the pain is not inflicted by persecutors but it is pain nevertheless and possibly with little chance or lengthy recovery. Or imagine you are unjustly imprisoned for life. Some might think that a fate worse than death.

My belief is that we are not in a position to judge people and what they chose or why. Given that Jesus prefers mercy to sacrifice or legalism as the Pharisees were noted for, we should not condemn suicide. We don't need to encourage it but we should not condemn it, either. Let God be the ultimate judge as He truly is.


Last Comments
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I offer some last cautions in case some might think I am encouraging suicide. We came into life and being for a reason. And though life took a wrong turn in the Garden of Eden and created a world of suffering and misery, we should still make every effort to learn from the many mistakes of life made by ourselves and others. God can and will heal all pain and suffering we have ever endured. He has promised that, so we can definitely trust it. So as difficult as it might seem, we want to try to put up with life. We wouldn't want to take the easy way out, sort of like skipping class in school and missing the lesson, right?

We want to make the best of the miserable time we have to spend here and learn what we can and love as much as we can or as much as people would like to let us. Jesus described it as storing treasures in heaven where moth can't eat up, or rust or fire can not consume, or where thieves can not steal. And though it might be quite painful to continue, it will pay off in the long term view of things. That can seem a long way away when you are suffering but it will be over soon enough.

But if we follow good sound Bible counsel in not asking too much out of this present life and take what life will give us, however little it might be, it should be enough to help us get along. People usually suffer when they are going about things the wrong way and do not have good sound thought and ideas. Suffering is an indication that improvement is needed, fast and in great amounts. We suffer for a reason and often much of that reason is some of our own doing as well as the wicked world's.

So if we clean ourselves inside, our heads, so to speak, and take the appropriate actions prescribed by the Bible, we should find reasonable amounts of contentment until Jesus should return to correct and restore all things to God so that we can all finally live happily ever after. There are situations that could merit taking one's own life but we don't want to take that as an inducement to take the quick easy way out. If we are not willing to learn lessons now, why should God give us another chance later since we refused one already?

God is merciful but we do not want to presume upon that mercy and always look for an easy way the requires no effort. Jesus said we will all be judged for what we have done in his behalf while on earth. But if we prefer doing nothing, what might he judge about us? He could conclude that we were lazy worthless slaves who hate to work. There are good and not so good reasons to take one's own life. Always try to make the right choice. Be sure to talk to someone in the faith about it if you are not sure.

I also recommend professional help in extreme cases. The following 2 links are the only psychological therapies that I recommend and admire. I believe the techniques employed by these two facilities will be the same ones used in God's kingdom, when the time comes.
http://www.primaltherapy.com/
http://www.primalinstitute.com/

The 1st is headed by Arthur Janov, Ph.D. who has published many books and is the discoverer and founder of this type of therapy, the only legitimate form of therapy in the world in my opinion.
The 2nd was his 1st beginning institute which he gave to his wife when they split many years ago. She and her staff continue the same excellent therapy as he initiated. There may be some slight differences but nothing significant.

All other forms of psychotherapy are a bunch of crap as far as I am concerned. But I would strongly recommend "The Biology of Love" by Arthur Janov. It is his latest work as of August 2003 and is his very best as well. You definitely should read it whether you are suffering or not. Every Christian would profit immensely from it, in my opinion.


Related Articles

The following articles cover topics that strongly relate to this subject. They are:

Abortion
Birth Control
Tolerance and Individual Belief



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