On Suicide: We Are Our Brothers’ Keepers

“After years of fighting and fighting, it is finished. . . . I will be released because my suffering is unbearable.”[1]

A seventeen-year-old Dutch girl wrote these words just days before ending her life. She sought suicide by euthanasia and starvation because of the oppressive grief and trauma in her life—the result of repeated assaults and rape she endured as a child. The teen wrote, “To this day, my body still feels dirty. My house has been broken into, my body, that can never be undone.”

This young girl was not only victimized by her attackers, but also her culture. Suicide is becoming an increasingly acceptable way to end suffering. Assisted suicide is now legal in nine countries around the world, as well as nine states in America. In Holland and Belgium, it’s even legal for a child to seek euthanasia, in some cases without the consent of their parents.

The growing global culture of death took the young Dutch girl and many others from us too soon.

SOCIETAL SHIFT

What was considered extreme and unthinkable just a lifetime ago—taking one’s own life—is now considered by most Americans to be reasonable, humane, and even necessary in some circumstances. We have shifted from eliminating suffering to eliminating the sufferer.

We have shifted from eliminating suffering to eliminating the sufferer.

As a people, at least in the U.S. and in many other western nations, we decided that physical and emotional pain can just be too much—that slow and natural deaths should be avoided. Very sick people, both physically and mentally, are a greater burden than we are willing to endure.

The sick have sensed their lack of contribution and the cost they inflict on those around them. And so collectively, the sufferers, their loved ones, and the community at large, have agreed and voted that ending a life prematurely and artificially is somehow giving death dignity.

But a truly dignified death is the result of a dignified life. Dignity champions the marginalized and pursues comfort and protection for them without limit. Dignity says all lives have immeasurable value and worth. Dignity deems each life precious and unique. No one can be replaced or repeated, so we advocate for the living until each person’s natural end.

TRADING ENDURING FOR ENDING

Perhaps this shift in thinking is the result of our fast food, instant gratification, get-rich-quick way of life these days. We want what we want and we want it now. Or perhaps it’s the way we’ve triumphed autonomy. “You do you.” “You live the life you want. You die the death you design.”

Whatever it is, we’ve sold ourselves out and people are dying too early, too young, too soon. We have betrayed our creativity for a quick fix. We have traded in perseverance, co-suffering, and excellent palliative care for a shorter, sadder race.

We have traded in perseverance, co-suffering, and excellent palliative care for a shorter, sadder race.

Even from a purely secular point of view, we can agree that human life is special—each individual a single expression of genes and DNA and wonder that can never be repeated, never be brought back. Each human is a difference-maker, an innovator, a caretaker, someone’s loved one who cannot be replaced.

Somehow though, these truths have been traded in for the lie that even if life is precious and unique, it’s not worth enduring if it hurts too much. Our culture of death has murdered our weakest ones, and with Cain we shrug our shoulders and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

The answer is “Yes!” Yes, you and I are indeed our brothers’ keepers. And as believers in a creator God, Christians, it is, in fact, our job.

CHURCH SHIFT

It is somewhat understandable—at least a little bit tolerable—to see why our non-believing friends don’t prize and champion life the way we Christians do. The world believes life is the result of chance plus time plus mutations. But Christians know it is God’s breath in our lungs.

So why, then, does nearly forty percent of the church believe it is morally acceptable for someone who is terminally ill to pursue assisted suicide?[2] Sixty-seven percent of people outside the church believe that. We should know better.

Not only has society at large failed the suffering and marginalized, but the church has too. The hurting teenage girl in Holland deserved better. The depressed, the terminal, the disabled, the hopeless, all deserve better.

Church, we must renew our minds and remember what’s true. We must stand on behalf of those who cannot stand for themselves. We must tenderly, sacrificially, and fiercely walk with them through their valley of suffering, their valley of death, all the way to their natural, God-ordained end.

This is the call of Scripture.

THREE BIBLICAL TRUTHS TO APPLY TO SUFFERING AND SUICIDE

First, the imago dei (the image of God) present in all humans makes us special and set apart from all other creatures on Earth. In the creation account we read that all animals were created “according to their kind.” But when man was created, he was made after God’s kind (Gen. 1:26-27).

All people—tiny, big, young, old, healthy, sick, white, brown, rich, poor, Western, Eastern, believer, atheist—mirror God. To deem one population as unworthy of life is to dismiss the image of God in that population. God’s image cannot be dismissed in the pursuit of comfort. To snuff out a human who bears God’s image is to do great violence to both that human and our God. Whether it’s your own life or someone else’s, we are not permitted to end it.

God’s image cannot be dismissed in the pursuit of comfort.

Second, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) and for God’s glory. I don’t state this flippantly. My own family has endured excruciating loss at the hands of Alzheimer’s and ALS. I have walked relentlessly dark roads with friends who battle depression and want to end it all.

But we know from personal experiences and from watching others that God grows us in our trials. It is there, in the valley, that he brings clarity and intimacy between us and himself. Suffering allows our focus to narrow on Christ alone. When we suffer, “His glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13). 

Our terminal illnesses and emotional trauma are not without reason. God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). When we pursue ending life early, we dismiss God’s purposes. In our actions we declare to the Lord that our perspective of comfort is more important than his will for growing us in our trial.

Lastly, and perhaps most powerfully, we can trust God’s goodness and sovereignty because Jesus himself suffered (far beyond what we can imagine) on our behalf, died in our place, and rose again, giving us ultimate victory. He told us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

We can trust the Father because he sent his Son to die for us. We can trust the Son because he endured holy wrath on our behalf. We must only look to the cross to be reminded that He has our best in mind in all things—even suffering.

“He works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and we can trust Him. May we be driven by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to face our own suffering and that of our dear ones and all people. You and I who know God also know he is trustworthy.

WE ARE OUR BROTHERS’ KEEPERS

When the suffering, who are the most marginalized, survey their pain and their options, suicide should be neither attractive nor available. As a people, we must strive to return to what’s true: That life is precious. Each life is unique. Each one irreplaceable. Each one unrepeatable.

We are creative and innovative. We invent and fashion strategies for all kinds of problems every day. May we repent from falling toward quick fixes rather than digging in and laying down our lives for one another. May the Lord himself remind us that it’s his breath in our lungs, he is at work in our suffering, and he knows—he knows!—what we endure.

Our creator has walked in our shoes. He has endured pain beyond what any human can fathom. And he is present. He is here. He promises to meet us and all who suffer.

Church, let us return to our maker and Savior—to the only one who has the right to give life and take it away (Job 1:21). For what can separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing (Rom. 8:38-39). We are more than conquerors through him who loves us (Rom. 8:37), and so we must hold out his love and offer it to a hurting world.

We are our brothers’ keepers. May they know we are Christians by our love. May suicide become unthinkable again.


[1]   https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/europe/noa-pothoven-instagram-euthanasia.html

[2]   https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/12/06/most-americans-say-assisted-suicide-is-morally-acceptable/

Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.