The Joy Set Before Him

Assisted Suicide
Reading  Acts  17:22-33

You will all have heard something at least of the constant push by some to have assisted suicide made legal, indeed the BBC had a documentary on it just this week in which they followed the last days of a man to his assisted death. The arguments that piled up in favour of it pluck at the compassionate heart strings, they sound so reasonable, so logical, so right. And I must confess that I have found myself being drawn into agreeing them as I listened, it was only when I took the time to think them through that I saw just how wrong it all was.

I want this morning to consider this topic as the theme of my sermon, in order that we may each be strengthened in our opposition and that God may be glorified in how we respond to it.

There will always be those who commit suicide, they will have their own reasons for doing so and included in those reasons will be ill health, terminal illness, excruciating pain, depression.  We have had someone in our congregation commit suicide a few years ago, a young man who was found dead at his kitchen table from a drug overdose.

History has it’s famous names who also committed suicide – Mark Antony and Nero.  Sigmund Freud persuaded his doctor to provide him drugs with which to end his life – Now it’s nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.  Hitler, Joseph Goebbels. The brother of one of the elderly ladies in Wilton Lodge committed suicide by walking into a lake – suicide is not new.

There will always be situations that cause people to want to end it all – tragic cases that will pull at our heart strings – one such was that of a 16 year old girl who was paralysed after breaking her neck in a swimming accident – It hardly seems 26 years ago, that I was lying on a hospital bed in suicidal despair, depressed, discouraged, after the hot July afternoon when I took that dive into shallow water, a dive which resulted in a severe spinal cord injury, which left me paralyzed from the shoulders down, without use of my hands and my legs. Before that time, I didn’t even know what you called people like me. Who are we? The physically challenged, the mobility impaired, the differently abled, handicapped. I knew we weren’t crippled or invalid. But I just didn’t have any contact with people who were hurting or in pain. That spinal cord injury changed all that. There I was lying in the hospital bed in the summer of 1967 desperately trying to make ends meet, desperately trying to turn my right side down emotions, right side up. In my pain and despair, I had begged many of my friends to assist me in suicide. That seems to be a common topic these days and many disabled people that I know even in the nineties have a tough time finding life worth living. I sought to find a final escape, a final solution, through assisted suicide, begging my friends to slit my wrists, dump pills down my throat, anything to end my misery. The source of my depression is understandable. I could not face the prospect of sitting down for the rest of my life without use of my hands, without use of my legs. All my hopes seem dashed. My faith was shipwrecked. – Who is she?

Joni – For the next two years during her rehabilitation Joni struggled. She struggled with life, she struggled with God, and she struggled with her paralysis. Since then, Joni has written fourteen books, has recorded several musical albums, and she’s actively involved as an advocate for disabled people. She is now an internationally known mouth artist, and has  learned to accept her disability.

If assisted suicide had been law back then, would she still be alive?  I doubt it very much, after all what sort of life had she to look forward to

Is it ever right to end one’s life on purpose?
The answer to that question is certainly “Yes.”

During the Second World War the Reformed military chaplain, Allard Pieron, was captured by the Japanese. He was en route by sea to Japan where he was to be placed in a prisoner of war camp. Before he arrived, however, his ship was torpedoed. Pieron made it into a lifeboat, but there was one too many souls aboard; the boat was in danger of sinking. One man had to be sacrificed. Pieron volunteered and disappeared under the waves. His last words were, “I can die. I have a saviour who has bought me with his blood.” [J. Douma, Responsible Conduct, 176, 183] He ended his life on purpose. But it cannot be called  suicide.  

Father Maximilian Kolbe, who had been arrested for hiding Jews, did not commit suicide by offering to suffer the punishment of another prisoner at Auschwitz. The punishment was to be starved to death in an underground bunker.
A soldier does not commit suicide when he falls on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades. A death for others is not a suicide in the ordinary sense of the term. The point in such actions is not to kill oneself, but to save others. One would gladly live if the others could also live.

The lord Jesus Christ did not commit suicide when He went to the cross to die for us.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.  17  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” John 10:14-18

This idea of dying for the sake of others is one of the arguments that is raised in this debate on assisted suicide – making it appear to be an act of  noble self-sacrifice for others – Why make my family endure the long months of my dying; why burden them with the expense of it; why extend their torture?

It sounds very noble doesn’t it, it resonates within us, none of us want to be a burden, to suffer or to cause pain.  I’m sure a great many Christians who have had terminal illnesses and have watched their loved ones suffer with them have been tempted to think that love would end this suffering, if not for themselves, for their loved ones.

But  your loved ones are not about to die and your death will not save their lives. What you would be sparing them by ending your own life is inconvenience only. Death for the sake of inconvenience and death for the sake of life are two dramatically different things. One remains a suicide; the other is not a suicide.

In the BBC documentary, the man who had asked for the assisted suicide was said to be a hero, yet I see nothing heroic in it, just a great sadness, those I have just mentioned, Allard Pieron, Maximilian Kolbe, they were heroes.
A Clash of two opposing Understandings of Life.
The demand for assisted suicide to be made acceptable comes from an understanding of life that is diametrically opposed to the Christian understanding of life.  

For generations the it has been the Christian understanding that has been the foundation of our society and that ethos is being cast aside for a more secular view of life, what I term paganism – no slur intended, paganism is described as polytheistic or pantheistic religious views coupled with humanistic and hedonistic ethics.

So this debate on assisted suicide is about more than just an opinion, more than just ‘having the right to choose’, more than just ‘dignity in death’ , it’s about principles of life that run contrary to the God’s word.

This clash of opposing doctrines has been going on since the fall of man, since that moment when Satan spoke to the Eve – and spun his false doctrine into her mind – what we see and hear today is a fruit of that first conversation in the garden of Eden.

Since that time on men have sought to find their own answers to the questions of life – History is replete with the names of men who are honoured even today – names such as Plato,  Aristotle, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, Great philosophers of the ancient world – names of men who are still highly esteemed. Yet for all their wisdom they taught a philosophy that was in opposition to the living God. And what they taught did not improve the condition of men spiritually or morally.  

One historian records –  “The golden age of ancient philosophy was in some important respects morally infamous, and the grosser scandals of antiquity – slavery, infanticide, sexual perversion, suicide, and the bloody shows of the arena – flourished in a society which held philosophers in high regard.” [H.H Henson, cited in C.F.H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics, 437]

To quote another historian – “The Gentile world lay irrecoverably in the grip of that wickedness which the New Testament sums up in its index of vices.” [Henry, Ibid].
And things haven’t changed today with all the seeming wise words of modern philosophers.  Our land is in the grip of that wickedness which the NT sums up in its index of vices

What brought these things to an end?   The rise of Christianity with its teaching on regeneration, godly living, and  the purity of the lives of its adherents, and its testimony to the judgements of a holy God. Christianity changed the ethics of the world.

“The greatest religious change in the history of mankind took place under the eyes of a brilliant galaxy of philosophers and historians who disregarded as simply contemptible an agency which all men must now admit to have been, for good or for evil, the most powerful moral level that has ever been applied to the affairs of men.” [W.E.H. Lecky in Henry, 439n]

The gospel of Christ and the life of Christ seen in the lives of the Christians changed the world – what all the philosophers in the world couldn’t do – the gospel did.

But now the gospel is disregarded, and paganism is on the rise, so we shouldn’t be surprised that pagan ideas come to the fore. –  Assisted suicide is but one of many.

A Right to die?
A “right to die.”  A catch phrase of the moment. But I must tell you that No one needs a right to die. Death is inevitable in every case. The question here is always and only whether anyone has the right to end his own life, that is, to kill himself, and, so, whether anyone has the right to assist him or her in doing so. And the Christian answer to that question is an emphatic “No!” And the reasons are fundamental, profound, and insurmountable.

First, man does not own his life. It does not belong to him. He does not have the freedom to do with it what he pleases. This is the principle that has for generation been the view of our society,  but in the modern world, the principle of human autonomy, I am the captain of my fate,  has largely replaced it. There  is an explicit denial that man has a creator to whom he owes his existence and that that existence must be honoured as the possession of another, a greater Person, a Person who has absolute rights over it. Man has been made, the Scripture says, in the image of God. His is an existence shaped and ordered by its relationship to God. Its destruction, therefore, is an act of supreme rebellion against God and against human nature itself. Suicide is man’s attempt to declare himself his own god.

Second, the Law of God strictly limits the taking of human life and does not permit an individual to kill himself or to help another kill himself. The occasions when life can be taken – the execution of a criminal, the waging of war, self-defence – all pass the test of life being exchanged for life. A murderer must suffer the loss of his own life; in self-defence the home-owner takes a life to protect the life of himself and his family, and so on. There is no provision for killing on any other terms. The Bible may  not condemn suicide in so many words, but its strict limitation on killing and its general ban on killing suffice.

Third, the judgement of a human life,   Suffering in dying is one thing if it is nothing but the final gasp of an animal soon to decompose and return to the earth. Suffering in dying is an entirely different thing if man is made to exist forever and his life in this world, the decisions he makes, the commitments he undertakes, the things he believes, the laws he obeys or disobeys, determine the nature of that eternal existence. The reason you can’t kill yourself or help another kill you is precisely because you will have to answer for that in the next world. It matters what you do; it matters forever!

It was because of this that Christian churches  and states imposed penalties on suicides: the forfeiture of his estate, the denial of the rites of Christian burial, and sometimes even his corpse interred at a crossroads with a stake driven through his heart.

Now although we may not agree with these penalties we can understand how important it was to those Churches and states to We needn’t condone that practice to appreciate that it was thought important to implant in the society a total aversion to suicide.

Death is not the end – those who cry out for assisted suicide deny this – there is an infinite personal God who gave you life, and He cares about your life, He will judge your conduct, and reward or punish it accordingly.
Dear friends, that suffering that people are seeking to end – it’s not without purpose and meaning – for God has a purpose in everything He does and  in that suffering the Lord God offers the comfort of his own love and presence, power and help to those who look to him.

Assisted suicide is wrong.  Because only God, who gave us life, has the right to take it from us.  It’s wrong for the Christian to support it because it has its roots in other ground than the word of God.

Ultimately it comes down to the question, Who is in charge?
Deut.32:39 See now that I, I am He, and there is no god with me. I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is no deliverer out of My hand.

God is in control of everything. He has a plan for everyone and everything. He promises that if it is His will, you will live to serve Him in whatever situation and circumstance in life He has placed you. And when it is time for you to be delivered from this life to the next, He will bring you home. He’s the One in charge.

Dear friends, as Christians the issue we should concentrate on is not ‘The right to Die’, but rather ‘The right way to die’ – Death lies in front of us all, if the Lord tarries.

There was a young minister whose grandfather was dying in a nursing home. To this young minister it that his Grandfather was dying too slowly. For years, the old man had been saying he couldn’t figure out why he was still hanging around. He was ready to go and be with Jesus. At the end he
couldn’t even sit up when the children came by, and sometimes he didn’t even seem to notice them at all. At 94, his body was worn out from years of serving his Saviour in the pulpit and on the street, in the classroom, even in Vietnam. He was just lying there, waiting… waiting to die.

A few years later this same young preacher met John, decades younger than his Grandpa, but facing that same journey – one hastened by cancer. The two of them talked about Roms.8, about no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus that no one can take away. Then John, who was facing that journey so many fear, grabbed the minister’s hand and spoke some of his last words: “I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to go home. My sins are forgiven. I’m ready to go home.” And then, not long after that, he did. The right way to die