If Suicide Means Damnation, Then We’re All In Trouble

On November 1st, terminally-ill Brittany Maynard ended her life with medication prescribed by her physician. She was 29 years-old.

On Saturday, November 1st, Brittany Maynard ended her life by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates, prescribed to her by her doctor. Maynard had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor earlier this year. Facing the prospect of a long and gruesome but inevitable demise, Maynard chose to end her life by choice under the “death with dignity” provision of Oregon law.

Throughout her ordeal, Maynard has become a public icon in the ongoing debate over “death with dignity” legislation. While Maynard publicly expressed gratitude to many people who supported her decision, she also bore the brunt of harsh criticism and judgement. Some who spoke out against Maynard’s decision were compassionate and graceful, others were vitriolic and hateful.

Maynard did not profess to be a Christian, and I’m fairly certain that the whiplash of condemnation she faces from “Christian” social-media outlets hardly swayed her or her family to consider converting to the faith. Inasmuch, I stand by Maynard and support her as a fellow human being who faced a tragic circumstance and tried to do what she felt was best. I cannot judge her for not abiding by my Christian values any more than a bird could judge a cat for not flying properly. Mrs. Maynard’s ultimate fate is not a debate for ethicists and theologians and certainly not one for social media, but ultimately and solely God.

That said, this story raises many questions of great importance, particularly the question of how God views a human ending their own life. This is an increasingly pertinent question both as suicide rates increase and legislation for allowing physician assisted suicide gains momentum across the country. As someone who advocates suicide prevention, I also want to advocate for correct perceptions of the tragedies that take place in our neighborhoods, schools, churches and-in the case of Brittany Maynard and certainly more to come- our hospitals.

Among the verbose condemnations of Mrs. Maynard’s decision were numerous people of a Christian background who proclaimed that by ending her own life she had damned herself to hell. This is not a new belief, but (sadly) finds it’s roots in canonical law; in medieval times one who committed suicide was denied a Christian burial, and through the 1960’s suicide was still considered a crime in much of the US and England. I would hope that such notions had been discarded along with religious inquisitions, Biblical justifications of slavery and subjugation of women. But we humans are depraved and Christians most of all; I need no further proof of this beyond the numerous Twitter and Facebook posts I read following Maynard’s case which (generally speaking) followed the lines of: “You’re a coward-enjoy hell.”

Beyond the judgmental, horrific insensitivity of these comments, they also betray bad theology: theology that is not only scarring to those who are left mourning in the wake of suicide but also has the potential to eradicate hope from the hearts of many who contemplate it. For if God’s grace is not extended to the lowest of our moments, if His love can’t cover despair and pain that would lead someone to end their own life, then it can’t cover any of our sins. In other words: if God damns people solely for their decision to end their own life, it follows that we will all be damned.

Allow me to explain:

Christian theology, at it’s core, is based on the idea that we are all sinners and inasmuch we stand separated from God and are thus condemned:

” For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Furthermore, the Christian belief proposes that the wages of sin is a death (Romans 6:23) and the end result of all sin is damnation:

“…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17

The conversation about a human’s choice in the matter, our power over our eternal destiny, is divided. Some camps believe in predestination, the notion God has selected and preordained those who will be saved and has complete control over who accepts His grace and who does not. Other camps place greater emphasis on the free-will of each individual and propose that God has not preordained us but rather has foreknowledge of what we will ultimately choose.

These debates are centuries old and I could hardly do them justice in a book, let alone a blog post. The point that needs to be made, upon which Christians across the board can agree, is that:

a) We all have sinned.

b) Sin results in death.

c) It is only Gods grace (in whatever fashion it is bequeathed to us) that can save us from sin.

So death, Christians inherently believe, is in some way a choice. Everyone at some point in their life will choose to sin, at least once. And, if nothing else, that one sin is enough to lead to death.

So if suicide is a sin (which Christians generally say that it is) that results in physical death what possibly makes it worse than any other sin which will also results in death? What reasoning do we have for suicide to be a sin who’s damnation extends beyond death in this life but also moves a person beyond God’s grace?

If one is going to believe that suicide, because it is a choice that results in one’s own death therefore also results in damnation, then they must logically believe the same for many other sins too:

If I go driving and go over the speed limit, resulting in a collision with a telephone pole which leads to my death, am I then eternally separated from God as well? What if I eat fast food all day, every day and die at a young age of heart disease? Damnation?

Both these scenarios involve me making a decision that leads to and/or directly result in my death. Granted, we could easily get hung up on technicalities; I didn’t kill myself, the doctors couldn’t save me following my car accident; I didn’t end my own life willingly, I just didn’t have self-control over what I ate and the fatty foods eventually clogged my arteries. But if we’re going to take that route then it’s worth pointing out that no one has the power to truly kill themselves; even Maynard technically didn’t end her life, the pills prescribed by a doctor did.

This may sound like an absurd technicality. But the point to all this is that while I cannot necessarily support Mrs. Maynard’s decision I also cannot condemn it. I also cannot and should not condemn the thousands of people (most of which have mental illnesses) who make decisions to end their life each year. It’s not my place to condemn anyone, only to love; love the families left behind and the departed themselves by remembering that we all make choices that lead to death, there’s was a little more drastic but no more depraved than mine.

And that’s really where this whole discussion should leave us; it should leave us in a posture of “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” not just on Brittany Maynard but on all of us. If we speak, we must speak with immense humility and grace especially if we hope to propose our Christian viewpoint on this subject. Because we have all chosen death, in some way or another, at some time or another. And all of us, if we proclaim to be Christians, must also proclaim that our sin- though it maybe isn’t the sin of suicide- is just as deserving of damnation. And it is only by God’s grace that we have hope for this not to be the case.

Furthermore, if we believe in God’s grace then we must believe that this grace can extend to the depths of our pain and brokenness, even to the depth of choosing to end our own life. If we don’t, if we don’t believe that God’s grace is enough for our lowest points, then we are proposing that it is not His grace but our ability that propels us to a point where He is actually able to work. If God damns suicide then we are all beyond help. And that’s not hope, nor is it the gospel.

My prayers are with the Maynard family as they mourn their loss. And I truly pray that through this difficult time they might see a hope that goes beyond death, beyond sin and into eternity. This is a hope made possible only by overwhelming grace and mercy, and it’s in that grace all of us must rest.

RIP Brittany Maynard
RIP Brittany Maynard

RIP Robin Williams

Robin Williams passed away yesterday at age 63. For years, Williams suffered from mental illness and depression, a struggle he made little effort to conceal.  Whether or not his death is ruled a suicide, one thing remains certain: mental illness is not a joke. Robin Williams was an amazing actor, capable of making us laugh and cry… sometimes at the same time. But something we should never laugh at, something we should never mock, is mental illness. Let us be reminded in this tragedy that we must never make a mockery of suicide. Robin Williams’ early death serves as a reminder of the terrible sorrow and pain it causes.

If you are reading this, and contemplating suicide please get help. There is always a tomorrow. There is always hope. There is always someone who cares. If you don’t know of someone, then click here to find someone waiting to help you. People want to help. You don’t have to do this alone.

Rest in peace, Captain. Our prayers are with your family and countless others who have suffered from the results of mental illness.

Zelda Williams posted an Antoine De Saint-Exupery quote from The Little Prince on Monday following her father Robin Williams’s death. Tweet from DailyMail

Making A Mockery Of Suicide

mockery of suicideGuest Post by Mollie C.

During the summer of 2010, I was studying abroad in Spain as part of my undergraduate degree. Towards the end of the trip, I was in a bar in a coastal town somewhere between Salamanca and Barcelona watching the World Cup with several of my classmates and my three professors. Spain won the World Cup that summer, which made watching the games rather exciting. During the middle of the game, one of my professors walked over to my table and asked me to step aside so we could talk. I had no idea what she wanted to talk to me about–I thought I might be in trouble.

We walked outside and she motioned for me to get into a car that was parked on the side of the road. My professor’s husband was in the front seat and he handed me the phone, told me that I needed to call my mom. I dialed her number but it was the pastor of my home church who answered the phone. His voice was urgent and he said he was handing the phone over to my mom. That’s when I heard my mother, between sobs, say four words that changed life as I knew it: “Mollie, Daddy killed himself.”

Nothing can prepare you for hearing that your father, the man who was running for Congress just a few weeks earlier, the man you’d looked up to your entire life, the man you thought had all the answers…nothing can prepare you for hearing that he took is own life.

My head was spinning. After what seemed like forever the first thing I asked her was: “How did he do it?”

The answer came with more sobs: “With a gun. On our back porch.”

Although it’s been close to four years, I am still feeling the affects of this tragedy.

Before my dad’s death, I didn’t anyone who died by suicide. I heard about it on the news and through friends and family, but it was not something that I thought about a lot. This event has forever changed my perspective on suicide and my sensitivity to the topic. Specifically, I have become more aware of how often people make jokes about suicide without thinking twice about it. At a Christian seminary, I am surrounding by people who, when talking about a 30-page paper they have to write, will make a shooting motion to their heads, pretending to blow their brains out.

And just like that, I find myself picturing my father on the back porch during the final moments of his life. And I see a room full of my peers laughing about the way it ended.

Now I know that most people are not deliberately trying to make a mockery of suicide. I know deep down inside that if my peers had any idea how much this effects me they would feel awful. But for someone who has had a close family member shoot themselves, a loved one who they thought was healthy emotionally, a parent they never imagined would take their own life, suicide is not a laughing or trivial matter.

It’s saddening to me that we’ve become so sensitive to so many other issues in our society and yet this issue goes unaddressed. A joke at the expense of a minority is called racism, at the expense of a gender its called sexism. And rightly so. None of these things are joking matters. But it can astound me how people who raise a riot about these issues enjoy a good one-liner about people who are so ill that they take their own lives.

Seriously, I think to myself, that’s a good laugh? That’s a “Christian” joke?

These are the honest thoughts that often run through my head. Its difficult to voice my opinion about this because once I do, people feel awful, and more often than not they start walking on egg shells around me. I don’t want to be treated differently and I don’t need to talk about this pain in my past. I just don’t want to see it mocked.

Do I just need to lighten up?

Sometimes I ask this. But then I hear my mother over the phone sobbing the four words that forever changed my life. And I can’t get past the fact that when we trivialize suicide and make it something to laugh about, it just makes it that much easier for someone who is mentally ill to justify the act of killing him or herself.

It doesn’t seem like the topic of suicide is something I should need to remind my Christian peers not to joke about. Even if my father hadn’t killed himself; numerous people around the world are still ending their lives every single day; the stats are astounding. When people make casual comments like, “Oh my gosh, that was so boring that I literally wanted to shoot myself” they should know that some people see that as offensive and disrespectful.

Its not something to joke about and it should not just affect individuals like myself who have lost someone to suicide. It should be something that everyone notices; it should be something that is a serious issue and should not be looked at lightly. People need to become aware of the way that they unknowingly joke about it.

Particularly as Christians, we need to be aware of those around us who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or who have lost a loved one to suicide. We need to be sensitive to the fact that it is a serious issue that demands serious attention.

If we want to reduce the number of people who kill themselves each year, we need to stop trivializing it and in thus making it look like a viable option for someone who is truly considering ending their life.

So please. Don’t make a mockery of it. There are plenty of other things in life we can joke about. But next time you are having a rough day and you start to make a gesture about blowing your brains out or tying a noose around your neck, think about the message that this is sending and the affect that it has on people.

Don’t make a mockery of suicide; take a stand against it.

 

 

 

Mollie C. is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary studying counseling and religion. When she doesn’t have her nose in the books, she loves to hike and play tennis with her husband, go to coffee-shops with friends, and root for the Green Bay Packers.