Why Is Suicide a Sin?

Alan explains why suicide is considered a sin in Christianity.


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Why is suicide considered a sin in the Christian worldview, especially in light of what Brittany Maynard did back in November of 2014? We can’t give a full-blown defense against physician assisted suicide here, I just want to give a few quick reasons. 

My intention in answering this question is not to heap additional condemnation on what Brittany Maynard did. Of course what happened was tragic and sad. My goal is to answer this question for a Christian whose wondering why we consider this a sin according to the Christian worldview. 

One reason is because the Bible teaches that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings, even when that innocent human being is you. What did Brittany Maynard do wrong? She killed an innocent human being. 

The other thing wrong with suicide from a Christian perspective is that suicide treats human beings as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. The best way to understand this distinction is to understand intrinsic human value and instrumental human value. 

The Judeo-Christian worldview says that human beings have intrinsic value. In other words, human beings have value in themselves. Their value is inherent in their own existence. The reason why the Christian worldview teaches that is because the Bible says that human beings are made in the image of God. That’s why they’re valuable. Being made in the image of God means that you have a property that is not degreed. In other words, you can’t have more or less of being made in the image of God. You either are made in the image of God or you’re not. If not, you’d be an animal. When it comes to having intrinsic value in virtue of being made in God’s image, this has some very specific applications as to how it applies to human beings and their value. 

First is this: If you’re made in the image of God and have intrinsic value, you can’t lose that value if you lose your limbs, or your physical abilities, or your mental abilities. Your value will not change no matter what happens to you physically. 

Our culture is shifting more towards an instrumental value system as it pertains to human beings. Something has instrumental value if it is a means to an end. In other words, it doesn’t have value it itself, it’s only valuable because it can get you something else that has value. 

For example, if I had a sparkler and I bought it for two dollars, you might ask, how much is that sparkler worth? Well, it’s worth two dollars. Why? Because it can get me something else that has value: joy, pleasure, fun. Suppose I light the sparkler, it burns, and now I just have a burnt metal stick. Now how much is the sparkler worth? It’s worth nothing. The reason why is because that sparkler has lost its ability to get me that other thing: fun, pleasure, and joy. Notice, when something that has instrumental value, it loses ability to get that other thing, that thing is value-less and we can throw it away. 

The problem is that the culture is now adopting instrumental value when it comes to human beings. They no longer see human beings as having intrinsic value, but rather they’re only valuable because they can do or get something else that has value. Then, human beings are valuable because they can work, or contribute to society, or they can raise children, or create art. The moment a human being starts to lose their ability to do those things is the precise moment that human beings lose their value. Then, they can be thrown away just like that sparkler. 

Brittany Maynard talked about her quality of life. Whenever you hear the phrase, “quality of life,” you know the person is talking about an instrumental value system. Notice, with quality of life, this is a degreed property. It’s not like being made in the image of God, which you either are or you’re not. Quality of life is something you can have more of or less of. 

People, in their mind, have this threshold. As quality of life decreases and drops below the threshold, life is not worth living. That’s when people often decide that euthanasia is permissible to take a human life. That’s the liability of placing instrumental value on human beings. Quality of life can drop below a certain level, rendering that person valueless. 

When people ask me, “What did Brittany Maynard do that was wrong,” the second thing was that she declared God’s image-bearing value as worthless. She said that there is a human being out there that although they were made in the image of God, was not valuable. This is an offense to God.

The third thing that is wrong with suicide is that it violates our duty to the community. Human beings are not atomistic individuals. We’re not islands completely separate and distinct from other human beings. Rather, we live in community. Therefore, or actions impact the lives of other people. 

What did Brittany Maynard do that was wrong with regards to this particular concern? She didn’t tell the truth about how we’re supposed to live in the face of difficulty. She sent a message to the nation that when it comes to difficulty, it’s okay to run from it. We are not obligated to face these challenging situations, but rather make difficult life problems just go away. Of course, that doesn’t teach us how to live well, nor does it teach us how to live in the face of adversity, and it doesn’t leave us with a morally helpful memory of Brittany Maynard after she passed away.

The three main concerns with suicide in light of the Christian worldview are: 1. Suicide kills an innocent human being. 2. It declares God’s image-bearing value as worthless. 3. It violates our duty to the community by saying we can run from adversity rather than face it.

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Alan Shlemon