I continue to be amazed by God’s providence and how things work out in space and time. I had originally wanted to write this article some time ago. In fact, I have a list of article ideas for things I eventually want to write about, and this was on that list for over a month, but I never got around to writing about it. That was until now. Two weeks ago I received news that a young man who was close to our family committed suicide. He had just graduated high school and finished his first semester away at college. On the eve of returning home for Christmas break, he decided to end his own life. This young man was the last person many would think would commit suicide. He was an accomplished high school athlete, academically gifted and the class president. He had a scholarship to a prestigious state university. He came from a large, well-to-do family. He loved and was loved by many. Yet despite all of that, he committed suicide at the age of 18.
I have been thinking about this incident off and on for the past two weeks. Even though this young man wasn’t part of our family, his death has affected me more than I would have thought. Other than my paternal grandmother, who died when I was a teenager, and a childhood sweetheart who died when I was ten, this young man was one of the closest people in my life to have died. Again, providentially so, I am in my mid-40’s and haven’t had to face a close death in the family in all my years. This young man’s death has forced me to reflect on death more so than anyone else in my life.
As a Christian, I am well acquainted with the topic of death. The Christian faith is, in part, a response to the age-old question “What happens when we die?” Of course, Christianity answers the even more important antecedent question: “Why do we die in the first place?” Finally, Christianity provides the one and only rescue to the problem of death that faces us all.
It is interesting that even though death is an enemy we all must face, we spend an inordinate amount of time avoiding it and ignoring it. I firmly believe that part of our mind-numbing entertainment culture is to shield us from the brutal realities of life “under the sun.” We’d rather be entertained than deal with the realities of life and death. Karl Marx once quipped that “religion is the opium of the people.” By that he meant that religion, particularly Christianity, was a way of making the masses docile while the power elites continued to exploit them. However, I would take issue with Herr Marx and say that entertainment is the opium of the people. It was the Apostle Paul who said that if the resurrection is not true (and thereby refuting Christianity), then we should all “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Let us begin our reflections on death by asking the question, “What is death?” Death is the cessation of life, simply put. Since the bible defines man as a body/soul union, death has both a physical and a spiritual dimension. In other words, we die both physically and spiritually. Physical death is rather self-explanatory; it is the cessation of all biological life functions in the body. The heart stops pumping, the lungs stop breathing and the brain stops functioning when a person dies. It is not the purpose of this article to provide a precise medical definition of death, but when all major biological functions within the body cease, it is safe to say that this person is dead.
Spiritual death can be described in analogous terms. A spiritually dead person is one whose spiritual life functions have ceased working. Spiritual life functions can be defined as a vital, spiritual connection to the God that created you. A person who is spiritually alive ‘sees’ God, acknowledges God’s existence, sees God’s hand in creation, desires to honor and worship God with his life and has a childlike faith and trust in God, his Creator. Conversely, a person who is spiritually dead has none of those things going on in his life.
Here’s the crux of the problem for us, the bible says in no uncertain terms that we are all born spiritually dead: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Paul is speaking to Christians about their former way of life (“You were dead,” and “you once walked”). Elsewhere, Paul says: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). By referring to the natural man, Paul is making the case that this is the way all men are from birth. We are born spiritually dead.
Not only that, but we are also born physically dying. Even though babies are full of life and growth when they’re born, they are traversing a path that will eventually lead to death, decay and destruction. It is inevitable. As a man in his 40’s, I am already experiencing the physical break down of my body; it’s not as vital as it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago, and 10 years from now it will be worse. I have been reading through Genesis lately and I came across the genealogy in chapter 5 that recounts the descendents from Adam to Noah. Two things stuck out to me as I was reading it. First, in Genesis 5:3, it is said that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.” This is in contrast to the fact that God created Adam in his own likeness and image. Adam was created in God’s image, but Seth (Adam’s son) was created in Adam’s image. What’s the point? The point is that the image that Adam was created in is not the same as the image that Seth was born into. Adam had sinned and the image of God that he bore was marred (more on this later). The second thing that stuck out to me was the constant refrain “and he died” that is repeated eight times in Genesis 5. All of these antediluvian figures lived incredibly long lives (well in excess of 900 years), yet they all died. Physical death is inevitable.
So we are all born spiritually dead and physically dying. How did this happen? The short answer is SIN: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death is a result of sin. Paul will later say that death is the “wages of sin” (Romans 6:23); is our just reward for our sin. Death was not a part of God’s good creation from the beginning, and therefore, it is incorrect to say that death is a ‘natural part of life.’ Death is an intruder! Death is an enemy! It is only ‘natural’ insofar as sin is a part of our lives. We all die because we all sin. We were born in sin and we commit actual sins.
So that’s the “what” and the “why,” now we need to deal with the “how.” How do we solve this problem of death that was caused by our sin? That’s where Jesus comes in. In the vary passage where Paul describes our sorry state because of Adam’s sin, he writes the following:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17)
Jesus Christ is referred to as the “Second Adam” and just as the first Adam brought sin and death into the world, Jesus brings grace and life into the world. The debt that is due to us because of our sin is paid by the death of Christ, so that we might have eternal life through faith in him. The death of Jesus Christ means the death of death itself (to ‘borrow’ from the title of John Owen’s classic work). The sting of physical death has been removed by Christ and through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit we are born again to spiritual life (John 3:3). This is a gracious gift of God that is given to those who receive him and believe on his name (John 1:12). While the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son (Romans 6:23). Death has no power over those who are in Christ. While physical death still comes to all, it is nothing to be feared by those who are in Christ because physical death just brings us into the presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). We are told in the book of Revelation that in the world to come there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more sin and no more death (Revelation 21:4).
This brings me back to the story of the young man that committed suicide. It is often asked whether or not suicide is a sin and whether or not it can be forgiven. I don’t know if I can definitively answer the second question. The first seems pretty clear cut. If murder is a sin, then suicide (which is self-murder) is also a sin. I know there are some libertarians and “right-to-die” advocates who say we have a right to take our own lives. We ‘own’ our lives, so we have the right to end them as we see fit. As a libertarian myself, I am sensitive to this argument, but I reject the initial premise. We don’t ‘own’ our lives because we didn’t give ourselves life to begin with. God is the giver of life, and as such, he is the only one who has the right to end life.
Regarding the second question, I believe that God can forgive any sin (save the unpardonable sin, which is not suicide), so theologically, I believe that God will forgive the sin of suicide. But a better, and more probing, question is this: Could a true Christian commit suicide? That I don’t know. I suppose I can imagine some scenarios in which a Christian would take his own life, but none of those scenarios are convincing to me. It seems unfathomable that a person in whom lies the hope of Christ would consider suicide an option. Suicide seems to me to be the option of despair and hopelessness. If anything, suicide seems to me to be the only logical option for the hard core atheist who has the courage of their atheistic convictions.
The Christian life is not an easy one, but it is one in which the Christian is called to persevere in until the Lord returns or God calls him home. Until that time, the Christian is to labor unto the Lord for his greater glory knowing that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Soli Deo Gloria!