Suicide as sinful?

The concept of suicide being a sin has been with the church for millenia.  But where did it come from?  (Note: this is not a theological study, but a historical brief.)  In reading City of God, Augustine lays out the formal argument quite clearly in Book 1, Chapter 17.  The essense of the thought comes down to this: If one is facing the possibility of being killed or wronged by another and they choose suicide in order to avoid potential suffering, then they have sinned themselves instead of allowing themselves to be sinned against.  Augustine asks it this way,

Why should you commit a sin against yourself in order to deprive someone else of the chance?

You shouldn’t.  We can never be sure of another persons actions, only once we have experienced them is the fate sealed, so why take you life for what might or might not happen.  Augustine didn’t address all the reasons why people contemplate killing themselves, but he did address this one reason and has given us some things to contemplate: Is death a viable exit strategy from pain and suffering?  In Augustine’s thought, the answer is no.  Suffering holds value in this life and the life to come.  To seek to avoid suffering is a cowardly way to live.

I wonder what he would say about euthanasia?  I think he would argue similarly and deny its veracity.  What do you think?


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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