It’s Hard to Condemn People You Know

There was a fairly lengthy discussion the other day on a blog I frequent about whether or not suicide is evil. There was some interesting discussion, particularly about what sort of medical procedures were considered suicide (e.g., removing life support) and what might be Biblically justifiable (e.g., giving higher doses of pain medicine even though it shortened one’s life).

A lot of the discussion centered around statements like “My friend committed suicide and didn’t do it to hurt anyone” and “I thought about suicide / tried to commit suicide.” Some of these were valid, since the discussion revolved largely around the evil motives behind suicide. But it seemed to me that many of the commenters were challenging the statement “suicide is evil” by asking how you could say they or their loved ones were evil.

It’s always so much easier to cast abstract _ideas_ and _actions_ as evil. When you put a face and name with those ideas and actions, it’s a lot more uncomfortable. It’s very hard to look at or think of a person you know and make negative moral judgments.

I’ll use a bit of a lighter example than suicide: Shoplifting is wrong. Shoplifters should be punished. No question about it. But if my teenage cousin were to be the shoplifter in question, well, that’s different. It’s much easier to hold a firm moral line when you’re dealing with abstract hypothetical persons, or even anonymous strangers. Put it in the context of people you know and real situations, and it’s different.

This is very understandable. But it’s also unbiblical. Look at the standard God calls His people to:

Deuteronomy 13:6-9
6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

Our relationship to the offender does not _lessen_ our moral obligation; it _increases_ our obligation!

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this tendency of softening moral stances when we personally know those involved is pretty much _idolatry_. We have other gods – our friends, family, acquaintances, etc. – before God.

Moral law is not an abstract and external principle. It is the very will and character of God. He is the source of truth and morality. He is the definition of Good. When we are willing to softpedal a moral stance because of a personal relationship, we are letting that relationship interfere with our loyalty to God.

Of course, I don’t mean to criticize good things like giving grace (particularly when there’s repentance) or overlooking wrongs done to us. That’s not wrong, _if_ we are extending the grace and forgiveness of God. We must not pretend what that person did is somehow not that bad. Grace is possible because justice has been _satisfied_, not defeated. Evil is still evil, but it can be forgiven. We do not show grace by lying about the morality of one’s actions and character.

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8 Responses to It’s Hard to Condemn People You Know

  1. Chris P. says:

    Robert,

    What a great post. Lately I have noticed that more and more, we are being placed in the position you just described from Deut 13. I am speaking of recent and personal experiences.
    In Ex 32, the Levites gained the blessing of the priesthood for killing their apostate brothers and sisters. Now praise God we are not required to literally do that, as you said there is grace. However grace is not tolerance, and/or misguided blind loyalty. HE discilplines those whom HE loves. If the sword is the Word, then we are to prophetically proclaim the Word i.e. wield the sword of the Scriptures as required.
    When will we see that discipline is mercy and the Law contains the Word of Grace? Thank you LORD that you love me.
    Luke14:25-27; Matthew 10:34-36

  2. ilona says:

    Well said. You have gently addressed a very difficult subject.

  3. Robert says:

    Thanks. I believe this is the first time anyone has ever referred to me as “gentle”. :-)

  4. Kyle says:

    There seems to be some kind of rule among people not to tattle. It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. I have heard people argue simultaneously that they support a rule or a law 100%, but that if they found their friend or neighbor or relative breaking that law, they’d ignore it. Drives me nuts!

  5. Derek says:

    I had a hard time with this entry. First, the act of suicide is evil and can be separated from the person who is made in the image of God. But, we are inheritantly evil by the fall of Adam also. Most suicide is the ultimate act of self-pity and is incredibly evil. Alaska has the highest rate of suicide in America and I’ve been to many funerals where the kids took their lives. Some families are left behind hating God. Suicide is taking God’s place as the Sovereign One who calls the shots. With this said I have one problem with this. Jesus had an indestructable life-sinless. He chose the moment of His death. Did He commit suicide?

  6. Robert says:

    Derek, I think in general we can make a distinction between suicide and “martyrdom” for lack of a better word. A martyr might be the guy who jumps on a grenade in a foxhole, or takes the bullet for the president, or charges the bad guy with the gun.

    Maybe a good distinction would be choosing to die because you’re tired of being alive is suicide, whereas choosing to die for the sake of others, or to defend your principles (I’m thinking of Christian martyrs and situations like that) is not suicide. So I would say that Jesus was a martyr, and did not commit suicide, although His death was certainly voluntary.

  7. MegLogan says:

    Well, that last guys post is kinda weird. (not Roberts but the other guy) Anyway….

    You said it man! I think I will add this site to my blog bookmarks, and when I get to adding a blogroll on my blog I will haev to add you to it!

    Thank you for not letting the standard fall!

    Peace,
    Meg

  8. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Note, also, in the early days churches even had problems with people “rushing to martyrdom” — because dying was easier than living. So they started criticizing that as well!

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