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:
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.