Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dead Man Walking

Leave it to Gilbert Keith Chesterton to come up with a truly thought-provoking argument against suicide. Most Christian writers would simply say, "Killing is wrong; suicide is killing; therefore, suicide is wrong." Not G.K.: "The man who kills, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men." He's got your attention, no?

The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the one who commits suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the thing he steals (if not the owner of them). But the one who commits suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer.
I cannot help but think of that obscure little line from Paul in Romans 1 in which, after enumerating the deviant and sinful practices of pagan Gentiles, he adds, "and neither were they thankful." From Chesterton's point of view it is precisely this lack of wonder, this failure to stand in awe of earth and its common blessings that makes suicide so insulting to everyone left in its wake. Suicide indeed kills all men.

Taking this a step further (and I have to give credit to my associate pastor Sy Nease for this insight), could it be that suicide can be committed spiritually rather than literally? In other words, when living people look askance at the world and view it merely with suspicion rather than wonder, could this be a kind of metaphorical equivalent to suicide?

To borrow Chesterton's terminology, if a person is Christian enough to hate the world and die to it, but not pagan enough to love the world and die for it, is he merely a dead man walking?