Can Life be an Idol? Understanding Death and Euthanasia

At the recent Orange County reTHINK Apologetics student conference, Jonathan Noyes gave a hard-hitting talk on suicide and whether God cares that we live or die. In the Q&A portion, someone posed him the question of pulling the plug and whether that’s something Christians can or should do. Noyes responded in a moderate way, emphasizing how difficult that question can be to answer without being in the situation himself. He ended the thought with a warning that struck me. Don’t make life an idol. Human life is valuable. But we need to make sure that when faced with these difficult choices we do not value life more than God and turn it into something more important than him. This may sound strange, so let’s unpack this issue of life, death, and euthanasia further. Can life be an idol?

Life is Valuable

The very first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created man in his own image. Human beings are special because of that image that God has given us. This is what makes us inherently valuable, and why the unjustified taking of human life is so morally wrong. When a life is taken, whether by murder, suicide, doctor assisted suicide, abortion, etc, it’s not just about the other person being harmed. An image bearer of God has been harmed, bringing him into the moral equation. This concept must be understood before launching deeper into the conversation because it serves as the foundation. This is why Christians value life so much.

Pulling the Plug Vs. Euthanasia

There are two similar, but different, scenarios to be considered here that we need to distinguish. Pulling the plug, or taking someone off life support, is not the same as euthanasia in the traditional sense. It’s human technology that is keeping them alive at this point, so to take them off it is to essentially let nature take its course. Depending on the circumstances, that may be okay. Euthanasia, or doctor assisted suicide, is when there is a specific action taken to cause the death. The two kinds of actions here have different goals even if they both result in death. One is letting them go, the other is typically done to end the person’s suffering by giving them a painless death. This may be done under similar circumstances where they are dying and want to end it in a controlled manner, or it could be someone of any age not wanting to face the pain. And of course, one of the biggest factors in either scenario is whether or not there is a chance of recovery.

Let’s Use an Analogy

Imagine you are at the edge of a cliff with your friend hanging onto you for dear life. You know you are not strong enough to pull them back up, so there comes a point where letting go is really the only option. You don’t want to let them go, but there’s nothing you can do to help. Change the scenario to where now you might be able to pull up your friend, but there is a problem. You know that when your friend slipped and fell they seriously injured their leg, to where they will likely never walk again and will live in constant pain. The decision is made that it would be better for them to just fall into a quick and painless death, rather than live like that. Similar circumstances, but a few small changes make dramatically different moral implications.

Making Life an Idol

To the point, humans tend to take a good thing and turn it into a problem. Even something as beautiful as life can be overvalued. Yes, life is a gift from God, and it’s in life that we come to know and be saved by God. You cannot really take life out of the equation. Also, we believe that it is God’s responsibility to determine when we live and die, not ours. Things like murder and suicide are, in a sense, trying to take that responsibility from the all-knowing creator and put it into our limited hands. That is precisely how we can make life an idol.

If you are fighting tooth and nail to live, or more often for your loved one to live, always ask yourself why. Am I fighting because every moment of life is precious and worth having no matter the cost? Or am I fighting because I see the direction God is clearly moving me in and I don’t like it? If we focus so much on life that we ignore the one who gave us life, we’ve messed up. Ultimately, human beings, while valuable, are still the creation, underneath our creator.

As always, my goal here is to get Christians thinking. I never want us to hold a view or take an action without asking why. We always must be making sure we’re doing acting for the right reasons.

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