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  4th June, 2000


1 Samuel 31
   
The Death of a Mad King


The madness of King George 111, has been well documented recently on screen. But he was not the only mad king. King Saul, the first King of Israel, who lived 1000BC, reigned in an erratic manner. As we saw last week, he showed all the modern symptoms of a complete mental breakdown. The death of this mad king has some incredibly relevant issues for us today. King Saul, under extremely sad and difficult circumstances, committed suicide. He had tried to enlist the aid of a friend to help him die but his friend refused. So Saul died by his own hand.

Among the tens of thousands of people listening to me now by radio or television are many who cannot cope and contemplate suicide. Our Life Line Counsellors constantly deal with people who want to commit suicide. Our Life Force Suicide Prevention Service staff constantly deal with communities that are concerned with the escalating rate of suicide in their midst. One person every three and a half hours dies by his or her own hand in Australia. 2723 died by their own action last year, 51% more than were killed on the roads. The suffering within the person beforehand is often immense. It is important that Churches and members know what the Bible teaches about suicide and euthanasia, and teach and discuss it publicly. Those churches that neglect the Word of God are doing a great disservice to the people with whom they relate. Some listen to people's stories and how they feel rather than what the word of God teaches. As a result, they do what the Bible forbids.

They advocate abortion, euthanasia, mercy killing and heroin shooting rooms. They say, "We should not allow people to go through pain even if it means taking their lives." So society vacuums out foetuses, over-doses old people, turns off life-support systems and gives others needles to shoot as much drug as they like, simply to avoid the pain.

The Bible teaches the sanctity of life. In days when we can control pain, why should we opt for killing? We should not terminate life and play God according to how we feel. The story of the death of King Saul raises two modern issues: "Do we have the right to kill ourselves?" - the issue of suicide. The second concerning Saul's servant: "Do we have any right to assist another to die?" - the issue of euthanasia. Both these issues are being debated in the public arena in Australia right now. King Saul had been mentally deteriorating. He was not competent to lead his army. The Philistines, sensing weakness attacked and in the ensuing battle killed many soldiers including Saul's three sons. Then 1Samuel 31:3 "the fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armour-bearer, "Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me." But his armour-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him." The King is grieving. He has seen three of his sons killed. He wants to end it all with his thin sword.

1. King Saul And Suicide.
Saul asks his armour-bearer to help him. The armour-bearer declines because even wounded and dying, the King is God's anointed, and he doesn't have the right to kill him or even help him die. Saul however is frighted what will happen. He wants to control his death. Saul said, "Draw your sword, and run me through." When he refused, Saul, "took his own sword and fell upon it." So King Saul suicides. He may not have died immediately, as the next chapter of the saga has an Amalekite reaching him. This man was just ahead of the Philistines. He later told David Saul was not yet dead: "there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, ... 'Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I'm still alive.' "So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive." Either the thin sword of Saul's had not penetrated his heart, but merely his chest cavity and this man finished him off, or, most likely, when this man came to David with the news, he lied. He claimed to be the one who killed Saul in the hope of gaining some reward.

Scripture does not say that life is more valuable than anything. In certain circumstances a man may relinquish his life in self-sacrifice. A soldier at war may lay down his life. Another, in the defense of a friend may die. Another, in nursing the infectious sick, may catch the infection and die. Another may witness to faith in time of persecution and die. These heroes give their lives for others, as Jesus did.

They did not want to die hence this is not suicide. Suicide is the direct and deliberate taking of one's life, with or without another's assistance, for a self-regarding motive. Some claim life is our own and each person has a right to terminate it. But the Christian view is that we live in relationships, a part of society, and suicide is a sin against your self, your community and God. We do not own our lives. God gives us life to be used in the service of God, yourself and others. Suicide is an offence against God our creator and redeemer, a rejection of His love and a denial of His sovereignty. Suicide is an offence against the proper love of your self, a violation of the Commandment not to murder, and an act of despair, which prevents repentance. Suicide is an offence against others as it deprives one's family and society of you prematurely, and denies them opportunity of ministering to your needs.

Christians believe that suicide is not a criminal act, but a mental health issue. Some, with every reason to suicide, desperately fight for life. Stephen Schmidt, who has lived for 12 years with Crohn's syndrome, gives four reasons why he has not suicided: 1) He wants to live more than he wants to die. Earthly pleasures are compelling. 2) Courage calls him to live even in the midst of pain. 3) Life involves others and for their sake he must live on. 4) Suicide is a denial of the Lordship of Jesus. "We can't let go of life, because we are held and needed until another time when letting go is God's will for us. Dying is God's call, not ours," says Stephen.

People who talk about an individual's right to die forget that we do not experience our own death; we only experience the act of dying. It is left to others, family, friends, acquaintances and the community at large to experience our death. We have a moral obligation to die in such a way that those who are left behind can grieve with hope rather than despair. People who chose to die by their own decision buy their own right to freedom at the cost of other's agony. That is selfishness. The person who suicides is so full of resolving their own pain they do not consider the pain others will now have to bear. Having conducted the funerals of scores of people who have suicided, I can assure you that people do care and do love, and are hurt. It is a dreadful way of hurting others. It also disturbs other troubled people so that copycat suicides often follow. Suicide is sometimes accompanied by euthanasia.

2. Saul's Servant And Euthanasia.
Saul's armour-bearer was confronted with the request from his King to help him die: "Draw your sword and run me through." Many a doctor has faced that request: "Give me some pills... turn off the drip... take out the tubes." Some people seek doctors who will do so. Some learn how to kill themselves. In Sydney this week Dr Phillip Nietschie stated he wants to open a clinic to advise on methods of euthanasia to aid suffering patients die. The book "Final Exit", is a manual on how to commit suicide or help someone else do so. Bookstores selling "Final Exit" said buyers were mainly the elderly and those caring for AIDS patients.

This suicide book was widely applauded because it supposedly gives those with deadly illnesses control over their departure from this world. The Prophet Isaiah describes how God sees the world's continued willingness to reverse His values. "Woe to those call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" Isa.5:20 Society accepts evil and applauds darkness. "The Final Exit" is called a "good book" by its author, who says it is "a sort of insurance, a comforter there on the bookshelf that they could make their escape from this world if they were suffering unbearably." They move forward thinking that they are in control, not realizing Who is really in control.

3. What Are We Doing About This?
Wesley Mission is very pro-active on these issues. We provide counsellors on duty 24 hours a day to talk with those who are threatening death. LifeLine Sydney takes 20,000 calls a year with two to three calls a day from people planning to suicide. Of those who consider suicide seriously, (an estimated 25,000 people annually), 2,723 people took their lives, 2,190 males and 533 females, last year.

Wesley Mission set up LifeForce in 1995 to empower community members to meet the needs of people at risk of suicide. Since 1995 LifeForce has trained over 3000 people through our LifeForce Suicide Prevention Workshops. Over 4000 people have attended LifeForce Suicide Awareness Presentations and Seminars.

LifeForce has increased suicide awareness among thousands of Australians through newspaper articles, and radio and television interviews. Our annual LifeForce Suicide Prevention Memorial Service held at the Sydney Opera House has drawn the attention of thousands to the tragedy of suicide and allowed those bereaved by suicide to appropriately grieve their loss. Through Rotary International and the Country Women's Association, LifeForce has gained access to valuable networks facilitating the training of members of many communities.

Wesley Mission's LifeForce staff, in an intensive three weeks last month, trained over 1900 key people in 54 Victorian country towns in how to identify a potential suicidee and how to save that life. We are now looking at a larger state wide training program in New South Wales. Next week, our "This Is Your Life Ball" will be held with a great collection of celebrities to raise funds to expand LifeForce. LifeForce is conducting training Workshops in Sydney for interested people to learn how to reduce the rate of suicide. And as for Euthanasia, we raise this issue publicly on radio and TV, discuss and debate it, and seek to educate the public at large.

God has given us life to enjoy. And even life in frailty and illness is important to God, to the individual and to the community at large. Cherish it!


  Euthanasia: Should We Kill The Dying Prof B. Pollard, Mount 1989.
The Ethics Of Life And Death B.G.Webb, Lancer 1990.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes



Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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