Question:

Good morning brother,

I am and have been conflicted with a serious and tragic event for about a month now. I would like some direction on how to deal with it if you could.

Recently, a former elder of our congregation took the life of his wife and himself in what we commonly refer to as a murder-suicide. The wife had severely advanced Alzheimer’s disease and her condition worsened weekly, it would seem. There was no note or explanation made available to the congregation, or any mention of the circumstances regarding their deaths at the memorial service.

I am burdened with not so much “why, he did this” but what does the Scripture tell us, if anything, concerning what some term as mercy killings? My preacher, when I asked him about how God views this, offered his opinion that it was a question we should not (and could not) find an answer to but rather take comfort in the fact that God is in control and His will be done. I took comfort in speaking with my brother about this, and yet I am still thinking about this tragedy daily.

If possible, could you direct my mind on where it needs to be and how a brother or sister in Christ might cope with this by going to the scriptures? I am having difficulty moving forward with, what should be, fond memories of this loving couple.

Thank you.

Answer:

While we know what happened, what we don't know is why it happened, though we might make some educated guesses. As an example, there is a possibility that the man was suffering from dementia and it wasn't noticed in comparison to his wife's severe problems. It is the Lord who knows both the actions and the reasons for the actions, which is why judgment is left to him. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God" (I Corinthians 4:5).

But in regards to what is referred to as mercy killings, we can find in the Bible:

"So Abimelech came to the tower and fought against it, and approached the entrance of the tower to burn it with fire. But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head, crushing his skull. Then he called quickly to the young man, his armor bearer, and said to him, "Draw your sword and kill me, so that it will not be said of me, 'A woman slew him.'" So the young man pierced him through, and he died" (Judges 9:52-54).

Abimelech was already given a death blow, but he didn't want to die at the hand of a woman. What the young man did was wrong. He didn't change the outcome so his action served no purpose; yet, he broke God's law against murder.

"The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor bearer, 'Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.' But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him" (I Samuel 31:3-5).

I believe Saul's armor-bearer was correct in refusing Saul's request to kill him, but both Saul and his armor-bearer sinned in committing suicide to avoid future hardships. Interestingly, later an Amalekite tried to gain favor with David by claiming to have killed Saul. Even though he lied, David's reaction is interesting.

"The young man who told him said, 'By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and behold, Saul was leaning on his spear. And behold, the chariots and the horsemen pursued him closely. When he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I said, 'Here I am.' He said to me, 'Who are you?' And I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.'  Then he said to me, 'Please stand beside me and kill me, for agony has seized me because my life still lingers in me.' So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.' Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so also did all the men who were with him. They mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. David said to the young man who told him, 'Where are you from?' And he answered, 'I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite.' Then David said to him, 'How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?' And David called one of the young men and said, 'Go, cut him down.' So he struck him and he died. David said to him, 'Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, 'I have killed the LORD'S anointed''" (II Samuel 1:6-16).

The Amalekite's claimed action was not seen as an act of mercy but of murder.

What I also notice from these examples is that those involved were not following God. The records appear to be given to us to show us what not to do.

Let's assume that what the man sinned in killing his wife and then himself. Christians do sin, even elders, though we try to combat it (I John 1:8-2:1). It is not an excuse for sin, but we sadly admit that Satan does catch us at our weakest moments.

The man's action didn't change the outcome, only speed up the moment of death. He imagined that he was sparing his wife agony, but likely she was unaware of her deteriorating condition. What he was doing was trying to avoid his own agony and for that, there is a strong possibility that he exchanged some hardship here on earth for an eternity in hell.

However, there are lessons to be learned here. Caring for someone whose mind is deteriorating is far harder than it might appear. Clearly this man was suffering and needed help. He had become depressed and had given up on life. It is sad that his family and brethren didn't realize what was happening to him. In our love for our neighbors, we need to care for the caregivers and keep them connected to life. When your world is crumbling, it is too easy to despair, believe that God has abandoned you, and have no hope.

It is too late to change what happened to this brother, but perhaps we can be more observant and keep another from following the same sort of sin.

It is true that his life ended poorly, but the end doesn't change the fact that earlier in his life he lived it properly. There still are good things that you can remember about this couple from the better days. And remember too that while he might have sinned at the end of his life, his wife was innocent in the matter. She should be remembered for the good she did before her mind deteriorated.

And always pray that God grant mercy to one who suffered so much.

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