Jerad and Amanda Miller, the two who ambushed and killed two on-duty (and on lunch) police officers over the weekend are said to have had a death wish. I think this is abundantly clear. But, so do some martyrs (suicide bombers are on an entirely different scale). If you look at the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, you will get the real sense that man desired nothing more than to die.
But, what about Jesus? Famously, some liberal theologians suggest Jesus only submitted to the cross after his example was wasted on the folk. Or, some suggest he was the first martyr. Neither of this, I think, does justice to what I am going to propose in my new dissertation.
If we allow for the moment that devotio means, in its simplest form, “self-sacrifice,” then we can allow for an exploration of suicide as a form of devotio even if the proper term is not used. With this in mind, we turn to two authors, one making use of the other. Jack Miles, in his seminal work, Christ, a Crisis in the Life of God, posits the death of Jesus as a suicide. In his story, God has abandoned Israel and as such, remembers that he must honor his promise. To do so, God becomes human in the person of Christ. Miles uses Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat’s work, “Le suicide du Christ: Une theologie,” to buffer his work. In this work, Dauzet calls attention to the text, specifically the Gospel of John, and the early interpretation to show that the death of Jesus as a suicide is allowable. But, he goes further. Dauzet states, “The idea of the suicide of Christ will have been, before all else, a Christian if not indeed a Christological idea.”
What if the death of Jesus was by his own choosing? I don’t mean the “Jesus loved us this much he died for us.” No, I mean, Jesus said, “The only way to renew this covenant and force God to act is to for me to die. I have to die.” In working on this, I am left to focus on suicides today as well as those who have themselves killed (death by cop). I am also worried that this line of thinking is making me a more conservative theologian (or theology guy). I mean, it is getting brutal in my head. I also contend that if Jesus did in fact seek to kill himself in such a manner then it is possible, almost required, that the earliest Christology was pretty high, that Paul didn’t invent as much theology as we’d like to think, among other things I’m not ready to put into words yet.
The term “suicide” is a relatively new concept; the idea of a taking one’s life for issues not related to honor, or any of the other ancient reasons, is even newer. However, I believe the anachronistic term is best and will be used periodically given it’s emotional charge and his direct connotation of free will.
Jack Miles, Christ, A Crisis in the Life of God. (Vintage, 2002).
Miles, Christ, A Crisis in the Life of God,, 164–67.See, Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzet, Le suicide du Christ: Une theologie (Perspectives critiques), (Presses universitaires de France, 1998).