I was talking in my last post about the conversation I had with my brother on suicide, and if someone who commits suicide is forgiven. This is a huge issue, based on a few ideas; we can tackle these individually to come up with an idea of what Scripture teaches on the topic:
- Is suicide a sin? (some do not see it as such)
- Are there sins that are unforgivable?
- If so, is suicide one of these?
- If someone commits suicide, are they truly a Christian? (This is one I have heard a lot)
One of the biggest places where we get the idea of Suicide being an unforgivable sin is Roman Catholicism. In Roman Catholicism they hold to two forms of sin: venial sins, “a sin that can be forgiven, although perhaps after punishments in this life or in purgatory” (Grudem, Systematic theology, 1257); and mortal sins, these are sins that cannot be forgiven, a sin that causes spiritual death(Evangelicals see all sins as mortal, no matter how small; each sin is in-itself enough to condemn us to Hell for eternity; but we are forgiven of these sins through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, resulting in us being justified when we place our faith in Him). Suicide is considered a mortal sin. Roman Catholicism, unlike Evangelical Christianity, does not hold to “Justification by Faith.” In Roman Catholicism justification is seen as an imparted righteousness (as opposed to the Imputed righteousness of reformed thinking), this is a change in our very nature. The Roman Catholic view of Justification is merged with our view of Sanctification; it is seen as a continuing process by which we become (not “are declared”) holy (or righteous). The Roman Catholic Church is the one source of Grace in this world, and Grace is received through participation in the sacraments; so part of earning eternal salvation, part of receiving forgiveness, in Catholicism, is participation in the 5 sacraments;
- Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Roman Catholic Catechism, and
- Penance; this is a confession to a priest of all sins, the priest in Catholicism has the power to remit sins; the Priest will absolve the person of sins (it requires Contrition, Confession, satisfaction, and Absolution). This is required for the forgiveness of any mortal sin committed after baptism; therefore if suicide is a mortal sin, then the person is condemned because upon committing suicide they are no longer able to receive Absolution.
Evangelical Christians do not agree with Catholics on these being the only means of grace(as well as disagreeing with what Eucharist looks like, and not accepting Extreme Unction, Catechism, or Penance as Biblical), nor Roman Catholicism being the only true church, nor the Roman Catholic view on justification. I will give a brief description of Justification in the eyes of Evangelicals, but we will look at it further in its relation to someone who commits suicide. Evangelicals believe that the Bible teaches Justification by Faith; Justification by faith says that we are justified, a legal term which in this theological context refers to a legal declaration of righteousness made by God, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and are saved. The instant we are saved, as opposed to the process seen in the Roman Catholic view of justification, God declares us legally righteous, and therefore free from the legal ramifications of our sins (ie. eternal damnation in Hell). So let’s look at suicide, first off; is suicide a sin?
- I was talking with my brother-in-law today, and he asked me, in response to a discussion on suicide; “where in the Bible does it say it is a sin?'” [My brother agrees with me on suicide, but he asked this because someone at his church in Florida once asked him this very question]. So, does the bible explicitly say that suicide is a sin? The answer is no, but there are five passages where we read about suicide in the Bible (Judges 9:50-55; 1 Sam. 31:1-6; 1 Sam. 31:5;2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18; Matt. 27:3–10(Acts 1:18–19)); in none of these passage is there an outright declaration of it being sinful, but neither is it commended; even in the most dire circumstances. We can build a case that suicide is sinful, based on a few different passages. The most powerful evidence for the sinfulness of suicide is Scriptures teachings on the sanctity of life: Genesis 1:26-27 “26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NASB); Genesis 2:7 “7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Some would also suggest Psalm 8:5). These passages show that God created humanity specially, they were created bearing His image, and have incredible worth; Genesis 9:6 teaches: “6 “ Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.”” Because humanity bears God’s image, it would seem that we are incredibly valuable; taking man’s life is an incredible offence. Scripture also teaches that life is given to us from God, and that it is his prerogative alone to take it (this is seen in the Ten Commandments; Ex. 20:13 declares that we shall not murder [it should be clarified that murder here is different than killing in self-defence, or in war]). Finally in 2 Sam. 1:1-16 we see that assisting in someone’s suicide, killing someone even upon their request, demands a severe punishment. Suicide is self-murder, and therefore is sinful, just as much as it is sinful to murder someone else. Our lives are a gift from God and are not ours to take on our own whims.
- Suicide is a sin, but is it unforgivable? It makes sense for Suicide to be unforgivable in the context of the Roman Catholic view of justification, but not so much in the Evangelical view. First off, scripture only teaches one sin as unforgivable: Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, as we read in Matthew 12:31. This is not suicide. In the theology of Evangelicalism we see that upon salvation we are declared righteous, and this is a permanent declaration (though some in Arminian schools of thought may not agree with this, seeing a possibility for someone who was once saved to fall away and become unrighteous). If someone is a true believer and then commits suicide they would still be justified, even though they do not have a chance to confess their sins. As I wrote in my last blog post, our confessions we are to make after salvation are not to attain legal forgiveness, but to maintain relationship with our Heavenly father. This writer does not see any Biblical evidence, and no reason, why suicide would change our legal status to unrighteous, whereas sins like murder, adultery, lying, theft, and the like are all forgiven. Because we are forgiven from the beginning, and not after a [post-salvation] prayer of repentance and forgiveness, there seems to be no reason why suicide would leave us in a different position than our commission of other sins. There is such a thing as an unforgivable sin; but Scripture tell us it is one sin, which is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (there are many theories abounding about what exactly this entails). Suicide is not the unforgivable sin, and in the Protestant/Evangelical view of Justification there seems to be no reason why it would change our eternal destiny.
- Some Christians would say that; yes, suicide is not unforgivable, but someone committing suicide is an indication of one not being a true believer in the first place. They reckon that because being a Christian means trusting God, and suicide seems to betray a lack of that trust; the one committing suicide was never a Christian. Is this valid? Is suicide something only someone who is an unbeliever would commit? To answer this we need to look at the very nature of suicide. Suicide is most often in response to extreme emotional pain. It is less about dying than it is about living. Those who are suicidal often see death as an escape from the painful situation they are in; not just an escape, but the only escape (Stewart, Gary. Basic Questions on Suicide and Euthanasia: Are They Ever Right?. BioBasics series. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998. 15-16). It is often brought on by psychological disorders like depression and substance abuse. Substance abuse can lead to suicide because of the emotional strain of the addiction itself, or a substances ability to heighten feelings of helplessness and lessen self-control (someone may ponder suicide because of depression, but never actually go through with it; but once drunk may then have the “courage”, or lack of foresight, to go through with it). Often suicide can be attributed to psychological factors, and it would seem to be unwise to label those who commit suicide as never truly Christian. Also, is it valid to say that because we fail to trust God in something, we were never truly a Christian? This would not bode well for me. I can think of circumstances in the recent past where God has called me to do something, but I have failed to trust Him and do what He says. I have later acknowledged my failings, and repented. But because I failed to trust Him, does that mean I was never truly a Christian? I would suggest that there are times when sometimes we fail to trust God, no matter how devoted we are to him. It comes from us being fallen men (and women). What would happen if everything in my life fell apart at once? Let us paint a hypothetical scenario. Imagine a man who is married, has a great job he has worked hard for, and has teenage kids (now this will not be based on any one complete real world scenario, but sadly I know of many very similar scenarios to the one I propose). This man one day discovers that for the past year his wife has been cheating on him with a man in a different country. What he thought was a happy and strong relationship falls apart, quickly his wife demands a divorce and takes his remaining two kids across the border on a “trip”, only to stay there with her lover. A month ago his 16 your old son had been drinking, and ended up in a fatal car crash with three of his friends, two of them survived. Because of the emotional turmoil he is going through he is unable to satisfactorily perform his job, so his boss fires him in sight of the losses the company is incurring from his present, most likely temporary, incompetence. Now, because of the divorce he is now going through his hardline church anathematizes him because he is seemingly living a life contrary to Biblical standards (sounds super unrealistic and definitely unbiblical, but it has happened). Everything in his life has fallen apart. Given a few weeks, maybe even a week, he would turn to God and see God as his stronghold during this hard time, and trust him to get him through this hard time and work all things out for his good. But the week this all comes to a head, the day after his wife leaves, two after he has been fired, some friends from work invite him out for a guy’s night at the bar; it will be a great way to get his mind of all that is going on. That night he heads home, drunk out of his mind. Now, the night before suicide had slipped through his mind fleetingly, a way to escape the seemingly unending pain he is experiencing, but he rejected it immediately as unbiblical and contradictory to everything he believes is right. Now that he is drunk, he walks into his kitchen, and the lack of children in the house brings rushing back all that had happened. Suicide fleetingly pops into his mind, but this time he does not have the will to resist it, to conjure up those things that give him reason to live; the will to even pray. In a moment of stupidity and desperation, fueled by alcohol, he consumes every pill he can find in the medicine cupboard. This man lost sight of eternity for a second, lost trust in God for a night, yet ended his life. Does this one night of foolishness invalidate his entire Christian walk? This seems totally unreasonable, and contrary to everything the Bible teaches. We have forgiveness when we make mistakes. No matter how numerous.
In conclusion, it seems that there can be a good case built that suicide is sinful. And an equally solid case that it is not an unforgivable sin, to argue as such seems to at the very least building a faulty argument from silence. Finally, it seems unreasonable to suggest that in every case where someone commits suicide it is an indication that they were not truly saved. I know that if a single mistake, if a moment of failing to trust God, proved that I was not saved; then sadly I would not be able to call myself a Christian, based on this week alone. But God is faithful to forgive us and has forgiven us from the moment we put our faith in him. Suicide is wrong, and should never be considered an option for a Christian no matter what the circumstance; we need to trust God, his Love, Grace, and Faithfulness no matter what is going on. It is God’s right alone to choose when our lives are to end, to decide when our mission on earth is complete. Scripture teaches that He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), therefore we cannot think of suicide as an acceptable choice. That being said; when we are talking to someone who has had a suicide in their family it is not our place to judge whether that person will be in heaven or not. God is the only one who knows if they were ever truly saved or not, and suicide is seemingly not enough of an evidence for us to determine that they were never saved; neither is suicide unforgivable. When someone is thinking of suicide we need to console them and show them Scripturally how important they are, that they bear the image of God, and we need to show them the Scriptural promises that God will get us through every hard circumstance; he will be our stronghold in the day of trouble (cf. Nahum 1:7). And when someone close to us or our friends commits suicide we need to provide comfort, not condemnation.