If you follow the logic of “Beetlejuice”, those who commit suicide wind up being civil servants in the afterlife. But that’s just a movie. This topic is much more serious than Hollywood can deal with. The common wisdom in the Church has often been that people who commit suicide are on a fast track straight to hell. This is because they can’t repent of their sin (Thomas Aquinas so argued thus making it a mortal sin). Dante’s Inferno places suicides in the seventh level of hell, pretty deep. While this may seem biblically logical, there is more to it than that.
The Bible records a few examples of suicide, the most memorable being King Saul who purposely fell on his sword (1 Samuel 31:1-6) and Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus for the thirty pieces of silver and later went out and hung himself (Matthew 27:5-7). Despair overtook them both. Sampson is sometimes included in this discussion though it is worth noting the difference in circumstances. When his power is restored, he brings down the roof upon himself and the enemies of God’s people the Philistines (Judges 16:23-31). Most see this as direct obedience to God under his role as a Nazirite and so technically not suicide, though he certainly knowingly dies in the process (much as Jesus didn’t commit suicide though He knew that by going to Jerusalem He would certainly be crucified for the sins of the world in obedience to His Father’s will).
Without a doubt, suicide is a sin. It breaks the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shall not commit murder.” Suicide is self murder. Life is sacred as God’s creation; He sets the days of it (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). But beyond being the sin of self-murder, suicide is also a supremely selfish act. All sin is ultimately selfishness. The person who takes his life doesn’t stop to think how their actions will effect others left behind having to “clean-up the mess” and deal with the emotional fall out. They make God small and their pain, suffering, hardships too big. This is idolatry. Scripture records several who despaired of life but didn’t resort to suicide but instead drew strength from the Lord. The Psalms abound in such despair and deliverance. Let’s see some others- Job 7:16, 1 Kings 19:1-4, Jonah 4:8, 2 Corinthians 1:3-10 and Philippians 1:18b-26. God helps us through our time of trouble. We need to trust Him and not take matters into our own hands. Even in severe physical pain, euthanasia (physician assisted suicide literally meaning “mercy killing”) is not the answer but hope in Christ is. Our suffering becomes a mighty voice and witness for the Gospel. Thus, clearly suicide is sin. But is it unforgiveable? Let’s turn to Rom. 8:1-4.
Baptismal faith clothes the naked shame of our sin. We are under grace in Christ, not the Law. Faith, even that of a mustard seed, is saving faith. Thus we are not falling in and out of salvation depending on our verbal repentance or conscious confession of Christ. If this were so, then what about those who die in their sleep not having fully confessed their sins the prior day or go to bed without having confessed Jesus Christ as Lord? What if they sin through sinful thoughts in their dreams? No, our salvation is not so fragile. Jesus died for the sin of suicide also. While such a rash deed as suicide may indicate that a person has disavowed the faith, it needn’t always mean that. When we are faithless, Christ is still faithful Scripture teaches. His blood covers the multitude of our sins- even suicide. At burial, we simply commend them to the Lord in an albeit quieter fashion without the usual joyful declarations of confident salvation. The mood is appropriately subdued but an occasion for the Gospel is still very much real.
Finally, we can honestly take into account that often a person’s state of mind is not lucid as depression sets in. They aren’t always acting through clear intentions though they may appear otherwise sane and together. Salvation is of the heart first, then the mind (Romans 10:8-10). American poet Anne Sexton wrote both of suicide and the sanctity of life. In her poem Live she concludes “I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift”. On Oct. 4, 1974 she committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning wearing her mother’s old fur coat. It isn’t unusual to see this paradox beyond creative lives in us all. Unfortunately with suicide by its very nature, one usually can’t learn from their mistake.
For Our Further Discussion
1. What should we do when we suspect a person may have suicidal tendencies?
2. How does suicide effect those left behind and how can we minister to them?