Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
– Matthew 27:3-5 (NAS)
I remember the very first funeral I performed when I officially started my ministry in a rural, central Alberta community called Leslieville. My very first funeral was for a young mother who went downstairs one night in their farming home, took out a shotgun and shot herself. Quite unusual for a woman to take such an extreme method of suicide which is more typical of men. However, to add to the horror of that event her kids are the ones first on the scene as they came downstairs to find their mom had died from the wounds she inflicted on herself.
The National Institute for Mental Health says that suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States (http://www.nimh.nih.gov). Some of the global statistics are as follows even though these particular statistics date back to 2012:
• One person dies every 40 seconds by his or her hand.
• Nearly one million people around the world take their life each year.
• Every 15 minutes someone takes their life in the United States alone.
• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among College students.
• For every person who is successful in taking their life there are 25 unsuccessful attempts in the U.S.
The Christian Thinkers Society (Jeremiah Johnston) says, “For every question about the Bible they receive three questions about suicide and mental illness.” (Unanswered: Lasting Truth for Trending Questions – Jeremiah Johnston).
While we live in a culture that is exploring legalizing euthanasia (assisted suicide and non-resuscitation) it tends to be a very uncomfortable and sometimes awkward topic of conversation. Many of us have dealt with living wills and directives to not resuscitate a love one to respect their wishes to refuse extraordinary measures to keep him or her alive. But physician assisted suicide and suicide is the act of taking someone’s life (or taking one’s own life) which is fundamentally different than non-resuscitation instructions.
The most obvious question is this… Can a believer in Christ truly commit suicide and if they do will they go to hell?
Example in the Bible
The most obvious example in the Bible is when Judas betrayed Christ, realized the horror of his actions and went out and hung himself. Jesus comment in Mark 14:21 where He states: “… for the man who betrayed the Son of Man it would have been better for him not to be born” would indicate to me that in spite of being around Christ like the rest of the disciples he never embraced Christ the same way. He did not recognize Christ as his personal savior (if I can use those terms). You cannot lose what you do not have. If it wasn’t for Christ statement I might have a different position which I shall explain below.
Suicide and Salvation
The nature of salvation is received by faith but it is grounded in the finished work of Christ. We are forgiven, adopted into God’s family, given a new mode of existence in Christ because He transfers us into the kingdom of His Son and we are sealed with the Spirit of God; the guarantee that we belong to Christ. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ and nothing can separate us from the love of God. Often John 10:27-30 is quoted and would indicate that nothing can pull us out of the Father’s grasp. Of course you will get the theological pushback that while no one else can remove us from God’s hand we can remove ourselves from His grasp by our disobedience or activity of sin. Clearly our theological bias will influence how we interpret that text. I do not accept the idea that “no one” excludes our own actions. For me, to suggest that we can simply override the supernatural work of Christ in salvation drives us back to a works salvation that rests in our power not the work of Christ.
Isn’t Suicide the Unforgiveable Sin? (Matthew 12:22-37)
The unforgiveable sin, I believe, is related to the work of the Spirit of God revealing the divine nature of the Son of Man. Jesus even says that even if we speak wrongly against Him (Son of Man) that could be forgiven but not against the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:32). If a person does not receive or respond to the work of the Spirit to expose the divine nature of the Son of Man in His redemptive work of salvation then it is impossible to be forgiven and reconciled to God. In other words, ultimately only rejecting the gospel is unforgiveable because only through the gospel has God ordained that lost humanity can be saved. He who has the Son, has the life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:11-12).
How do we process this?
In the simplest terms I do not believe that if a Christian commits suicide then will go to hell. I believe that Christ’s death is sufficient for the greatest sins and acts of evil in our world. If Christ’s death can cover the sin of murder where people take the life of others it is sufficient to cover suicide.
However, the questions still remains can a genuine believer actually take their own life? I don’t want to sound trite but usually the people who push this position have not faced much pain and suffering in their own life much less ongoing, chronic pain that is relentless in others (not everyone but many of them). It is hard for many to conceive how a true Christian with real faith can struggle with making this kind of choice when their life is relatively free from pain and suffering.
Our Fallenness is Pervasive
We have to remember that the curse of the Fall has caused brokenness in our minds along with our body. The invisible afflictions of the mind, mental illness, depression, along with a host of clinically identified disorders have broken people down to the point of great hopelessness and despair. When people are broken down enough sometimes they do desperate things to escape the unbearable suffering and pain that will simply not go away. Ruby Wax shared in TED talks when talking about mental illness, “Diseases of the body garner sympathy, except those of the brain.”
What are we not saying? God might look at all of us and ask how any of us commits any sin, large or small if we really had faith. All of us do stupid sins but make excuses for it because from a human perspective it is not that big a deal and does not hurt others. Don’t get me wrong, I am not justifying suicide in any way and I believe it is the wrong choice to do it. I don’t believe we have the freedom to advocate taking life. We will all surrender to the process that our bodies are “decaying or being corrupted and will result in physical death one day (2 Cor. 4:16). But there are many extenuating circumstances that surround many suicides – accidental overdoses, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) , bullying, extreme abuse, mental illness, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, chronic depression to name only a few.
What am I saying?
What I am saying is that we need to develop a greater measure of compassion for those who are suffering in ways we don’t understand. Would anyone in their “right mind” commit suicide? We need to learn how to have the insight and wisdom to move alongside others who are suffering physically and / or mentally to help them in their journey so that the end result of suffering is not ignorance, stereotypical isolation and rejection much less suicide. It is easy to draw conclusions after the fact but it takes great love and compassion to walk with others in the midst of their suffering. After all final judgements are in God’s responsibility not ours.
For your consideration,