Suicide is one of the most sensitive and painful issues imaginable. My goal is simply to tell you what the Bible says about suicide.
One of the main questions that Christians ask is whether a true Christian can commit this sin; or is it only unbelievers that commit this sin? Can a person who commits suicide still go to heaven? What do we say to people who have lost a loved one through suicide?
The chances are very high that we all know someone who has committed suicide. The suicide rate continues to grow in America. The current rate is about 11 suicides per 100,000 people. The suicide rate is higher among young people, especially young adults ages 20 to 24 — 12.5 suicides per 100,000. A recent survey found that among young people in public and private schools in the USA, grades 9-12: 17% said they had seriously considered suicide. 13% said they had created a plan to commit suicide. 8% said they had tried to take their own life.
Statistics don’t mean a whole lot until suicide strikes close to home. Tony Dungey, former head coach of Indianapolis Colts – his son committed suicide. He writes about it in his book: Quiet Strength. He tells how it was a complete shock. They never suspected it. And Tony felt he had good communication with his son.
We must never think it can’t happen to us. Samuel Miller wrote in his book, Guilt and Folly of Suicide, “Brethren, be not deceived! Every individual who hears me has an interest in this subject. Who can foresee the situation in which he may hereafter be placed, or the temptations by which he may hereafter be assailed? Or who can tell how soon the conduct of a near relative, or of a valued friend, may bring the subject home, with the deepest interest, to his bosom? In truth, it is appropriate for sinful creatures, with regard to every sin, to be humble and watchful; for there is no sin into which they may not fall, if forsaken by restraining grace.”
Only by appealing to the Bible can you consistently say that suicide is wrong. It is true that even non-Christians argue that suicide is wrong and try to prevent people from committing suicide. But they are being inconsistent. They tell young people that there is no absolute standard of right and wrong, and then turn around and tell them they should not kill themselves. You cannot tell young people there is no such thing as right and wrong, and then turn around and tell them it is wrong to commit suicide. As Miller wrote, “when a man believes that there is no moral Governor of the universe; no Judge to whom he is accountable for his actions; no heaven to be sought; no hell to be avoided; will he not, of course, feel himself at liberty to dispose of his own life at pleasure? And if he is at any time weary of his existence, what is there to prevent his taking refuge in the grave?”
The Bible is very clear. Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not murder.” Suicide is self-murder. It is God who gives life. And only He has the right to take it. “By suicide is meant not merely self-murder, but also purposely exposing our life to violence and danger. The duellist is guilty of this crime. He who commits a felony with the express view of being put to death, by the hand of public justice, is also guilty of suicide; and, in general, everyone who, voluntarily and without necessity, places himself in the way of danger” (Miller). “There are occasions, indeed, on which it is the duty of men to put their lives in jeopardy, and even resolutely to sacrifice them. The case of martyrdom is one instance of such duty, and the case of just and necessary war is another. But it is possible, in either of these cases, to court death foolishly and wickedly. We are bound to use all lawful means to preserve our own lives; and, therefore, he who, in any case whatever, destroys his life, or who permits it to be destroyed, when he is able to save it, is guilty of suicide” (Miller).
Let us now look at every case of suicide in the Bible
The first case is King Saul. 1 Samuel 31:3-4: “The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me. But his armor-bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him.” Saul killed himself because he was afraid of being shamed or tortured by the Philistines. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary on this passage: “He finds himself dying, and all he cared about was to keep his body out of the hands of the Philistines, instead of being concerned to resign his soul into the hands of God who gave it. As he lived, so he died, proud and jealous….He died as a man that had neither the fear of God nor hope in God, much less the dignity of a prince or the resolution of a soldier….By the example of his wickedness in murdering himself, he drew in his servant to be guilty of the same wickedness.”
The second case is found in 2 Samuel 17:23: “Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his house in order, and hanged himself, and he died; and he was buried in his father’s tomb.” When Absalom rebelled against his father King David and drove David from his throne as an outcast, Ahithophel, who was David’s chief counselor, became a traitor and sided with Absalom. David prayed that the Lord would defeat the counsel of Ahithophel. And God answered his prayer by causing Absalom not to listen to Ahithophel’s advice to wipe out David and his weary army while you have the chance. Do not give him time to recoup. Ahithophel knew that his advice was the best advice. And when Absalom did not listen he could see the handwriting on the wall; he saw doom written over Absalom’s cause. Given time to recoup, David’s troops would decimate Absalom’s forces, after which Ahithophel would be executed for the traitor he was. To prevent therefore the shame and terror of a public execution, he takes his own life. Matthew Henry writes, “He thought himself slighted, and an intolerable slur cast upon his reputation for wisdom. His judgment always used to sway at the council-board, but now another’s opinion is thought wiser and better than his. His proud heart cannot bear the affront; he will not live to see another preferred before him.” Another commentator, Gordon Keddie, writes, “The downfall of Ahithophel shows the self-destructive end of wickedness. A man who cannot face the earthly consequences of his failures tries to escape into death, but the truth is that this only brings him face to face, all the sooner, with the eternal consequences of what led to his suicide in the first place – his fundamental hatred for the Lord and his unwillingness to keep His righteous commands. The wages of sin will always be death.”
The third case: 1 Kings 16:18: “And it happened when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house down upon himself with fire, and died.” King Zimri saw that he had no chance of defeating Omri – who would take his place as king, so he burnt the king’s palace and he himself with it. “Zimri was unwilling that his rival should ever enjoy that sumptuous palace, and so he burnt it” (Henry).
And now we come to the fourth and the most famous suicide in the Bible, the suicide of Judas. Matthew 27:3-5: “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He [Jesus] had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? You see to it! Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
Judas was filled with grief and anguish when he realized what he had done. When he was tempted to betray his Master the 30 pieces of silver looked very fine and glittering. But when the deed was done, and the money paid, the silver didn’t look so good. “What have I done! What a fool I’ve been! I have betrayed an innocent man to death!” Notice: Judas confessed that he had sinned. And he was sorry for what he had done. And he was willing to give back the 30 pieces of silver, but all that was not true repentance. It was the sorrow of having to face the consequences of your actions, but it was not a hatred of the sin itself. And instead of taking his guilt and anguish to God for forgiveness, he took it with him to the grave. He despaired of God’s mercy.
Do not think it is a small matter to despair of being forgiven. You are calling God a liar, and despising His offer of mercy. Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” If God says He will have mercy on you if you take your sins to Him, then to deal with your sins in some other way is to despise God’s mercy. “Judas concluded that his iniquity was greater than could be forgiven. He sinned more in despairing of God’s mercy, than in betraying his Master’s blood” (Henry).
What should we make of all these examples of suicide? First of all, in every case it was an unbeliever who committed suicide. This has led some Christians to conclude that everyone who commits suicide is an unbeliever and is in hell. Is this true? Before I answer this question, I want to talk about a shift that has taken place in our society. At one time in our society there was the tendency to view suicide as the unforgivable sin. Now, we have the opposite tendency. The tendency today is to feel sorry for everyone who commits suicide and to think that they are in a better place. After all, God understands how tough they had it this life. But both of these positions are wrong.
It is a fact that unbelievers who commit suicide most certainly go to hell. All unbelievers go to hell, regardless of whether or not they committed suicide. On the other hand, the Bible clearly teaches that a true believer in Jesus Christ will never go to hell, no matter how many sins he struggles with. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus died for all our sins, therefore, if we were to die without being able to ask for forgiveness, our failure to ask for forgiveness would also be included among the sins that Jesus took care of at the cross. Our salvation does not depend on our asking for forgiveness. Our asking for forgiveness, just like all our other acts of obedience, is the result and evidence of our salvation.
Is it possible for a true believer to commit suicide? The answer is yes if we believe our own confession: Heidelberg Catechism, Question 60: “We are still prone always to all evil.” If we are still prone to all evil, that would include the evil of committing suicide. “He who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). And so, yes, I would agree with Samuel Miller: “It is possible that a child of God may be so far under the power of mental derangement, as to rush unbidden into the presence of his Father.” But I would also agree with Miller: you better make sure you are a true believer: “Are you sure ¬ miserable as your present state may be that death will not land you in still greater misery: in that prison of eternal despair, where the heaviest calamities of this life will sink into nothing when compared with that eternal torment?”
Suicide is a horrible legacy for a child of God to leave behind. You claim to be a child of God and your last statement was calling God a liar. Your last statement was: “God gave me more than I can handle.” God has promised not to give us more than we can handle. Suicide calls God a liar. Suicide is a terribly selfish sin. It shows no concern for the family and friends who are left behind to pick up the pieces and figure out what went wrong. What a horrible legacy for a child of God!
What do we say to people who have lost a loved through suicide? We should say nothing at first, but weep with those who weep (cf. Job 1:11). Later, when the time comes to say something, if the person who committed suicide had professed faith in Christ, then in a spirit of love and charity we should assume that he is heaven. If it is a professed unbeliever who took his life, then we must not say one way or another. It would be wrong to say for sure that that person is in a better place. But it would also be wrong to say for sure that that person is in hell. We are not the judge. God is the Judge. We do not know a person’s last thought. Perhaps it was: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
We cannot help those who are gone. We must help those who are still alive and point them to Christ. Our mission as a church would most certainly include reaching out to those who are without hope. We must reach out to them and help them with their self-destructive behavior. We must tell them that they are made in God’s image, and therefore their life has value and dignity. We must tell them that it is their sin that is behind their self-destructive behavior. Man by nature is self-destructive, and Satan certainly encourages self-destructive behavior (think of all the people that are cutting themselves). He hates you and wants you to hate you. We must tell them to stop putting all their hope and trust in things that can be taken from them, or things that do not last. Do not make a god out of a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Put all your hope and trust in a relationship with Jesus Christ, something that cannot be taken from you. Jesus came into this dark world to give us life and hope. He died to give us life. And He has sympathy for the broken-hearted. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And He is able to heal the broken-hearted. Cry out to Him, and He will save you.
And, as Christians, let us not be afraid to be honest about our own struggles. We Christians are normal people. We get depressed too. And there are times when we wish we were dead. In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul said that his trouble was so great that death seemed preferable. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11: “our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us.” Note: we despaired even of life. But we do not take our life. We trust God to deliver us in His own perfect time. We think of the horrible sufferings of our Lord Jesus who suffered infinitely more than we ever will. We trust in His infinite compassion not to let us suffer more than we can bear.
Let us teach our children about this issue, and prepare them to face the trials of life as a Christian. Life is not easy. Let us pray that the Lord would not allow Satan to overwhelm them, for he most certainly will if God let him. We are no match for the devil. Let us all pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” including this temptation.