Suicide, Salvation and Eternity

Question:

BJ,

Will God forgive someone who commits suicide?  

Answer:

I recently attended a chaplain’s course on suicide prevention. Besides being useful in the ministry, this course was beneficial for me as a high school soccer coach. As a coach, I had dealt with a player who attempted suicide, a player whose friend committed suicide, and several other players who told me they had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. At a church where I spoke a woman told me about her husband who committed suicide. Also, a friend of mine informed me he was struggling with suicidal thoughts because his wife left him. 

In the chaplain’s course I took, the instructor stated that people who commit suicide typically do not want to die but are trying to find an escape. These people are usually facing a desperate situation and because of a variety of factors (depression, substance abuse, mental disorder, physical pain, life-threatening disease, etc.) see suicide as the only option. 

Two examples from my own experience highlight this. The first situation was of a man who was caught having an affair. Afraid to tell his wife and face the risk of losing his marriage and family, he drove his car to a remote area and lit himself on fire while in the car. In another situation, the father of a friend of mine was facing serious financial problems. Afraid to deal with the possibility of losing his business and filing for bankruptcy he hung himself. 

In each of these cases, the person saw suicide as the only solution to his problem. If I were asked by the families of these two men whether they were in heaven or not, I would respond in the following manner: God is the ultimate Judge and only He knows the heart of an individual, even at the final moment of his or her life. 

Because of these experiences, I had to ask myself what I should believe as a Christian on the topic of suicide. The answer to this question did not come overnight, but evolved as each situation brought me face to face with God’s Word. In fact, when I started to deal with the issue of suicide, I took a similar view to the early church father, St. Augustine. Like him, I saw suicide as a direct act against God that carried eternal consequences. However, through further examination of God’s Word, and gaining a better understanding of suicide, I recognize that while suicide is a very destructive decision, it can be forgiven by God. Below are some of my thoughts as to why I hold this position.

First, suicide is a sin. In essence, it is self-murder. God values human life, and since man is created in His image, He condemns all acts of murder (Exodus 20:13).

Suicide is the final, ultimate act, without opportunity for repentance or recovery. Suicide fails to fully consider the harm and damage that making this choice will do to those who are left behind. Additionally, it is an act of self-determination, a direct attack against the sovereignty of God over one’s life. A person who takes his/her life discounts God’s ability to intervene in his/her situation and instead views suicide as the only option to be set free. 

For some, suicide is a desperate attempt not to be a burden to one’s loved ones. While for others it may be a vengeful act to punish those who have hurt them. But final judgment is reserved for God alone (Romans 12:19).   

Second, contrary to what some people believe, suicide is not the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). That sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit which, in context, was the Pharisees’ deliberate rejection of what the Holy Spirit had done through Jesus. They could not deny that Jesus’ authority was from God, but they refused to acknowledge this and, instead, attributed it to Beelzebub (Satan).   

Third, salvation comes by trusting in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Those who do not trust in Jesus are not forgiven and will spend eternity separated from Him (Matthew 25:46; John 3:18). For those who trust in Jesus, He provides forgiveness for all of their sins and gives them eternal life (Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:11). This means they will not face eternal judgment (John 10:28; Romans 8:1). 

Therefore, if a person truly places his/her faith in Jesus Christ and acknowledges that he/she is a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness, then not even suicide can undo the atoning work Christ completed on the cross for that individual (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39). This issue presupposes that a believer has security in Christ. This security does not rest in what the individual does, but in what Christ has done for him/her (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8, 9).       

Fourth, what about the fact that a person who commits suicide cannot repent of his/her sin? As was noted above, when Jesus died on the cross, He provided forgiveness for all sins, including suicide. What if a person dies unexpectedly after lying or gossiping or looking at someone lustfully? I think you know what I mean. While such behavior must not be condoned, I do not think this negates God’s salvation at the end of someone’s life whose heart has been truly repentant but has somehow become overwhelmed in despair and hopelessness. Thus, even the inability to repent following the act of suicide with its destructive consequences cannot undo the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

God is the final Judge and He has revealed to us in His Word how we can inherit eternal life. Eternal life is not a result of the works that we do, but by the work that Jesus Christ completed on the cross. He paid the punishment we deserved so that by placing our faith and trust in Him we can have a new life now, avoid eternal condemnation and live with Him for eternity. 

Several months ago I heard about a prominent Christian leader who committed suicide. This man was known for his godly character, and heart of compassion. He had served the Lord for a number of years and through his work a worldwide Christian organization was established. An accusation was brought against him and, rather than face the accusation, he took his own life. 

When I heard this, many thoughts went through my mind. Being familiar with this man’s ministry, I saw him as one of the giants of the Christian faith. While many began to raise the question of whether or not he was saved or had “lost” his salvation, I was more focused on how he came to the conclusion that suicide was the only option. Surely, a man who had served the Lord all of his life would not allow guilt and fear to overwhelm him to the point where he felt suicide was the only solution. 

When we accept Jesus Christ we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in our lives (Galatians 5:22, 23). In addition, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Therefore, no matter what we face, if we are truly saved should we not be people of hope, joy and courage instead of people who are overwhelmed with guilt, depression, fear and worry? 

Nevertheless, while we have opportunity to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, we live in a fallen world and our bodies are still subject to the effects of the Fall (Genesis 3:16-19). I believe we have to wait until Jesus returns to fully experience life in the way God intended for us (Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58). Until then I leave this matter to God, who is the only One who truly knows the heart of each individual. 

While my understanding of salvation leads me to the conclusion that suicide can be forgiven, I still feel that for a true believer it should never be an option. Entering eternity through an act of suicide leads to many uncertainties that the loved ones left behind must leave in the hands of a merciful God. 

Recent statistics, put out by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, show that, in the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Every 14 minutes an American commits suicide, which in turn affects at least six people intimately. Annually, over 30,000 Americans commit suicide, while worldwide the number is over 1 million. In light of this epidemic, our role as believers is to reach out to people who are contemplating suicide, and to minister to those families who have been impacted by suicide. We can do this by being aware of the signs and symptoms associated with suicide, and by bringing a message of hope and forgiveness. We need to help people realize that with God there is always another solution. 

I am reminded that Paul, facing death and abandoned by all, knew Who his source of hope was:  

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16-18).  

As you move further in your own study on this topic, please consider some of the following verses: Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 30:19; Judges 16:21-31; 1 Samuel 31:1-7; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:15-20; Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 16:27, 28; Philippians 1:21; 1 John 3:15, 16.