Christianity and Suicide
In 2020, according to the CDC’s most recent findings, 45,979 people died by suicide. Over 12 million adults contemplated suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.2 million made an attempt. These statistics are alarming. This means that 1 in every 200 Americans attempted suicide that year, and 1 in 20 seriously contemplated suicide. What do we, as Christians, do with this information? What does the Bible have to say about suicide and the eternal state of its victims?
The Right Tone
First things first. We all have a habit of treating things we don’t particularly struggle with coldly and indifferently. If we’re not careful, we can become armchair theologians or, worse, armchair judges and reach compassionless verdicts on people’s most painful experiences. Many who have personally dealt with suicide, whether in considering it, attempting it, or losing someone to it, have encountered a hopelessness so deep and so dark that it leads the person to believe that there is only one way out. Compassion should be a defining mark of a Christian. When discussing something as tragic as taking one’s own life, we must maintain a tone of grief and sobriety.
A Biblical View of Suicide
In the 6th commandment, murder is forbidden by God. Suicide is self-murder. Understanding the reason that murder is prohibited helps us to form a Biblical view of suicide. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” And the Psalmist points out that our times are in God’s hands and that He has numbered our days (Psalm 31:15, 139:16). The point here is twofold.
- Man is made in the image of God, and that intrinsic value makes it sinful to murder any image-bearer, even oneself.
- It is God’s prerogative alone to give and take life.
For these reasons, we can safely say that suicide is a sin in the most general sense. However, we must be careful that we don’t paint with too broad a brush. Perhaps not everything we call suicide should be considered such. There are nuances that must be weighed individually. In war, situations have occurred where one man sacrifices himself for the many. Think of a soldier jumping on a live grenade to save his unit. He is undoubtedly killing himself with full knowledge, but should this be called suicide? We could parse this out a myriad of different ways to show that this is an exception: he was protecting life, this wasn’t premeditated, his intention wasn’t to take his own life, etc. We’re not going to address all of these nuances here. I simply want to point out that they exist and that we should be sensitive to that in forming our understanding of suicide.
Can a Christian Commit Suicide?
We would define a Christian as someone who has been saved and forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice and reborn by the work of the Holy Spirit. With that said, it is technically possible for a Christian to fall into any sin. I say “technically” because the Bible tells us that those who have been born again do not make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). In other words, even true believers can commit grievous sins, but we should see this as an exception. Christians have been given a new life full of hope, peace, and joy. While it is not consistent for a Christian to reach a point of such hopelessness that they consider taking their own life, it is entirely possible.
Do Those Who Commit Suicide Automatically Go to Hell?
There are three views that I would like to address here.
- Yes, those who commit suicide go to hell because they have committed a mortal sin.
- Yes, those who commit suicide go to hell because they didn’t repent before they died.
- No, those true believers who commit suicide do not go to hell because their salvation is dependent upon Christ, not themselves.
Yes, those who commit suicide go to hell because they have committed a mortal sin.
This seems to be the most traditional view in America. People who don’t have a well-informed Biblical worldview seem to default to this position and treat suicide as the unpardonable, or at least an unpardonable sin. This view stems from the Roman Catholic doctrine of sin, in which sins are categorized as venial and mortal. For our purpose, I’ll oversimplify and say that venial sins are less severe and mortal sins are capable of condemning a soul to hell. In Roman Catholic teaching, suicide is a mortal sin. Thus, the common view is that suicide automatically condemns a person to hell. This view is not Biblical because this doctrine of sin is not Biblical, as we’ll see.
Yes, those who commit suicide go to hell because they didn’t repent before they died.
Somewhat related to the previous view, this understanding is prevalent in some circles and sees suicide as forgivable hypothetically but not actually. The true idea here is that we must repent and seek forgiveness when we sin. The falsehood, however, is that the forgiveness this position refers to is saving forgiveness. That is to say when believers sin, their salvation is in jeopardy until they repent. If they die without having repented, they will be judged for those sins. Since one cannot repent post-suicide, the suicide victim dies in sin and thus goes to Hell. The problem with this position is its misunderstanding of salvation, forgiveness, and repentance.
No, those true believers who commit suicide do not go to hell because their salvation is dependent upon Christ, not themselves.
Let me posit a disclaimer here. In the proper posture, it is appropriate to question the validity of someone’s faith who has committed suicide. I don’t mean that when we hear of the suicide of a professing believer, we should assume that they weren’t actually a believer after all. What I do mean is that this should be the exception. Just as it wouldn’t be out of line to question the faith of someone who fell into adultery or some other egregious sin, that would not be out of line here. We cannot judge the human heart, nor should we try. That business is left to God alone. But when looking at the fruit in the life of a professing believer, we should take into account the entirety of the individual’s life and not one moment in a time of despair. Assuming that the suicide victim is indeed a born-again believer in Christ, their eternal destiny is in no way determined by this tragic decision. The Bible is clear on how salvation works. We are saved by grace, through faith, not of our own works (Ephesians 2:8-10). When we place our faith in Christ, it is not merely our past sins that are forgiven – as if we get a clean slate, and then it’s on us to maintain it. No, we are forgiven for all our sins, past, present, and future, and nothing, not even suicide, can separate us from the love of God towards us (Colossians 2:13-14, Romans 8:38-39). It will be by the work of Christ that we stand before God righteous, not by our own merits or demerits (Philippians 3:9).
So, how do we view suicide Biblically? We view suicide as an egregious and tragic sin but not a sin for which Christ’s sacrifice stands impotent. All those who the Father has given to the Son will come to Him, and Jesus will not lose one of them (John 6). When we speak of suicide, we should do so with heavy and sober hearts. The pain and hopelessness that drives image-bearers of God to the point of taking their own lives is something that no one should have to suffer. In this fallen world in which we live, however, the temptation to hopelessness can attack believer and unbeliever alike. When we hear of a professing believer who has taken their life, it should make us long all the more for a world in which only righteousness dwells. A world in which all things are made new, and Christ will heal every heart and wipe away every tear. Until then, let us be the body of Christ. Let us be our brother’s keeper and liberally offer the hope of Christ that hopelessness might be robbed of her victims.
Nick Judd is the Kids Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is also the co-host of the "Everyday Apologetics" podcast. Nick is passionate about growing people in their knowledge of the Word of God and in their ability to defend it in the midst of a culture fighting against truth.
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