I recently was asked what the Bible teaches on suicide. This question is obviously not one to play with, or give glib answers to. I thought it may be helpful to unpack a few things in regards to how we ought to think Biblically about this issue.
First off, contrary to our “the Bible is all warm and fuzzy” brethren, the Bible does make allowance for lawfully taking a life. The Pentateuch makes it clear that if someone murders another, the entire nation of Israel must not pity the murderer, but has the civic and even religious duty to “not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee (Deu. 19:11-13).” Thus it is lawful to take a life, if that life is judged by God’s law to be deserving of death; “Thou shalt not murder” is not a command to be lightly passed over, and the New Testament doesn’t soften the edges of this command (see especially Rom. 13:4 & 1 Pt. 2:14).
Another example of how the Bible allows for lawfully taking a life is in the principle of a just war. The Historical books of the Old Testament afford us with numerous examples of God commanding Israel to war; often with the added statement of total annihilation of their enemy. There is a lot that could be discussed in regards to this, but for now I would simply assert that most of these OT examples are showing us instances of just war. The small-scale principle is, if someone attacks me as I’m walking along Main St. here in Windsor, I would be justified in fighting to the death in defending myself. My hope would be to end such a situation peaceably, but the Bible affords me the right to lawfully kill in the defense of my family, property and/or person.
So, what is suicide? Clearly, it is taking a life. The question before us is this, is suicide a Biblically lawful way of taking a life? The obvious answer is no. Suicide is neither an act of justice on a murderer by society as a whole, nor a just war of defense against an enemy’s act of aggression or a tyrant’s usurpation.
When someone is struggling with depression and despair, their question around this issue often bakes down to this: Does someone who commits suicide automatically go to hell? As usual we as humans like to aim at the wrong thing and ask the wrong question. The real thing that the Bible aims us at is the motive of the heart.
The act (of suicide) is the fruit of a condition rooted in the heart. The fruit comes from the root (see Mt. 15:18-19). Thus, when someone who calls himself a Christian begins toying with suicide as a viable option, and tries to find whether he can biblically take his own life, he is really looking to make sure that his murder of himself isn’t sinful. Which is a rather absurd position to seek to justify!
This is really a form of seeking “to sin so that grace may abound”! If one is born again, the fruit of that new birth is a lifestyle of mortifying (not justifying) sin, and a glorying in Christ’s promise of abundant life! As Christians, we are the people of life! We ought to lean towards life, hope, and light; suicide is a turning to death as a means of getting “out” of life. Christ would have us lean into life; not flee from it.
Again, asking whether suicide results in going to heaven or hell, is really the wrong question to ask, and is overly simplistic. The real question for those grappling with taking their own life is this: “Despite the depression and darkness around me, is Christ’s sacrifice for me on Calvary precious to me?” Suicide is the temptation to unlawfully take a life that is not yours to take! It is mocking God and His Providence! It is rooted in an arrogant and unbelieving heart that thinks that it knows better than the Maker! We know from Scripture that all things (even horribly painful circumstances) work together for the good of those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). The Saint embraces the sanctifying grace that suffering is, and trusts that God has not abandoned them (Rom. 8:38-39).
Indeed, Christ covers all the sins of all His saints, including murder (and suicide as a subset of murder). However, the fearful reality of suicide is that it reflects a heart that doesn’t trust God’s supply of grace for all circumstances, a doubting of His goodness, an uncertainty is His all-wise, all-sovereign plan! As anyone can see, this is a damning attitude to live (and die) with. The Christian walks in faith, embracing all the twists and turns that, in God’s good providence, life brings our way; trusting that He is using these things for our good and His glory. The one born again, flees from such attitudes of despair and mortifies the lust of the flesh which would lead to the destroying of one’s self.
Could a Christian commit suicide? Yes, and it would be a terrible sin against the Lord who bought them; and a Christian lives so as to flee sin and cherish the life Christ redeemed them to! Further, it would be a grievous mistake to let one’s final testimony be one of despair, selfishness, and doubt rather than hope in a Risen Christ, selflessness in one’s sufferings, and faith in the goodness of God’s providence! So, Christian, temptation to suicide is the same as any temptation…flee it, have nothing to do with it, hate it, and think on the bloody tree of Christ. Newton’s hymn is very helpful here for despairing souls:
How bitter that cup no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher and darker than mine;
Did Christ, my Lord, suffer, and shall I repine?