I have recently learned that the greatest part of the grieving from my friend’s son’s suicide comes from her belief that he son is eternally lost. She was taught that suicide is a sin and there can be no hope for him.
I want to be very careful in what I say to her, and we are naturally taking about grace, but I’m feeling inadequate in helping her. We have reasoned that he never left his faith, nor was there any rebellion in Him. Somehow I seem to not be able to see trees for looking at the forest.
Can you give me some thoughts, scripture, directions, etc. to go with my quest to help my friend in her grief?
The Bible doesn’t address suicide specifically. However, in Heb 11:32, Samson is listed as among the ancient faithful of Israel, and yet he died by killing himself (Judg 16:23-31).
On the other hand, murder has been considered a sin going back to Cain and Abel. “You shall not murder” is part of the Ten Commandments.
The Catholic Church used to consider suicide an unforgivable sin, because there was no opportunity for confession and repentance, but it has since softened its position.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2283 states: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” Paragraph 2282 also points out that “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”
The Orthodox position is similar, although not quite as generous —
The Orthodox Church normally denies a Christian burial to a person who has committed suicide. However, factors bearing on the particular case may become known to the priest who must share this information with the diocesan bishop; the bishop will consider the factors and make the decision concerning funeral services. The condemnation of suicide is reflected in the teachings of Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, St. Augustine and others. The Orthodox Church shows compassion, however, on those who have taken their own life because of mental illness or severe emotional stress, when a physician can verify a condition of impaired rationality.
My experience in the Churches of Christ is mixed. Some insist that suicide damns because it’s a form of murder and there is no opportunity to repent. This is the position of some of our most conservative preachers. But I think most in the Churches intuitively understand that God is far more gracious than this. Suicide may be a sin, but no one dies with all sins confessed and repented of — and yet surely God saves his children nonetheless.
Suicide is always tragic. It may even be a sin against those left behind. But it’s never damning by itself. After all, the point of grace is that we’re saved even though we’re sinners — because of our faith in Jesus as Messiah.
The most thoughtful article I’ve been able to find on the subject is —
Perhaps you have heard people say that suicide is unpardonable or unforgivable by God. This idea is often based on the belief that the person who commits suicide is unable to ask for and receive forgiveness after the act and, therefore, receives eternal punishment. Indeed, you can’t ask for forgiveness after you are dead. Because suicide is self-murder, it is sinful.
The act of suicide does not, however, condemn anyone to eternal punishment and separation from God. Salvation and eternal life are gifts that God freely gives to all who acknowledge their sinfulness to God and trust personally in the death of Christ on the cross as the just payment for their sinfulness (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8–9; Rom. 8:31–33; 2 Cor. 5:21).
Salvation for any person rests in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, not in abstaining from sinful acts. Our committing suicide in and of itself does not condemn us to eternal punishment any more than does any other sin for which we have not asked forgiveness at the time of death (see 1 Cor. 3:9–15; 2 Cor. 5:10). For the Christian, there is no individual act or sin that can erase salvation, change eternal destiny, or separate the believer from God—including suicide (Rom. 8:1, 37–39).
We are by our very nature sinful, and any of the many sins we commit throughout our lives would condemn us to separation from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23) if there was no cross upon which the debt of a believer’s past, present, and future sin has been eternally paid. …
Salvation and suicide are two separate issues. We all have committed many sins throughout our lives. We all need salvation, totally apart from the issue of suicide. Each person must choose to accept or reject the death of Jesus Christ for his of her own life.
The destiny of anyone you have known who has already committed suicide was not settled by the act of suicide; it was settled by his or her relationship with Christ. That relationship may have been public or private. Even that person, for any number of reasons, may have been uncertain about it. God, however, is not uncertain as to the identity of His children, so we must rest in His mercy, love, and eternal promises. Suicide is normally a very private act, and what may have transpired spiritually in those final moments of despair is known only to God. God hears the prayers and cries of all who call out, and He is always faithful in answering those petitions. …
As one writer observes:
The Christian prohibition of suicide is clearly based in our assumption that our lives are not ours to do with as we please.
Gary Stewart, Basic Questions on Suicide and Euthanasia: Are They Ever Right?, BioBasics series, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 43–46.
As a rule, suicide is a sin. If you doubt me, talk to the people left behind and see how much they suffer from the loss of someone they love. But we’re saved by faith, not by works, and we are continuously forgiven of our sins, even if we’ve not had a chance to confess or repent, as I explain in a recent Wineskins article. There are, I’m sure, exceptions for the mentally ill and other extreme examples. But whether suicide is sinful does not answer the question asked.
To me it’s very clear that suicide would never, by itself, be the cause of someone’s damnation. The whole point of grace through faith in Jesus is that sin no longer has dominion over us and so we are saved despite our sins.
(Rom 5:16-17 ESV) 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
(Rom 8:1-2 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
(Rom 8:38-39 ESV) 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Like most who comment on this topic, it’s important to say nothing that might encourage a reader to commit suicide. It’s normally a sin, and it nearly always hurts those left behind in horrible ways.
But being a sin does not make it damning. It’s the nature of God’s grace that sin does not damn — even sin that we never confessed and repented of. After all, if we had to repent and confess every sin to be forgiven of every sin, we’d all be damned. No one could meet such a standard.