Suicide and the Unforgivable Sin

offer_hope_prevent_suicide_psaI get emails —

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.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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15 Responses to Suicide and the Unforgivable Sin

  1. Royce says:

    It is a myth that only sins confessed and repented of are forgiven. Jesus died for ALL of our sins. If the standard is that any sin not confessed and not repented of will damn us to hell we are everyone doomed. Not one of us can keep tabs on our unworthiness to that degree.

    One of the sins Jesus took upon himself was suicide. He paid the debt in full.

  2. Robin M. says:

    Samson did not commit suicde no more than a soldier commits suucide whe he takrs on an army. Samson destroyed the heathen people and died in yhe process.
    Yes we do not have to specifically keep track of every sin but we must repent of sin. Christ says uf we don’t we should all likewise perish and said it twice to set the point. If you don’t think working through obedience based on fsith, read James chapter 2, ssid it three times in one chapter. Why the extra times in both cases, cause God knew that people, like right now, would still ignore His word through ignorance of the scriptures. How many have reptened from suicide and turn back to God?

  3. John F says:

    “We are by our very nature sinful,” We have a fleshly nature (sarx) but not inherently (or inherited) sinful. We choose to sin and / or repent. The just and gracious God will A:WAYS make the right decision. Beyond that, much is just “informed” speculation. More later , , ,

  4. rich constant says:

    If judgment and faithfulness is a condition of the heart.
    And we have God that knows what a tonement meant a faithful high priest continually making intercession for the groanings it can’t be uttered through the Spirit.
    wouldn’t it be just right to say will let the righteous Judge judge righteously the heart of the man that decided he needed to be out of this life and into the next.
    I mean its not like we all got the gospel down right in the first place.
    Actually Who am I to judge anotherS servant.
    I know where I been I know what I’ve done.
    I know Paul killed people.
    and as far as I’m concerned my hands aren’t clean enough to judge somebody else. when their spirit has left the body.
    one way or the other. and quite honestly the way that I feel about it. that’s right FEEL. those kinds of incidents are none of my business.
    Blessings

  5. rich constant says:

    I’ll tell you a little story about being clinically depressed.
    one morning I walked out of the back door slider just as happy as I could be. As I walked down my motorhome driveway by thE time that I opened the gate I was in tears.
    I really don’t think that anyone realizes just how bad heartache, despair& bad brain chemistry affect anyone, unless they been affected themselves.
    and how in just a blink of an eye your world goes upside dowN.
    then from 2010 to 2014 how utterly lost dazed confused I was because of the divorce.
    If it hadn’t been for my boys are allowing me to go through what they knew that I had to go through and only praying to God that I would live to pick my life up again and give him thanks.
    boy oh boy.
    To have the woman of your dreams for 25 years and then having to ask somebody what an affair meant .
    that was so out of the realm of possibility I had forgotten the word.

  6. Mark says:

    Given what we neuroscientists know about the brain and the effects of a chemical imbalance, one cannot be held responsible for something over which he has no control. The demon possessed people of the Bible were not held responsible for their actions while the demons were. No one knows what happens in the brain in the moments before a suicide or if there is regret between the fatal act and the soul departing the body.

    Now, one who does not act to try to prevent a suicide or ignored the warning signs, has sinned big time.

  7. rich constant says:

    I’m also blessed to have been able to read John Mark, he taught me what An Imprecitore psalm was and how its used.
    to say nothing of the meaning of the word I probably AM NOT spelling right
    boy oh boy
    Some things just never change.
    thanks John Mark

  8. John F says:

    Later is here: these a some of the thoughts I shared a the service for the 16 year old son od one of my closest friends; perhaps of some help. . . . ..

    It is a jumbled up time with all this mixed together. Ultimately, we know that God is the source of healing; bringing promise, forgiveness, and most importantly … hope.
    Read and ask God to renew your mind with these verses:
    Psalms 34:17-19 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
    No single incident, no matter how hurtful to us can cause us to lose our relationship to God. One thing does: continual rejection of God’s Spirit. Jared we know lived in and accepted the forgiveness of Christ.
    The prophet Isaiah foresaw this great sending of the suffering Messiah.
    Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed….. (Isaiah 53:4–5)
    Jesus Christ came into the world and fulfilled this great prophecy by dying on the cross and becoming a blessing for those who trust in him. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
    His apostle Peter said, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
    So the issue for every one of us is: do we have a relationship of faith with Jesus Christ so that our sins are forgiven? It is the most precious gift in the world. And there is no other way for a sinner to get to God than through the shed blood of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ—by trusting in his name.
    No amount of good works can earn God’s salvation. And no amount of bad works disqualifies a person from God’s converting grace. A thief hung on a cross next to Jesus as he was dying, and in that last moment his eyes were opened and he threw himself on the mercy of the King of the universe and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus, with all the sovereignty of one who would not be defeated by death, said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42–43).
    Even Saving Faith Can Be So Weak That the Heart Gives Way to Weakness
    Or to put it another way, those who are truly forgiven for their sins and accepted by God forever can give way temporarily, but that does not remove the saving RELATIONSHIP.. any more than a single act from our own children would cause us to turn our backs to them.
    The biblical evidence for this is:
    The seventh chapter of Romans describes how Christians struggle with the remaining corruption in our lives: Romans 7:15: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
    Philippians 3:12: “Not that I . . . am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
    Even Paul realized that he was not always strong in his faith, and failed; yet he knew, as should we, that it is the continuing relationship that saves and not a single disappointing action.

  9. Royce says:

    If our “sinful nature” isn’t inherited where did we get it. And isn’t it an odd coincidence that every last one of has a “sinful nature”? You would think that if we were not born with with it that of millions and millions of people some would not have it.

    12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

    Sin and the resulting death came into the world through Adam and death spread to all men. Why? Because all sinned. Why did they all sin? Because they were all sinners, they were born with a “sinful nature”. And, even though sin is not counted where there is no law (like babies, small children, and the mentally incompetent) they still die.

    A bent toward selfishness and sin is standard equipment in every human born. Only One was born otherwise and he had no human father.

  10. John says:

    I lost my seventeen year old son to suicide. He was a loving, kind, tender young man who would have never hurt anyone else. I believe for him, in his pain, he forgot for a moment how much he was loved, as have many before him. He knows it eternally now.

  11. John says:

    …and besides, who are we to boast of a faith that would not do such a thing, None of us are able to think and rationalize through another’s pain, or to know if we in such pain could wait another moment. Knowledge of scripture is not the bed of wisdom in times like these; it is the sinking into, and the confession, of our own ignorance and helplessness.

  12. David W. says:

    As someone who found himself way too close to committing suicide, maybe I can offer a few thoughts.

    1) Suicide seems rational when you are in the depths of depression. (If you haven’t been there i) be grateful to God that you haven’t, and ii) listen to those who have.)

    2) At times the pain is so unbearable that it must stop! Given that the best therapists, drugs and treatments have failed to alleviate the pain, suicide can appear to be the only reasonable way to stop it. (Even the threat of Hell may appear less daunting than the pain you are going through.)

    3) When in the suicidal state you are (I certainly was) aware that it will hurt my loved ones, but one views the short term pain they will suffer as being a small price compared to the long term pain you are inflicting on them, and that is being inflicted on you. (Yes, I justified the desire to end my life as being in my wife and daughter’s best interests. Unfortunately, as Jay points out, the pain the loved ones suffer isn’t short term, it is life long.)

    4) As a culture, both Christian and more broadly, we need to put our squeamishness with mental illness aside. Why do we believe God will forgive me when, through my own actions, I contributed to the disease that kills me by smoking or over-eating, but not when my actions are driven by something I had no control over! This seems to buy into Descartes mind-body dualism, which is very popular in Protestant circles, but actually expresses a more Gnostic than Christian worldview. (We are not souls trapped for a short time in flesh, nor are we simply bodies with no incorporeal “parts”, we are body-soul unities and are not complete if we abandon either.)

  13. Dwight says:

    Murder is the killing of another who is not deserving of it. Suicide isn’t murder in that sense as it isn’t another person. Job’s wife told Job to commit suicide, but he didn’t, but hever says that doing so was sinful, but in another sense suicide would be giving up on God if you are Godly. We place our final destiny in God’s hands not ours. But suicide for an alien sinner cuts short the persons ability to come to God, but probably doesn’t add the weight of more sin. But since there are no scriptures that says that God says suicide is sinful, then I must not treat it so. Suicide is usually caused by despair and I should have mercy on others as God does.

  14. Dwight says:

    David W. makes some very valid points. Is a slow death by cheeseburger and fries any more sinful than a gun? I too have been close to suicide. My reasons was because I was clinically depressed and didn’t know how to escape and I thought that if I comitted suicide then my father would notice me. Suicidal thoughts are not usually rational thoughts.
    But then again there are those who have come to the end of thier life and choose suicide as the way are just choosing their exit so to speak. Many would argue that a rejection of meds is suicide, but really our life is but a vapor anyway and who wouldn’t want to be with God. We therefore shouldn’t classify every situation in the same way. And allow God to have His say.

  15. Christopher says:

    Here’s an interesting analysis of Samson’s death:

    https://claudemariottini.com/2014/10/17/samsons-suicide/

    The author makes a few really good points. First, Samson wanted to destroy the Philistines for personal revenge – for his two eyes (that had been burned out). God may have wanted, out of righteous judgement, to destroy them because they exalting their own god above Him – an altogether different reason (this is my thinking, not the author’s). Second, God gave him the power to kill himself. Third, Samson was not a model of righteousness by any stretch of the imagination.

    And, despite these facts, Samson is listed in the so-called “Hall of Faith”. Food for thought.

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