Suicide. Just typing the word sends chills up my spine. On a few occasions, I have ministered to families who had a family member take their own life and I have seen up close the enormous pain and despair that comes. A few years ago, the son of well known pastor Rick Warren took his own life. In recent weeks, the community where I serve has once again been touched by suicide. I read recently that the suicide rate for 15-25 year old’s has increased 70% in the last ten years. It is at times like this when pastors get what I call “the suicide question.” Most often, it comes in this way: “Can a person who has committed suicide go to Heaven?” I really don’t know where it originated, but many Christians tell me they “have always heard” that a person who commits suicide cannot go to Heaven, no matter their spiritual commitment beforehand. It’s an issue that many Christians struggle with, and I decided to address it in the blog today.
I believe that the central issue in discussing this question is the Biblical teaching regarding justification – that is how lost sinners are forgiven of their sin and made right with God. The Bible clearly teaches that sinners are made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ…
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NKJV)
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1, NKJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)
Without delving into a host of Biblical and theological issues, suffice it to say that the Bible teaches that we are justified (forgiven of our sin and made right with God) at the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ. Justification is not a feeling, but it is rather a standing before God. It is our standing before God that is His work, not ours. Romans 8:33 reminds us that “it is God who justifies.” Furthermore, the Bible teaches that justification is a fixed, final, eternal standing before God. In other words, we are not justified today and unjustified tomorrow depending on our feelings or behavior. In fact, the Bible teaches that a person who is justified will absolutely and finally be glorified (made like God to live with Him forever)…
“And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, HCSB)
The verb tenses in Romans 8:33 are telling as well. Where I grew up, people would say, “It’s a done deal.” That’s what Romans 8:33 says. Just as sure as God has justified a person, He has already glorified that person. They will be glorified for certain, and it is so certain that God’s Word speaks of it as if it has already happened. Therefore a person who has given their life to Christ cannot be justified one day and then do something to lose their justification the next. The Bible teaches that a person cannot do anything to deserve or earn their salvation. That only comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, since a person did nothing to earn or deserve their salvation, but received their justification as a free gift (Romans 6:23) then a person’s salvation is eternal and irrevocable (eternal security, “once saved always saved”). If we did nothing to earn or deserve our salvation, then we we can do nothing to lose our salvation.
What does all of this have to do with the suicide question? I believe that once a person has sincerely trusted Christ alone for their salvation, then nothing they do can change that relationship. It’s like my own two sons. They might sin terribly and break my heart, but they will always be my sons. Nothing they could ever do would stop them from being my sons. Why? Because they are my sons and that is the nature of the relationship. So it is with children of God. Nothing a child of God can do will sever the relationship – even something as horrific as suicide.
That being said, please allow me to conclude with several important truths to help put all of this into some perspective…
1) Suicide is NEVER a legitimate option for a believer.
The Christian worldview upholds the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death – including our own life. While I do not believe that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” it is, nevertheless, a grievous sin. It is a sin against God, ourselves, our family, and everyone who knows us. While I do believe that it is possible for a true believer to reach a depth of pain and despair that is so great they take their own life, it is never right to do so.
2) Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it just shifts the pain to others.
A person who takes their own life has fallen into the trap of believing that suicide will end their pain. That is a lie. All of their pain simply moves to those who love them. The guilt felt by the family left behind is often unbearable. While the person who commits suicide often does it to relieve their own pain, it is the beginning of years, decades, and generations of pain for those who are left.
3) There is nothing you can say. Just be there to cry and pray with them.
When I first started out in ministry, I used to think that I had to say something profound that would relieve a family’s hurt. Then I realized the most important thing I could do was be there. No words can ease the pain for the family that is touched by a suicide, but your presence and prayers can help greatly.
4) Strong, faithful believers can struggle with depression and mental illness.
In fact, some of the greatest Christians who ever lived struggled mightily with depression. Some of the greatest preachers, missionaries, and theologians in history have battled incredible mental health challenges. Don’t think it can’t happen to you or your family. Take it seriously and take action.
Suicide is a complex issue that has no easy answers. It is my prayer that this post will help believers begin to think clearly about it and bring comfort to those who are struggling. The applications of the Bible truths we discussed apply to far more than just instances of suicide. Thanks for reading.