"When the jailer saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, 'Don't harm yourself! We are all here!'" -- Acts 16:27-28
There’s no doubt about it: As Christians we have faith, but we also have lots of questions. Last year, I devoted several sermons at First Christian Church to answering some of the most commonly asked questions that Christians have about the Bible and Christianity. And a recent survey revealed this to be the most asked question: Is suicide an unforgivable sin?
Suicide is a difficult subject on many different levels. When a family member or friend ends his/her own life, we wonder if it’s inappropriate to even mention the word “suicide.” And it’s difficult because family members deal with feelings of shame and guilt, wondering if it was somehow their fault.
It’s difficult because family members and friends don’t know if the person was mentally ill or did what he/she did in his/her right mind. (Studies have shown that around 90% of individuals who commit suicide struggle with some form of mental illness—most often depression—and over 50% of those who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.) And suicide is difficult because of the religious questions. Most Christians believe that suicide is a sin, and many believe that it is an unforgivable sin, leaving no hope for making it to heaven. But what does the Bible actually say?
The Bible records six different suicides: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31:4-5), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18-19) and Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5). But it may surprise you to learn that the Bible doesn’t offer us a commentary on any of these six suicides. However, we can draw some conclusions about suicide based upon what the Bible tells us about the character of these six individuals.
For example, Abimelech, Saul and Zimri were all murderers. Ahithophel and Judas were both traitors. At times Saul was said to be filled with an evil spirit, and we’re told that Satan entered Judas before he betrayed Jesus. So although Scripture does not offer a commentary on these six suicides, it’s very clear that in the Bible, suicide is associated with individuals who sinned greatly. Furthermore, it’s safe to draw the conclusion that in God’s eyes suicide is murder—self murder.
Whether we end someone else’s life or our own life, suicide is equally murder in God’s eyes because every person has been created in God’s image. Ultimately your life is not yours to take any more than someone else’s life is yours to take. You were made by God; God has numbered your days, and He is the only One who has the right to end your life. Therefore, suicide is the taking of a life created in God’s image—a life God is not through with yet.
So, is suicide a sin? Absolutely! Suicide is murder, which is a very serious sin. But is suicide an unforgivable sin? I believe the clear biblical answer is…no. Although there are verses like 1 John 3:15 and Revelation 22:14-15 that make it clear that unrepentant murderers won’t go to heaven, there are a greater number of verses that indicate that repentant murders can and will be forgiven by God.
Consider the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross who murdered Jesus. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:32-34). How about the repenting thief on the cross who, in all likelihood, was also a murderer? Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paul and David were both murderers, but we know without a doubt that God forgave them both.
The truth is: God has forgiven many repentant murderers. So it stands to reason that God would also forgive a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ who, for reasons we may never understand, commits suicide. Is suicide disgraceful? Absolutely! But the question is: “Is God’s grace greater than suicide’s disgrace?” I believe the clear biblical answer is…yes. The only sin that we know for sure is “unforgivable” is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Since Christ provides the only true path to forgiveness and heaven, ultimately rejecting him is the only sin that will irreversibly sentence a person to hell.
Sadly, hundreds of thousands of Americans attempt suicide every single year, and 40,000 die each year as the result. That’s roughly equivalent to the populations of Adelanto and Oak Hills combined. This is an absolute tragedy! It is tragic that tens of thousands of Americans feel their lives are so hopeless that death is the only escape. But there is hope! There is always hope in Jesus Christ, because he loves you, laid down his life for you and has an amazing plan for your life.
So, if you are drowning in the depths of discouragement and hopelessness, please don’t give up on your life. Some of the greatest heroes of the Bible—including Elijah, Job, David, and Moses—all struggled with depression and thoughts of death. But every single one of them persevered and experienced God’s relief and blessing in His perfect timing. And so can you! My friend, there is hope. There is always hope in Jesus Christ. And you don’t have to go through your struggle alone. If I or our church family can be of any help to you, contact us. We are here for you. And if you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call 1 (800) SUICIDE. Counselors are available to talk with you 24/7.
Dane Davis is the lead pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville and the author of Holy Huldah!: Lessons You Should Never Forget from Bible Characters
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