This has been an issue in every church that I have served in.
It will probably be a hot issue for some years to come. I have fielded the following question many times –
“Does a person who commits suicide automatically go to Hell, even if they were a believer?”
I have probably more questions than answers myself, but
Lets unpack this…
Assuming the person is a believer, there are several things scripturally we have to look at. First is Romans 8:38. it clearly states that nothing in creation can separate us from God’s love. 1 Corinthinans 3 gives indication that believers will have to account for all that we do, good and bad. This passage points also toward unrepentant sin in the believer’s life as well. Then What does the Old Testament and New Testament say?
The Old Testament view?
There are a few instances that cast a strange light on suicide in the Old Testament:
The first is Samson. He made some dumb choices that cost him his strength and role in leadership of God’s people, but we see at the end of the story that God gave him back that strength one last time to be used to make a huge point to the Philistines that God was more powerful than the idols the Philistines worshiped. God used a man committing suicide to show His strength….No indication that he would endure eternal punishment.
The Second is King Saul in 1 Samuel 28. A few points of note: Saul was God’s chosen, anointed king. We see in this chapter that God’s spirit had left Saul. He goes to a witch/medium (depending on translation). The Medium had conjured up Samuel’s spirit. God seemingly allowed this to bring forth prophecy (later fulfilled). Samuel stated that Saul and his sons would be with him that day (Good Side of Abraham’s Bosom/Paradise/Heaven, etc.). Saul did meet his end, fulfilling a prophecy made, but it was Saul’s suicide that fulfilled it…..No indication that he would endure eternal punishment.
The New Testament View?
The New Testament view can muddy the waters even more theologically speaking, as there is even less clarity. The first narrative we often think of is Judas (see Acts 1:8) . It tells of Judas taking his own life. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about him. Was he truly a follower, or a misguided radical? Did he truly show remorse and ask forgiveness for being a traitor to Christ? Why does the New Testament not take the opportunity to mention what his “just desserts” are? If you do say Judas was truly a follower, then you have to deal with the issue of “Satan entering him” and whether that could happen to a true believer (another time)…
Then there is this passage – 1 Corinthians 3:17 – It tells us that God will destroy the person who destroys His temple. That temple is the believer’s physical body. Many will make the logical jump that this passage also includes suicide in its scope. However, that view would seem to disagree with John 10:27-30 where it speaks of God’s inescapable eternal life that He gives us. There is also the passage from Romans 8 mentioned above that would agree with John 10.
Then you are left with this passage – John 15:12-14. We all know verse 14 from little kid Sunday School…But to get it in context it includes ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” in Verse 13. Where does this piece of the New Testament puzzle fit? An Iraq War veteran shed new light on this passage to me the other day over coffee, as he explained that stuff like that went on “in the sandbox” much more often than we would like to admit.
The questions you are left to wrestle with and dig into God’s word to solve are these:
- Is God’s grace truly sufficient to cover all sin, including suicide?
- Is suicide a “bigger” sin than other sins? Why? Are there “bigger” sins than others?
- If the premise for suicide is that you cannot ask forgiveness afterwards, what happens to the person who forgets to ask forgiveness for a sin that occurs just before thy die, such as bitterness, a lie, etc? Does that place a higher value on our asking forgiveness than Jesus’ shed blood on the Cross?
- Where does mental illness or ill effects of drugs (legal or otherwise) come into play?
- What about the person who knowingly lays down his/her life to save others?
Feel free to weigh in below. Did I miss something?
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