Even though there is a lot happening in the geopolitical realities of the modern world, I am taking time to devote a post to a biblical examination of the topic of suicide. This is a sensitive topic that has affected the lives of many people who have had loved ones who opted to end their lives via suicide. I was asked to write a post on this topic some time ago by a good friend whose life had been touched by a suicide. He knew a family in which the father/husband of a large family committed suicide. My friend related that the deceased left behind a grieving Christian family with its members wondering “Is he in hell now?,” “Has he lost his salvation?,” etc. While this topic is worthy of comprehensive research papers and books, I will focus this post on the key biblical issues involving questions concerning suicide. I believe those whose lives have been touched by the suicide of a family member or loved one will find substantial comfort in reading this post and its accompanying link.
To begin with, allow me to mention that I am one of the people who has been affected by the suicides of loved ones and a family member, so I can truthfully say to those affected by a loved one’s suicide: “I know what you are going through.” There was a couple many years ago who were friends of my former wife and I and we vacationed to the same sites sometimes to attend Fall religious conventions. We were shocked when we learned that they were both dead due to a murder/suicide–leaving two grieving children who had suddenly become orphans. Also, over a decade ago, my brother committed suicide in a foreign nation. My aging parents were emotionally shattered and couldn’t deal with the traumatic aftermath of such an event. They left it to me to navigate the various bureaucracies of the US State Department and the foreign nation to “clean up the mess” after my brother died. His foreign wife had his body cremated, and I eventually arranged to fly his ashes to our city so they could be buried in our family plot. He had been in the US military–retiring as a Lt. Colonel — so I arranged a military funeral for him with the traditional 21-gun salute. There were no dry eyes at the funeral. It is my view that my father never recovered from my brother’s suicide, and that he lost his will to live. He died not long afterward. Also, my then-wife and I knew another couple who were involved in one of those long-drawn out divorces that only the wealthy can afford as they legally harassed each other across several states. It made the lawyers rich, but they put their two young sons through the stresses of their extremely stressful divorce. We were even drawn into it as we had been close to the family via a church connection and my then-wife and I even physically sheltered the two boys for a time when they were physically separated from both parents in what was a protective custodial situation (this was done with the permission and supervision of our state’s social services agency). In the extreme stress of being essentially “kidnapped” by both parents back and forth as part of judicial or extra-judicial custody actions (the courts in various states had issued contradictory rulings on custody matters), one of the boys simply couldn’t cope any longer and eventually killed himself.
Suicide has many effects on surviving loved ones, and I strongly urge anyone considering suicide to seek professional counseling to deal with whatever personal or biochemistry issues may be contributing to such a thought process. I wanted to share my above personal history with readers at the outset of this post so they can know I really do “speak from experience” about dealing with the effects of suicides.
Active and Passive Suicides:
Suicides come in many different personal and social contexts. An “active” suicide is when a person takes the action to end his/her own life. A “passive” suicide is when one does not actually do the deed that takes one’s life but does choose to create or stay in a location or situation where one knows he/she will be killed. One type of passive suicide is called “death by cop” where someone does something to dupe a law enforcement person into killing the one who wishes to be killed, although this type of passive suicide seems to be rarely mentioned any more. A far more common form of passive suicide is actually considered heroic. Think of Davy Crockett and the defenders at the Alamo who “chose to die” by refusing to abandon that makeshift fortress when Santa Anna’s troops appeared in vastly greater numbers. They could have saved themselves by fleeing, but they chose to stay and die fighting to give Sam Houston’s army a chance to prepare to meet Santa Anna’s army. Their passive suicide has made them legends and movies have been made about them. The same can be said about King Leonidas of ancient Sparta and his Brave 300 who defended the pass at Thermopylae to stall the invading Persian army to give Greek city-states time to organize an army to fight the Persians later. They have been celebrated for millennia and their sacrifice is so noble movies are made about them in our time about their courage. Their decision to stay and fight to the death was a passive suicide. We may be witnessing a similar situation even as I write these words. Such a militarily self-sacrificial death may be suffered by the current Ukrainian defenders of the city of Mariupol. Put yourself in their place. If you can’t get out, would you want to fight to the death for your nation and “save the last bullet” for yourself when you realize that the Russian soldiers have committed torture killings and atrocities against Ukrainians in other parts of Ukraine?
Some active suicides are considered noble or necessary. Consider the example of a soldier who throws his body on a grenade and dies in the explosion to save his unit. That is clearly an active suicidal action, but the one doing it may receive the US Congressional Medal of Honor for such an honorable suicide. Some suicides are necessary. Think of the Jewish defenders at Masada circa 70 AD who committed mass suicide atop that mountain fortress before the Roman soldiers could overwhelm them and torture, rape and make slaves of the defenders and their families. A quick and merciful death was preferable to “death or worse” at the hands of the bloodthirsty, cruel Romans. We have all surely seen movies where besieged defenders are told to “save the last bullet for yourself” to avoid a fate worse than death by attackers who will torture people to death. In many such military or defense-related situations, the principal of John 15:13 applies that “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Bible itself declares that suicide (laying down one’s life for others) can be noble and non-sinful.
Let’s take a moment to consider the most famous “passive suicide” of all time–the passive suicide of…Jesus Christ. When he was on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was offered several ways out of having to die a gruesome physical death. Pilate himself didn’t want to crucify Jesus and gave him opportunities to save himself (Matthew 28:17 and Mark 15:9-14 confirm Pilate’s reluctance to crucify Jesus). Jesus refused to defend himself even though he was given opportunities to do so (Matthew 27:11-14). John 19:5-12 gives an account of Jesus before Pilate and says forthrightly: “…Pilate sought to release him.” In Matthew 26:50-56, Jesus stated he could have called “twelve legions of angels”‘ to protect and deliver him if he had chose to continue living, but he admitted his calling was to be the Passover Lamb/Savior to die for mankind’s sins so he declined every option to save himself and he chose to die at the hands of others–a classic passive suicide.
Clearly, there are many types of suicides which are heroic and noble when we consider them in their full context, and no one asks “If Jesus lost his salvation” because he committed a passive suicide. No one asks if a soldier who (in an active suicide) saves his unit by falling on a grenade has “lost his salvation” because he gave himself to save others.
Other Types of Suicide:
There are also many other types of suicide which are not noble or self-sacrificing. Some are caused by an overwhelming emotion (guilt, rejection, disappointment, unbearable loss, etc.) For example, the active suicide of Judas Iscariot was due to overwhelming grief and guilt when he realized he had betrayed the Savior to his death (Matthew 27:1-5). King Saul killed himself after the unbearable shame of losing a key battle, and his servant did so as well out of a sense of duty to his King (I Samuel 31:4-5). Many modern suicides are what we would call ignoble or unnecessary acts. A person can commit an ignoble suicide to avoid imprisonment or execution so they do not get punished for their heinous crimes. Teens can commit suicides when acutely overwhelmed by rejection when jilted by a boyfriend or girlfriend, or, in some cultures, students actually kill themselves because they feel they have shamed their family by getting low grades or being rejected for college admission. Overwhelming personal, financial or family stress can cause people to commit suicide when they “can’t take it any longer” (like the boy I knew whose parents were involving their children in an endless and stressful divorce). In all too many cases, if acutely stressed people could get medical help (like anti-anxiety medicines or counseling) or a new physical setting that offered reprieve or safety, many suicides could be prevented.
There are surely innumerable suicides which are caused by deterioration of mental/cognitive abilities on the part of those taking their own lives. In such cases, people cannot think clearly and are not really responsible for their actions. A person could have a brain tumor which causes deterioration of mental functioning skills. Indeed, it is possible someone may not even realize that they have a brain tumor and are slowly losing cognitive abilities to think clearly. A stroke could cause extensive enough brain damage to lead a stricken person to kill themselves knowingly or unknowingly. A severe injury to the brain could also cause a decline in cognitive or emotional abilities to think clearly. Modern science has also discovered that there are many types of brain chemistry imbalances that can lead to depression, anxiety, or personality disorders–many of which can be treated. Left untreated, suicides are more likely to occur.
All of the above organic/physical conditions could lead afflicted persons to commit a suicide when they would not have done so if they had had healthy brains. This brings up what I thought was a very insightful observation by the Lutheran pastor who conducted my brother’s funeral. My brother had exhibited growing signs of mental deterioration and personality disorder in the year that led up to his suicide; however, he was long distances away from family members and, as I noted above, in a foreign nation. In conducting his funeral after we had received his ashes, the pastor openly discussed (with the family’s permission) the reality of my brother’s declining mental skills and personality coherence. She pointed out that no one ever asks “Did someone lose his/her salvation if their heart deteriorated and they died in a heart attack?” She added: No one asks “Is this person in hell?” if they died of kidney failure? Liver failure? Diabetes? or a host of other possibilities. She observed rightly that the human body is created with many interdependent organs and parts and a person can die due to the failure of any of the essential organs. The brain is the organ that thinks, experiences and makes decisions. It can make many correct and good decisions when healthy, but brains can also deteriorate and die. When a brain is deteriorating, a person can commit suicide because they are unable to think clearly. It is only after brain failure or deterioration that people wonder: “Did he/she lose his/her salvation because their brain couldn’t function right any longer?” Brain failure can happen suddenly (stroke or injury) or it can happen gradually over time (Alzheimer’s, dementia, a growing tumor, etc.), but would it not be an injustice for God to condemn someone for decisions made by an injured brain (which God chose not to heal)? As we will see, God does not do such injustices.
This form of suicide is when someone asks someone else to kill the one making the request. This type of suicide has been known for millennia. In ancient times it would involve drinking poison prepared by a doctor or chemist or asking someone to “run a sword” through one’s self (as Saul asked in I Samuel 31:4-5). In modern times, assisted suicide is a term for a licensed facility using sedative drugs to help someone who is in great pain or crippling disability to die in peace. The logic is that we humanely “put down” beloved pets when they can no longer live normally or are in agonizing pain so why don’t we give humans the right to choose the same kind of merciful death as we give our pets? Opponents (which include many Christians) to this option say human life is unique and cannot be terminated until extraordinary medical measures can no longer sustain life in a body. I will not offer my views on this issue, but I mention it as a trend which is gaining more credibility in more nations as aged loved ones suffer greatly at great expense from various maladies until death mercifully takes them.
The Issue of Judging:
When we consider the questions such as: “Will people who die by suicide be saved?, “Will people who commit suicide go to hell?”, the issue of judging becomes important. We can acknowledge that no human being is going to judge any other human being in matters of salvation or condemnation. Matthew 7:1-2 warns us not to judge others and cautions that we shall be judged as harshly or mercifully as we judge others. Remarkably, John 5:22 informs us that even God the Father is not going to judge any humans on matters of salvation, but has given that right exclusively to Jesus Christ his Son. I find it comforting that no other human and no head of any church denomination will be allowed to judge or evaluate any other human being in matters of salvation. This includes the matter of judging all people who committed suicide. Jesus, who “committed” a passive suicide himself, will judge all people who have taken their own lives.
Some will say that suicide must always be a sin because I Corinthians 10:12-13 tells us God will not give us a temptation or trial that we are unable to bear. Yet at the same time, scriptures tell us great men of God like Elijah (I Kings 19:3) and Job (Job 3:1-11) requested/preferred death because they felt God had given them more than they could endure. In light of that fact, the passage in I Corinthians 10:12-13 may mean that while God Himself will never give us trials or temptations that we cannot endure, the devil, evil people, evil circumstances and “time and chance” can give people pains and afflictions that can become unbearable.
I Corinthians 15:22-23 tells us that “…in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order (emphasis added)…” Some people will have trouble taking this literally. It asserts plainly that just as in Adam all (100%) of humans will die, even so shall all (100%) be made alive in Christ. This teaches that God will ultimately save everyone but that “every man” shall be saved in a certain “order.” Paul speaks of future “ages” to come (Ephesians 2:7), so there are future ages in which God will continue his work of salvation with mankind. Revelation 20:3 tells us that after the millennial reign of Jesus Christ comes to an end, Satan and his evil host are released for a “little season” to deceive mankind again (verses 7-9). Revelation 20:5 states the saints that rule with Christ during the 1000 year reign are in the “first resurrection” at the beginning of the millennium. Revelation 20:11-15 mention another “White Throne” resurrection that will occur at the end of the millennium, and verse 5 states the “rest of the dead” (everyone not in the first resurrection) will be resurrected at the end of the millennium. It does not say “the rest of the dead except for the incorrigible” and it does not say “The rest of the dead except for those who died of suicide.” It says simply the “rest of the dead” will be in that second resurrection–in other words everyone will be there…including all victims of suicide! Revelation 20:12 adds that “the book of life” will be opened during that second resurrection. What does that mean? It can only mean the “book of life” is being opened for many more names to be added into it. I Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20 tell us that God has scarcely begun in our current age to fight to save the souls of mankind. The real work and the big harvest of souls into eternal salvation will happen in an age after the millennium. Remember, God is an eternal Being. He has eternity to work with. Continuing his work with mankind for a few more ages (or eons) is no obstacle to God.
For those who would like to evaluate the concepts in the above paragraph in much greater detail, i have a good option for you. The link below is an audio message I gave a couple decades ago on this very subject. It examines the Bible’s teachings found in many books of the Bible addressing the very question of: How many people will God save? Please forgive the “old” quality of the message as it was converted from an old cassette tape format into a digital format for posting at my website. Some have told me this message is the most encouraging message I’ve ever given, and I think you will find its conclusions to be both biblically-based and very encouraging. So to answer my initial questions about whether people who die by suicide are “in hell” or if they “lost their salvation,” the answer is an emphatic “no!” to both questions. If you listen to the link below, I think you will agree. Please share it with anyone who you think will benefit from its message and conclusions.