A Biblical View on Suicide
In recent days this topic has come to dominate my thoughts as I have dealt with my personal struggle over the suicide of my music pastor and mentor as a teenager. The ease with which God might roll back the veil from Heaven for a few minutes and allow me to see whether or not my friend is present with Him right now, could not answer the questions that I have considered. Why not? My questions all deal with the consistency of a man’s faith who takes his own life. After all it is faith in Christ that saves, and a wavering faith cannot be considered a saving faith, can it?
The answer begins, I think, by defining suicide in terms of euthanasia, since some choices to die may be permissible, though no preferred. Few would argue that involuntary-passive euthanasia which is something like pulling the plug on a comatose patient or voluntary-passive euthanasia which could be like refusing medical treatment constitute a overtly sinful action. So, suicide in the euthanasia debate is foremost the voluntary or conscious decision of an individual to hasten his own death. Further, suicide is the active or willful harm inflicted upon oneself to hasten death. Thus, suicide is different than other forms of euthanasia since it involves one’s conscious decision-making power to actively harm oneself to hasten death. By any definition suicide is a sin as a voluntary decision to break the Sixth Commandment by murdering oneself. So let us deal with suicide as a sin. All mankind willfully does things which offend God as sin. Certainly no one argues that suicide is acceptable, but it in no way is more condemnable than any other sin that a believer may fall into. Therefore suicide is certainly a sin from which someone can be saved. Is this answer sufficient?
I do not think so. Our experience of suicide challenges us to ask two difficult theological questions regarding salvation.
- How do our actions after regeneration affect our salvation?
- In what way does God’s work maintain our salvation?
For both of these questions Hebrews 9:25-28 offers biblical wisdom. Up to this point the writer of Hebrews describes the superlative sacrifice Christ makes for us, as opposed to any Mosaic Covenant sacrifice. Christ was not purifying us with a temporal substitutionary sacrifice, but was purifying us with an eternal substitutionary sacrifice in his own blood. Verses 25-26 makes it clear that Christ does not have to be re-crucified every time we sin. Why? He did not purify us with a temporary sacrifice, but purified us with his own eternal blood. Verses 27-28 continue by stating that Christ’s life and death were appointed by God just as that of any man. Why? Christ like any man had but one life to live and one death to suffer, God having appointed the steps of his life and the manner of his death. Christ could be judged holy while all other men could only be judged as guilty. Just as the sin sacrifice of old, Christ bore the sins of those who repent and trust him. Even so, his death was unlike that of any other man, since Christ was not condemned to eternal death, but was raised to eternal life. Those who repent and trust in him, though they may die before they see the one whom they eagerly wait for, are raised to the same eternal salvation. So what does this tell us?
- Answering the first question, if we have been truly regenerated all of our sinful actions, all sin even suicide is borne by the Savior on the cross. We should trust that if we are in Christ then we have been purified before the Father and Christ’s one death put to death our sinfulness.
- Answering the second question, certainly we can say that we can do nothing to earn our salvation otherwise we could do just about anything to lose our salvation. Christ is the one who purifies our eternal soul and the one who pays once for all sin. His purification of our soul and payment for sin should regenerate us so that sin is not our pattern (see 1 John 3:4-10) but by his transformative regeneration of our soul we live in an eager hope and watchfulness of his imminent return. Further if verse 27 is true of Christ as a normal man, God also appoints the steps and manner of death for every man. Though God may not actively encourage suicide, he certainly appoints the circumstances that allow it to occur. If this is true God can also appoint the circumstances to save such a person who commits suicide.
- As an implication of both answers: the final portion of verse 28 concerning the salvation by Christ of those eagerly awaiting his return, forces us to say at the very least that those who commit suicide have put doubt in our minds concerning their hope in Christ. In truth it is the person’s regeneration that is in question in this debate. If the person is regenerate, then he is saved. If the person is not regenerate, then he is condemned. The finality of the sin of suicide does not allow us any clue as to whether the act was a momentary interruption of a life of eager hope in Christ or the last act of a life that never knew him. Finally, we cannot know the heart of any man, but God does. Since all salvation is by the grace of God, and only God can know whether a person has genuinely repented and trusted in Christ resulting in a regenerate heart; then the best one can say for the person who commits suicide is that he is in God’s hands.