Robin Williams, Mindy McCready, Freddie Prinze, Erwin Rommel, Cleopatra, George Sanders, Kurt Cobain, Junior Seau, Gig Young, Brian Keith, Adolf Hitler, Ernest Hemingway, Abbie Hoffman, Don Cornelius, etc., etc., just a few of the famous and infamous who ended their own lives. Are they condemned to an eternity separated from Christ? Perhaps.
The Problem of Suicide
The latest American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that there are an estimated 730,000 attempts of and over 30,000, accomplished suicides every year in America making it the 10th leading cause of death in the country. There are an estimated 5 million Americans who are alive today who attempted suicide.
The rate has never been higher than in 2010. In that year 38,364 people successfully ended their lives prematurely. A breakdown of the tried and accomplished goes like this: 79% of suicides are committed by men. Almost 70% of the persons who commit self-murder are between the ages of 25-65. In fact it is the 4th leading cause of death for persons in those age ranges. Women are four times more likely to attempt suicide but men are four times as often to accomplish suicide compared to women. It is the third most common means of death for young people.1
Overseas, it’s even worse. For instance the United Kingdom is facing its highest suicide levels in decades according to its Office of National Statistics.2 Britain’s rate of deaths by suicide stand at just under 12 deaths per 100,000 of its citizens. The United States rate is 12. But Greenland is the world’s leader at 108 deaths per 100,000, and in between Greenland and the two western powers are 30 other countries averaging at or just below 20 suicidal deaths per 100,000.3
No One Goes Through Life Without Contemplating “Ending it all”
We all have had our times when we wanted to end some sort of torment we were having. Heck, even the Apostle Paul must have had had his own contemplations. 2 Corinthians 1:8, tells of how he experienced the bleakest of despair at times in his ministry. So if Paul at one time or another thought about perhaps ending his occasional despair why wouldn’t we? And although many in ancient times had these occasional feelings far fewer actually followed them through. But there came a time in church history when it got to be a, well, a kind of fad to end ones life.
A Historical Perspective on Suicide in the Early Church
Shortly after 100 A.D., an amazing phenomenon developed within the growing Christian faith. Many early Christians began to glorify the act of martyrdom. They yearned for it since they believed that real, true followers of Christ would want to die a martyr’s death. So by the thousands they placed their lives in needless final jeopardy leading to their deaths. In fact in one town, Ephesus, there were so many Christians seemingly begging for martyrdom that Tertullian, an ancient Christian author, wrote how the heathen Roman governor, after executing a group of them, sent others away telling them: “Miserable creatures, if you really wish to die, you have precipices and halters enough” [in other words, if you want die so much just go and commit suicide by jumping off a cliff or hang yourselves!].
How Our Modern Day Beliefs on Suicide Came About
Two men, Augustine, a 4th Century Catholic theologian and Thomas Aquinas, a 13th Century priest were, in their own times equally appalled by this over driven desire for martyrdom. They introduced a theology that was eventually accepted by the Roman Catholic Church that called suicide a horrendous sin since life is a gift only God can reclaim. Therefore suicide became to be considered murder (in the sense of self-murder) and not only a sin but a mortal one that would deny anyone who performed it entrance into paradise. That included the most devout Christians. The church even denied them a Christian burial further leading to the belief of eternal damnation for committing it.
In ancient England suicide was considered a major criminal offense. If one committed it the worldly possessions the deceased left behind were confiscated. The body could only be buried at night. It was required that a wooden cross be driven into it, and the burial location was always near a major crossroad intersection (symbolic of the cross).
Thus the idea that suicide was considered a mortal and social disgrace grew from these historical attitudes towards it.
What Does the Holy Bible Say About It?
The instances of suicide are rare in the bible. In fact, there are only a handful of situations where it is mentioned (for instance Samson, King Saul, Judas Iscariot, Ahithophel [former counselor to King David who sided with Absalom’s rebellion], the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, Job 3:20-22, etc.).
For the most part the Hebrew people saw life as a gift, something special from God. No specific law against suicide is found in the Old Testament. Yes, there is the commandment forbidding murder yet nothing specifically that speaks of suicide. But people still contemplated it and at times must have committed it.
Take for instance Samson. He committed suicide. While chained between two great pillars He prayed to God for one last dose of the tremendous strength he was previously divinely given. When he received it he pushed the pillars apart bringing the entire roof of the Philistine hall down killing himself and over three thousand of the Philistines’ finest, noblest and powerful. He died a suicidal death as an act of war.
King Saul, after being rejected by the Christ as king over Israel, was mortally wounded near the end of a losing battle with the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa. He ordered his armor bearer to run him through with his sword but he wouldn’t do it. So King Saul took his own weapon and fell on it. His final, sinful act was to deny the Philistines the opportunity to torture and parade him through their cities, to shame and disgrace him and eventually kill him in a cruel manner. So Saul committed suicide as an act of avoiding a certain, eventual horrible death.
Both Samson and King Saul, because of the reasons they ended their own lives, were still given an honorable burial under the customs of ancient Israel. But we must keep in mind that nowhere in the scriptures is suicide glorified or encouraged. But based upon what scripture does say it should be considered a sin for the following reasons.
Of course suicide was committed by Jesus of Nazareth but we enjoy the grand purpose for it. He could have called down a legion of angels to stop the kangaroo court sessions he endured, the physical beating, torture and eventual death on the cross but he didn’t.
For us though suicide is a violation of the sanctity of human life. In Genesis 9:6, God inspired Moses to write that whoever sheds innocent blood, by man his blood shall be shed because we are made in the image of God. Therefore if we take this passage in context suicide is a sin because it violates the lordship of the creator. Secondly, in 1 Samuel 2:6, it says the Lord kills and the Lord makes alive. So when one is taking his own life he is denying Him of not only his lordship but His divine authority to end our lives at the time, manner and circumstance of His choosing. These two reasons appear to make suicide a sin.
Is Suicide a Sin That Would Deny One Entrance into Paradise?
First of all 1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are not our own. That means we shouldn’t intentionally harm ourselves. It’s bad enough that we might do it anyway in a rapid, spur of the moment manner, or in a slow, decades long drawn out way only to suffer the inevitable consequences of major health issues later in life; but does that sinful act (fast or slow) condemn us eternally? The Christ won’t be pleased over our ignoring this directive but he won’t eternally condemn us for it either. Here are two reasons why:
First, the Lord’s covenant forgiveness for anyone has accepted Him makes it impossible for that person to be condemned to an eternity away from Him. Hebrews 8:12, refers to the blood covenant Christians enter into when they place their trust in Christ as their personal savior.
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
Therefore if suicide can be considered an unrighteous act, a lawless deed (in violation of His authority), then it follows logically that it would be something that the Christ would intentionally overlook, forget, will remember no more just like any other sin committed by one who has chosen Him. He would not hold it against the Christian as the other sins he committed in the past and in the present, or, as in the case of one who ends their own life, the last act of taking their life.
Secondly, John 10:27-29, speaks of Christ’s covenant care for us. It says no one shall snatch a follower of Him from Him or perish. This means that as followers of the Christ those who end their own lives are secure and embraced by the Christ in the paradise he provided for them.
Some May be Condemned
Now, there is some debate in my mind and maybe yours about the fate of those who typically speaking, accepted Christ early in life but then proceeded to live the rest of their lives like they never, ever heard of Him. After all God is a self-admitted jealous god. He wants us to love and be in touch with Him as much as we would our own spouse, children, parents, siblings, or grandparents. If you love someone could you ever imagine never having anything to do with them, never talking to them, never showing them kindness and respect, or a regard for their feelings? Can you imagine doing something that he or she wouldn’t want you to do? No of course not. After all you love that person don’t you? Well, God is like that loved one. He wants us to repent of our sins, give up our old lifestyles and live life like we know Him. He wants us to talk to him at least occasionally, make time to worship him regularly and rely on his wisdom to see us through our daily lives and circumstances.
As for those who never accepted Him and committed this final act of rebellion I wish I could end this posting on a high, positive note. But regarding the spiritually lost I cannot. I think it is safe to say they will eventually suffer the second death after judgment by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Yet we must also remember that the Alpha and the Omega has every right, and the power to allow anyone into His kingdom that he chooses.