What does the Bible say about suicide?
"Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father's tomb." 2 Samuel 17:23
Is suicide the unpardonable sin, or does God forgive suicide? These questions have troubled the hearts of those who struggle with the temptation to end their lives and those who are left behind when a friend or family member chooses to take his or her life.
As we look at this most sensitive subject that exposes our most intimate thoughts and feelings, we realize that the subject of suicide affects those who do not profess to know Christ as Savior and many believers as well.
Although the word suicide is never used in the Bible, there are several direct references to people killing themselves, and by definition, that is suicide. In1 Kings 16:18, there is reference to Zimri, who reigned for a few days over Israel and then died in a fire that he started in his home. He was about to be overthrown and could not cope with defeat. Abimelech, the son of Jerubbaal, committed assisted suicide (Judges 9:53-54)rather than have it said that he died at the hands of a woman.
Saul fell on his sword after losing a battle against the Philistines. When his armorbearer saw that Saul had killed himself, he followed in like manner (1 Samuel 31:4-5; 1 Chronicles 10:4-5). When he stopped allowing God to direct his life, Samson lost his unbelievable strength and suffered humiliation at the hands of the Philistines. Unable to tolerate the ridicule and the reality of his failure, in one final act of strength, Samson pulled the pillars down on himself and thousands of his captors (Judges 16:25-30).
The inability to cope with failure. The inability to deal with relationships. The perceived loss of position or status. The unbearable pain of humiliation and a meaningless life. These were some of the reasons given for those who committed suicide during biblical times. A closer examination of the alarming number of suicides today reveals five motivating factors: (1) a cause that a person is committed to; (2) a pact between two or more people; (3) feelings of meaninglessness; (4) circumstances that overwhelm an individual; and (5) an extended illness involving intractable or unrelenting pain (note the growing debate regarding assisted suicide).
No matter what mode of suicide a person chooses, if we were to somehow explore the thoughts of those who have committed suicide (or are contemplating it), I believe that we would find one of these five motivating factors. The death certificate may list drug overdose or gunshot wound as the cause of death; yet the underlying cause often is never discovered because of the self-imposed isolation that most people experience prior to their suicide. We see the result on the coroner's report, but the true cause can usually be found within the list of these motivating factors.
Over the last ten to fifteen years, we have watched the results of suicides stemming from adherence to a cause. This has been portrayed in grim detail in the media in the suicides carried out in bombings in the Middle East when a soldier storms a building with a truck laden with explosives. The murder of hundreds of soldiers was an honorable deed for the one who killed himself in the truck that slammed into the army barracks. To die for such a cause is noble for one who considers the cause life's motivation.
The pictures of Guyana and the hundreds of bodies strewn across the ground were grim reminders that pacts between individuals can have tragic consequences. The followers of Jim Jones had a pact, and it resulted in their mass suicide.
A major cause of suicide is the despair of living without meaning or purpose. In a world overwhelmed with violence, divorce, homelessness, AIDS, and drug abuse, it is too often the norm to live life bouncing around without anything to hang on to that would give meaning and security to an otherwise lonely existence.
In his book Fatal Choice, John Q. Baucom states that of all the suicides committed by teenagers in 1984, 80 percent had alcohol in their systems: "Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. It is estimated that approximately 6,000 adolescents will take their lives annually . . . During the past 25 years the teenage rate has tripled. One report indicates that nearly 12 percent of all school children will experience serious suicidal ideation at least once."
The fact that many children are finding suicide to be the logical choice underscores the impact that the pressures of life, even at such an early age, can have. They live in a world of isolation, rejection, and the perception that no one cares. Life becomes intolerable, and suicide becomes the "logical" answer. Depression is a key factor in most suicides.
Circumstances can often be the precipitating factor in suicide. What one person can deal with, another might find overwhelming. This can encompass any number of things, such as divorce, the loss of a job, or financial distress. In one sad incident, the inability to deal with the death of a friend resulted in the suicide of a well-known professional football player. The young man lost control of his car while driving late one evening in Texas. A friend who was in the car died. Overcome with the reality of what had happened, the young man put a gun to his head and ended his life. His circumstance motivated his suicide.
The last of the motivating factors in suicide concerns the inability to cope with a debilitating illness and unrelenting pain. Assisted suicide has gained national and international attention in the media. Over the years, the idea of euthanasia has been discussed and debated, but never have so many sought to enlist the help of medical professionals in ending their lives. Euthanasia is defined in Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, as "the intentional causing of a painless and easy death to a patient suffering from an incurable or painful disease." As people have become more aggressive in their "right" to end the suffering of terminal illnesses or the ravages of old age, the issue of assisted suicide has taken on monumental significance among many groups who wish to see euthanasia become one of the "rights" that all people possess. News reports are filled with stories of people seeking to end their lives with the help of a medical professional.
We need to consider the reasons why suicide is wrong and why it is not the way to avoid painful circumstances. As an act of rebellion, suicide is a sin against God. These are some of the reasons why suicide is wrong:
It violates the Ten Commandments.
Nowhere does the Bible condone a person ending life to escape circumstances.
Life is a gift from God.
Suicide is an expression of self-hatred, and the Bible says we are to "love our neighbors as ourselves."
Suicide usurps the power that belongs only to God.
A person who commits suicide short-circuits God's will for his or her life.
It is an expression of lack of faith. Philippians 4:19states, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
This applies to financial needs and emotional and physical needs.
Suicide is an act of selfishness.
It hurts the cause of Christ.
With this in mind, we can understand why there are so many questions concerning whether God forgives the person who commits suicide. After all, suicide is an act of rebellion against God. Fortunately for all of us, however, God's grace is without prejudice. Whoever believes will be saved. Nowhere in the Bible does God compartmentalize sin and reserve grace only for those who commit "acceptable" sins. There is no such thing. Does God forgive suicide? Yes, He does.
If the person who committed suicide at some time accepted Jesus' death on the cross as payment for his sin debt and asked Him into his life, he is forgiven. Absolute assurance of forgiveness is found inRomans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." If a person has ever taken that step and received Christ as Savior, nothing can alter the truth that, as children of God, we are forgiven. Even when we rebel against God, He is faithful to keep His Word. On the other hand, there is no such assurance for the one who commits suicide and has never taken that step of faith in Christ, except the assurance of eternal separation from God.
The fact that God's grace is sufficient and that forgiveness is available even in the case of suicide should never be taken as permission to follow through with the temptation to commit suicide. Suicide is never the right decision. No one enjoys suffering. All of us sympathize with those who hurt, both physically and emotionally. However,2 Corinthians 12:9is our assurance that in our weakness, God's grace is sufficient, and that is our hope when life becomes intolerable. When nothing we try works, God has promised that He is able to sustain us.
If you have struggled with the meaning of life or are experiencing overwhelming pain (physical or mental) and are considering taking your life, I urge you to take these steps to get the help you need in your time of trouble.
Cry out to God. ReadPsalm 34and ask God to renew your mind with these verses:
"The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Psalm 34:17-20).
Call someone and ask for help. Don't let pride get in the way. Much of Satan's power to convince those who feel unloved and hopeless is found in his ability to keep them isolated and removed from those who can lift them up.
Ask Jesus Christ to give you new hope and to give your life meaning. His life indwells you, and His resources are constantly available in your most desperate moment.
If you are not the one struggling with the issue of suicide but have a friend or someone in your family who seems to have given up, there are some things you can do to help that person.
Be able to recognize clues the person may be giving, either consciously or subconsciously. Look for symptoms such as depression, signs of hopelessness, lethargy, and so on. Listen for threats and words of warning, such, "I have nothing to live for." Be aware of whether the person becomes withdrawn and isolated from others.
Trust your judgment. If you believe there is an imminent threat of suicide, trust your instincts. Don't let others dissuade you from loving intervention.
Tell others. Don't worry about breaking a confidence if the person is obviously contemplating suicide or says he or she has a plan. As soon as possible, involve the help of others, such as parents, friends, spouse, teachers, ministers, physicians, anyone in a position to assist the distressed individual.
Stay with the person. If you believe the person is in danger of carrying out the plan, do not leave the person alone. Wait with the person until medical help arrives or the crisis has passed.
Listen. Encourage the person to talk to you. Refrain from giving pat answers that could further depress the person who is on the verge of giving up. Listen and empathize with the person.
Urge professional help. Stress the necessity of getting help for the individual.
Be supportive. Show the person that you care. Do what you can to help the person feel worthwhile and valuable to you.
Suicide is not the answer to life's pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Christ is the answer and in Him alone will we find healing from the problems that ultimately cause a person to end life before God has chosen to do so.
"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
This material has been taken from:
The Charles Stanley Handbook for Christian Living
by Dr. Charles Stanley
Used with permission. Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee
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