What do you say to the parents of a Christian teenager who has just killed himself? I faced this situation several years ago and, I have tell you, it’s not easy. Premature death is hard to handle at any time but suicide leaves loved ones bewildered at its senselessness.
It seems the subject of suicide is one of those sensitive issues that Christians don’t like to talk about. That’s probably because most of us don’t have anything good to say! Ask a believer, “What happens to Christians who kill themselves?” and you’ll likely get one of the following responses:
1. They go to hell because they never repented for the sin of murder.
2. It’s not up to us to judge – we don’t know what happens.
3. It’s a grave sin but God will somehow take care of it in his mysterious ways.
None of these responses brings much comfort to those who are left behind. But happily none of these responses is true! Let’s compare each response with what the Bible says.
What does the Bible say about those who commit suicide?
First, do people who commit suicide go to hell? Not if they’re saved. Revelations 21:8 tells us that the lake of fire – whatever that is – will be full of murderers. But you don’t end up in the lake of fire because you are a murderer (see Rev 20:15). If murder sent you to hell, King David would be a goner. But it doesn’t and he isn’t.
But didn’t God say, “Thou shalt not murder”? He did – it’s the sixth commandment and part of the law. Do you know what the penalty for law-breaking is? Jesus said anyone who breaks the law is in danger of hellfire (Mt 5:22). But his words were directed to those who were born under law – not you (Rm 6:14). When Jesus went to the cross he fulfilled the requirements of the law on your behalf so that you might live free from its curse. Don’t look at your own obedience for salvation; look at his. On the cross Jesus carried the sins of the world and now you are completely and eternally forgiven.
But what about repentance? Don’t we have to repent in order to receive forgiveness? Isn’t this the stumbling block for those who kill themselves – that they never repent? No. We are not forgiven on the basis of anything we do or don’t do. We are forgiven because of what Jesus has done:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph 1:7)
In God’s eyes you are forgiven whether you repent or don’t repent. To say, you must repent to be forgiven, is to cheapen the riches of His grace. The blood of Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world – including the unrepentant and suicidal (1 Jn 2:2). This isn’t to say that the whole world is saved, for we all need to respond to the grace of God by faith (Eph 2:8). Everyone is forgiven but not everyone has received the gift of his righteousness (Rms 1:17). But we are talking here about people who are saved when they die. Can a Christian nullify God’s forgiveness by committing suicide? No – it’s impossible. God’s gifts are irrevocable.
Second, to say, “we don’t know what happens to Christians who kill themselves” merely reveals an ignorance of God’s promises. We do know what happens. They go to be with Jesus (Jn 3:16, 14:3). Some say that “suicide is a grave sin.” Is there any sin that’s not?
The good news is that God’s grace is greater than our gravest sins; His best is better than our worst (Rms 5:20). Just as we are not qualified by our good deeds, neither are we disqualified by our bad (see Col 1:12). We were condemned by Adam’s disobedience but now we have been justified through Christ’s obedience:
So then, just as sin ruled by means of death, so also God’s grace rules by means of righteousness, leading us to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rms 5:21, GNB)
Third, to offer vague comfort by saying, “God will take care of it in some mysterious way,” is to insult the finished work of the cross. Take care of it? He already did! He came and died and rose again that we might have resurrection life:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (Jhn 11:25)
Look closely at this promise of Jesus and see if you can find any conditions pertaining to the means of death. There are none! The way in which you shrug off your earth-suit has absolutely no bearing on his promise of resurrection life. Whether you die in a house fire, from an over-dose, or go down with the Titanic, Jesus said, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.
The main thing
For those who are left behind, suicide hits like a Mack truck. But allow me to bring some perspective to this issue. The single most important fact of your life is not where you were born or how you die, but whether you believe in Jesus – whether you have put your trust in him and confessed him as Lord.
You can be born a prince and die on a field of glory, but unless you know Jesus it’s all for naught. Conversely, you can be born a nobody and die a nobody but if Jesus knows you, all is eternally well! If you have lost someone to suicide and they belonged to Jesus, all is not lost! You will be with them again. Believe what God has promised and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss those things that might drive a believer to suicide. Perhaps you find it inconceivable that someone acquainted with the goodness of God would ever consider ending their lives. But only God knows the depth of pain that some of our brothers and sisters have to endure in this world.
The teenager I mentioned at the top of this post took his own life because he was the ongoing victim of a sexual predator and he could see no other way out. Who am I to say that I would’ve chosen differently if I had been in his shoes? I’m not trying to justify suicide. I’m saying I can’t condemn those who, for reasons I cannot fathom, choose death over life.
It’s too late to help that young man but it’s not too late to comfort his parents and those of you who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. Maybe you have heard words of condemnation or hollow comfort. Maybe you’ve been be told that the one you lost is lost for eternity. If so, I encourage you to find rest in the grace of our loving Father and to cultivate the same conviction as Paul:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rms 8:38-9)