On Suicide

August 22, 2011 — 2 Comments

I’m often asked about suicide.

Today, I was with a family who is dealing with the suicide of a loved one.

Suicide raises questions.  Here’s a question a church member asked me one time, and my response.

“Why is it wrong to commit suicide?  I know the “you shall not kill” commandment.  On the other hand, there is a lot of hurt and pain in this life and heaven really sounds like a great place and sometimes it would be nice to get there if you know what I mean!”

Let me start by making this clear: Suicide is a sin that solves nothing and causes an unbelievable amount of pain and confusion among the loved ones who are left behind.

Why do people commit suicide? 

According to an article in Psychology Today, here are the six reasons people commit suicide.

  1. They’re depressed. This is without question the most common reason people commit suicide. Severe depression is always accompanied by a pervasive sense of suffering as well as the belief that escape from it is hopeless. The pain of existence often becomes too much for severely depressed people to bear. The state of depression warps their thinking, allowing ideas like “Everyone would all be better off without me” to make rational sense. They shouldn’t be blamed for falling prey to such distorted thoughts any more than a heart patient should be blamed for experiencing chest pain: it’s simply the nature of their disease. Because depression, as we all know, is almost always treatable, we should all seek to recognize its presence in our close friends and loved ones. Often people suffer with it silently, planning suicide without anyone ever knowing. Despite making both parties uncomfortable, inquiring directly about suicidal thoughts in my experience almost always yields an honest response. If you suspect someone might be depressed, don’t allow your tendency to deny the possibility of suicidal ideation prevent you from asking about it.
  2. They’re psychotic. Malevolent inner voices often command self-destruction for unintelligible reasons. Psychosis is much harder to mask than depression-and arguably even more tragic. The worldwide incidence of schizophrenia is 1% and often strikes otherwise healthy, high-performing individuals, whose lives, though manageable with medication, never fulfill their original promise. Schizophrenics are just as likely to talk freely about the voices commanding them to kill themselves as not, and also, in my experience, give honest answers about thoughts of suicide when asked directly. Psychosis, too, is treatable, and usually must be for a schizophrenic to be able to function at all. Untreated or poorly treated psychosis almost always requires hospital admission to a locked ward until the voices lose their commanding power.
  3. They’re impulsive. Often related to drugs and alcohol, some people become maudlin and impulsively attempt to end their own lives. Once sobered and calmed, these people usually feel emphatically ashamed. The remorse is usually genuine, and whether or not they’ll ever attempt suicide again is unpredictable. They may try it again the very next time they become drunk or high, or never again in their lifetime. Hospital admission is therefore not usually indicated. Substance abuse and the underlying reasons for it are generally a greater concern in these people and should be addressed as aggressively as possible.
  4. They’re crying out for help, and don’t know how else to get it. These people don’t usually want to die but do want to alert those around them that something is seriously wrong. They often don’t believe they will die, frequently choosing methods they don’t think can kill them in order to strike out at someone who’s hurt them-but are sometimes tragically misinformed. The prototypical example of this is a young teenage girl suffering genuine angst because of a relationship, either with a friend, boyfriend, or parent who swallows a bottle of Tylenol—not realizing that in high enough doses Tylenol causes irreversible liver damage. I’ve watched more than one teenager die a horrible death in an ICU days after such an ingestion when remorse has already cured them of their desire to die and their true goal of alerting those close to them of their distress has been achieved.
  5. They have a philosophical desire to die. The decision to commit suicide for some is based on a reasoned decision often motivated by the presence of a painful terminal illness from which little to no hope of reprieve exists. These people aren’t depressed, psychotic, maudlin, or crying out for help. They’re trying to take control of their destiny and alleviate their own suffering, which usually can only be done in death. They often look at their choice to commit suicide as a way to shorten a dying that will happen regardless. In my personal view, if such people are evaluated by a qualified professional who can reliably exclude the other possibilities for why suicide is desired, these people should be allowed to die at their own hands.
  6. They’ve made a mistake. This is a recent, tragic phenomenon in which typically young people flirt with oxygen deprivation for the high it brings and simply go too far. The only defense against this, it seems to me, is education.

I would add another reason.

7.    They are demon oppressed or possessed.

We know that demons have no respect for life and are intent on the ultimate destruction of whatever they possess.

When Jesus Christ healed a man of demon possession at Gerasenes, He had the demons go out from the man and into a large herd pigs that were grazing nearby (Mark 5:1-12). And what did the pigs do after the demons had entered them? They ran down the bank, into the lake, and drowned themselves (Mark 5:13). With the demons in them, the pigs committed suicide.

Bottom Line: People who commit suicide are not thinking clearly.

The Bible records seven suicides.  Let me address a few of them.

Judges 9:52-54—Abimelech asked his servant to kill him because a woman had mortally wounded him  and he didn’t want to be known as the king who was killed by a woman.

Judges 16:25-30—Samson pushes down the pillars of a house to kill himself and thousands of Philistines.

I Samuel 31:4—Saul fell on his sword after he was badly wounded by the Philistines.

1 Samuel 31:5—Saul’s armor bearer killed himself after he saw Saul was dead.

Matthew 27:3-5—Judas killed himself because he felt guilty about betraying Jesus.

And then there are people in the Bible who wished for death (Elijah—I Kings 19:4; Jonah—Jonah 4:1-3) and wished they had never been born (Job—3:3-4,11).

Now, let’s now look at some important truths:

1)   The Bible doesn’t say, “You shall not murder yourself.”

2)   The Bible does say, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)  Suicide can be viewed as self-murder.

3)   The Bible says that life is a gift from God.  

Job 10:12

You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.

4)   The Bible says that Jesus came so that we would have life in abundance.

John 10:10

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

5)   The Bible says that death is the enemy.

I Corinthians 15:26

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 6)   The Bible doesn’t teach that Christians who commit suicide go straight to hell.

Theologians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, promoted the idea that suicide was a “mortal sin” because it prevented the person of the opportunity to repent of that sin.  In fact, the idea that suicide is unforgivable seems to come directly from the medieval church and it’s distinction between “mortal” and “venial” sins. (Source: Suicide and the Silence of Scripture by Thomas D. Kennedy http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/julyweb-only/42.0.html)

I think that people who believe that a Christian who commits suicide goes to hell because he didn’t have time to repent of that sin are grossly underestimating the grace of God.

The modern theologian Lewis Smedes once wrote, “All of us commit sins we’re too [lost] to recognize as sins. We all die with sins not named and repented of. I believe Jesus died not only for the sins of us all but for all of our sins, including the forgotten ones, including suicide.”

I agree with Lewis.  I read nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that a moment of unrepented moral—or mental—failure, negates years of faithfulness.

That being said, I’ll repeat what I said as I began to answer this question.

Suicide is a sin that solves nothing and causes an unbelievable amount of pain and confusion among the loved ones who are left behind.

As I’m answering this question, I keep thinking about the Philippian jailer, who wanted to kill himself (Acts 16:28) because he saw himself trapped in a cell with no way out.

He wasn’t thinking clearly.  His mind was clouded by fear.

To anyone who is thinking about killing themselves I want to yell what Paul yelled to the jailer, “Don’t harm yourself!”

Please don’t harm yourself.  There’s hope in Jesus Christ.

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2 responses to On Suicide

  1. 

    Aaron,
    I was just ask this question the other day and I had no idea how to answer this…Now I can.
    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of the bible.

  2. 
    Michael McCrickard August 24, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Thanks Aaron, some really good thoughts. I’ve changed my mind on this over the years. So many times its linked to a deep depression and a feeling of no way out. As Christians, we’ve just got to care about people more than Sundays. To do what it takes to help people not get this far.

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