Without question, the reality of suicide is prevalent in our society. It is a somber, sobering, sensitive subject that has, at least to some degree, touched many of our lives— even within the church.
As most everyone associated with the Euclid Avenue church family knows, a few days ago one of our members chose to end her life here on earth. I realize that such a situation raises some intensely thought-provoking questions regarding the subject of suicide. My hope and intent with this article is to provide some degree of clarity from a biblical – theological perspective regarding this disturbing issue. My attempt here to do so is not with a “know-it-all” attitude, but rather, with the broken, saddened heart of a Pastor who loves, and hurts with, his people.
The one prevalent thought most people wrestle with concerning the subject of suicide seems to be this question: “Is suicide the unpardonable sin?”
First, let me say that I do not believe the Bible teaches that suicide is “the unpardonable sin.” Some people have presumed that this painful choice is the one sin God will not, and cannot, forgive based upon two primary premises. One of those premises, I believe, is a misinterpretation of Matthew 27:1 – 10, where we read of Judas Iscariot’s response to his own betrayal of the Lord Jesus.
The passage is very clear that Judas Iscariot deeply regretted setting in motion the consequences of his betrayal of Christ. He himself declared to the chief priests that he had sinned, for he had betrayed innocent blood. At that point, though, the remorse Judas felt in his heart made no difference to the Jewish leaders. It was then that Judas knew he could not possibly reverse the consequences his betrayal had set in motion. Out of that deep sense of shame and remorse for his role in the betrayal of Christ, Judas then chose to hang himself.
However, a close exegesis of this passage clearly reveals there is no mention whatsoever of suicide as “the unpardonable sin.” Many well-intentioned people from all walks of life have presumed to read into this text of Matthew 27:1 – 10 that suicide is, indeed, the unpardonable sin. But, the fact of the matter is that when the passage is correctly exegeted— that is, allowed to declare what it says about itself— there is no supportive biblical evidence that suicide is the unpardonable sin.
The other premise is founded upon the logic that the act of suicide excludes the possibility of an individual from being able to ask God for His forgiveness after death. Therefore, such thinking would lead one to conclude that the act of suicide must be unforgivable since the individual could not ask God for the needed forgiveness in death. However, we must remember that the salvation Christ Jesus has obtained for humanity is “an eternal redemption” (cf. Hebrews 9:12; Isaiah 53:4 – 6; Ephesians 1:7 & 2:13; John 10:27 – 29).
Both the guilt and condemnation of our sin are taken away through the power of the shed, righteous blood of the Lord Jesus with regard to the past, present, and future. This is the essence of God’s redeeming grace expressed through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Salvation in Christ is not dependent upon what an individual may or may not do of his own accord. Instead, this salvation has been established completely and fully upon the sinless life, the atoning death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Himself. It is a salvation of grace, which the Apostle Paul reminds us of in Ephesians 2:8 – 9, where he wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
The sin debt of mankind could be fully dealt with and resolved only by means of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It is impossible for man to overcome his sin nature out of the strength and determination of his own good works. Let us take comfort, then, in the encouragement of the writer of the book of Hebrews when he wrote, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (cf. Hebrews 10:23).
Since there is not biblical evidence to support the claim that the act of suicide is “the unpardonable sin,” then we must ask, “Then what does constitute such a sin?” The “unpardonable sin” must be rightly understood as a continual state of hardened unbelief and rejection of the person of Christ Jesus as the Son of God, and His work of atonement for the sin of mankind by means of His crucifixion and resurrection. Such hardness of heart makes it impossible for a person to receive the saving power of God’s grace and mercy through the Lord Jesus (cf. Matthew 12:31 – 32 & Mark 3:28 – 29).
Second, although an act of suicide is not the feared “unpardonable sin,” it still is a choice that carries with it terrible consequences. Loved ones and friends often find themselves wrestling with disturbing, even haunting, questions that may never be answered. There is usually some considerable emotional guilt loved ones and close friends must grapple with, too, long after the deceased person has made his her choice to no longer deal with life’s difficulties and regrets.
Another consequence stemming from an act of suicide is that such a choice does not enhance the effectiveness of a believer’s testimony of faith and hope through Christ. Such an act seemingly casts a sense of dishonor to the name of Christ, the Gospel of Christ, and the body of Christ. Whatever needs we may have, whatever regrets in life may sometimes plague us, whatever trials we might face in this life, we are assured by God’s own promise that His amazing, redeeming grace is, first of all, greater than all of our sin (cf. Romans 5:20), and secondly, more than sufficient to meet our needs and enable us to face life’s greatest trials (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). Tragically, an utter sense of hopelessness blinds the person who chooses to end his her life to this biblical truth and hope.
Then, a third consequence related to the choice of suicide is that it may be a presumptuous one to make. There seems to be an underlying thought with regard to those who seriously contemplate this choice that “all will be well on the other side.” That is true— but only for those who are genuinely in Christ (cf. Matthew 7:21 – 23). But even for those of us who are Christians, we will be held accountable for every choice we make in this life at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10 & Ecclesiastes 12:14). However, to die in one’s sin of unbelief concerning Jesus Christ will only lead to an eternal misery in a literal place called “hell” that will never subside (cf. John 3:36 & Revelation 20:11 – 15).
At this point, I want to encourage— even plead— with anyone who may be contemplating a choice of suicide to not neglect the blessed hope that is ours in Christ by choosing a self-inflicted death as the means of not dealing with life’s troubles any longer. Instead, let us choose life by staking our faith upon God’s written promises which provide us with His comfort, strength, guidance and hope. May we seek to know His presence as a very present help in our times of trouble (cf. Psalm 46:1). Let us rely upon the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit for the strength we need when we are downtrodden, disturbed and filled with despair deep within our souls. Let us rest in the peace of God that surpasses all of our perceptions of this life and its many troubles to sustain us when we just do not understand life’s circumstances (cf. Philippians 4:6 – 9).
Furthermore, while the words of the Apostle Paul ring true that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (cf. Philippians 1:21), let us keep in mind that he immediately followed these well-known words with this thought— “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor;” (cf. Philippians 1:22). Let us not underestimate how God can use any of us to influence the lives of others around us as His agents of grace, mercy, and agape love— in spite of our flaws and failures. Our Lord truly does have a meaningful purpose for each person whose confident trust and faith for salvation is placed in Him and Him alone. Your life really does matter to God, to His church, to your family and friends who surround you. Please do not underestimate that truth.
What am I trying to communicate here? Simply put, that in Christ, because of Christ, and through Christ, hope is still alive for us! No matter how dark, how difficult, how disappointing, how devastating life’s circumstances may become for us, Jesus is our sure anchor when life’s storms rage all around us. And, Jesus is “the God of the second chance,” One who is more than willing to cover our lives with His redeeming grace and unending mercies, if only we will choose to trust Him to do so (cf. John 21:15 – 17).
Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Let us leave that appointment in the hands of the One who has given us life. May we not choose to make that appointment with death on our own terms. Such an appointment will one day have to be kept by all of us—unless Jesus raptures His church out of this world before then. However, may none of us choose to force this appointment apart from God’s undue time.
There are times, yes, when the circumstances of life can be extremely difficult, even excruciatingly painful, to deal with. Job 14:1 reminds us of this truth, which reads, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” But listen, Jesus will carry you when you cannot go on. When you have given up, He will hold you with His hand of sustaining grace. When you are convinced that you cannot go on, He will make you strong and never let you go. You may be convinced that you are completely alone, but Jesus has declared that He is with us moment by moment in this life (cf. Matthew 28:20), and will never leave us nor forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5). Yes, Jesus will carry you, no matter how heavy your load.
Based upon the authority and eternal truth of God’s holy Word, in Jesus Christ there really is a redeeming, sustaining, lasting hope for when the bottom falls out in your life.
Anchored to His Faithfulness,
Dr. Allen Roberts, Senior Pastor
Euclid Avenue Baptist Church