I was in junior high when our guidance counselor ushered me and my classmates into the band room. He shared with us the sad news that one of our peers had to rush home because his grandpa had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That was, as best as my memory serves, my first exposure to suicide. Tragically, it wasn’t my last.
This week was National Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is a growing epidemic in our culture. Almost everyone I know has, in some capacity, been affected by suicide. Statistically suicide respects very few demographics — gender, ethnic, geographical, vocational, economic, etc. But suicide isn’t simply a statistic. Behind the numbers are people. Behind the people are hurting lives, broken families, and pain too great for words.
It’s hard to know how to address the issue. We mourn with those who mourn, and we hold out the hope of the light of the gospel for those who sit in darkness. I never want to take away from that. But, last year I sat through a suicide prevention seminar where they cautioned that one of the biggest dangers is not speaking about suicide. We need to! And as Christians we need to learn to think biblically about suicide. Some of Christianity’s biggest truths have something to say to the heartbreaking realities of suicide.
Suicide and the Image of God
The Bible teaches that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That means in a unique way humans — men and women — reflect something of the Creator that the rest of creation doesn’t. That image has been distorted and marred by sin. That’s why we need the new self created by the gospel so that we can be, as Paul says, renewed and “created after the likeness of God” (Ephesians 4:24, see also Colossians 3:10). But the image remains it's only distorted. The Bible teaches us that our value is found in being image bearers of the Triune God. That matters. It means that however you feel about yourself, your life matters. Suicidal thoughts often challenge that claim deceiving us into thinking that our worth is in how we value ourselves, or our performance, achievements, and contributions to those around us.
Suicide and the Law of God
The law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments says: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). While stated negatively it also implies a positive command. We shouldn’t unlawfully deprive someone of life, but we’re also to preserve life — including our own. When the Westminster Larger Catechism explains what’s forbidden in the sixth commandment the first thing mentioned is taking away “the life of ourselves” (Q. 136). Suicide is self-murder. We need biblical clarity on this. To kill yourself is to break the law of God and “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Even as we recognize the mental health issues and illnesses that contribute to suicide, there’s still moral responsibility. It’s sinful to commit suicide, and we need to hate sin: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
Suicide and the Death of Christ for Sin
The historical event and objective significance of Jesus’ death is central to biblical Christianity. Paul wrote: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Likewise, Peter wrote: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus died for our sins. But what sins did Jesus die for? The Bible is clear: Jesus died for all the sins of his people. As John said: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In fact, Jesus says “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:28). Suicide isn’t the unpardonable sin and, therefore, we can have confidence that there is forgiveness in Jesus.
Suicide and Justification by Faith Alone
The moment that matters most in a believer’s life isn’t the moment of death. That’s true for those who die peacefully in their sleep, and it’s true for those whose death is self-inflicted. The most important moment — the definitive moment that defines eternity — is the moment one is justified by faith alone in Christ. Biblically, justification is when God accepts and counts us as righteous not for our works but for the righteousness of Jesus credited to our account (see Romans 3:21-31 and Philippians 3:9). The present and eternal promise to those who are justified is: “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Death — even the suicide of a believer — isn’t strong enough to separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).
Suicide and Sanctification
True Christians can struggle with all kinds of sins. The life of faith is not an exemption from trials and temptations. While he didn’t commit suicide Job expressed near-suicidal thoughts when he laments: “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?” (Job 3:20-22). Christians know times of weakness and strength, success and failure, darkness and light, profound happiness and deep despair. Christians do daily battle with things like pride, self-pity, despondency, hopelessness, anger, bitterness, hurt, sorrow, and confusion. And yes, Christians can yield to the influence of sin whose dominion has been shattered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Romans 7:14-25). There are struggles — and they are struggles — that will only be overcome in heaven.
Suicide and the Decree of God
When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was sick he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Lazarus died because Jesus wasn’t there. Shockingly, the Bible tells us that Jesus’ response — staying two more days — was a response of love for the demonstration of the glory of God (John 11:4-6). That’s hard to wrap our minds around. In a way that didn’t compromise his love he brought about an extremely painful circumstance to glorify himself. The Bible tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Even the painful situation of suicide is the working out of God’s will. He does that in a way that doesn’t jeopardize his love or his goodness or his wisdom, and in a way that will ultimately end in his glory.
These truths, of course, are not for the ivory tower. Suicide is a reality that affects the daily life of so many. The heartache is felt by widows and widowers, by bereaved parents, by fatherless and motherless children, and by churches and communities. But into this sad and tragic reality God’s truth comes — it forbids, it warns, it comforts, and it promises.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies please know you matter. Reach out to someone or please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. And please know, there is light and hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Psalm 139:11-12).