November 15, 2013

Considering suicide

by Josiah Grauman

image001Suicide – “the act of killing yourself because you do not want to continue living” (Merriam Webster).

When it comes to Theology, it’s easy to ponder and solve life’s great mysteries in the realm of the hypothetical. We pose the question: “If a believer commits suicide, will he go to heaven?” Then we embark on our theological excursion, perhaps never even giving a thought to that bruised and battered soul who is so dejected that he is actually considering the unthinkable. So, as a former hospital chaplain, I’d like to start our theological discussion in the realm of reality.

Will you be saved if you take your own life?

My heart aches as I consider what might drive someone to this point, and words seem unfit to bring the sort of comfort needed. I only know that God is merciful, and that at His right hand stands a Man, who by virtue of His genuine humanity understands our lives completely, and by virtue of His complete divinity has the omnipotent power to help. If you ever face such dark temptations, run to Him, and you will find rest for your soul… and not only rest, but also hope and joy, even through the toughest of times (1 Pet. 1:3-6). There are so many other things I would like to say, and hugs that I would like to give, but alas, a blog is not suited to such things. I can only urge: If you are struggling, please find help in a Biblical local church.

Yet there are a few more things I should say.

First, though you may claim to be a Christian, I must remind you that the Bible affirms with absolute clarity that only the one who perseveres to the end will be saved (Heb. 3:14; Col. 1:21-23). We can profess whatever we want, but the only way to actually know if our faith is a genuine and saving one is to observe if it is producing fruit. So I ask, are you trusting in your own righteousness, thinking that some act, some deed that you have done will guarantee your salvation? Or are you actively trusting in the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on your behalf, desiring to glorify God in everything, even with your body? Faith without works is no faith at all, and does not save (Jas. 2:17).

image002You see the problem is that sin is deceptive, and so it is easy for someone to get so depressed that they think: “God says He forgives all sins, so I’ll just commit one more and then it’ll be over… I’ll even offend Him less.” This logic is satanic, egotistical and erroneous. If you continue evidencing the fruit of the flesh right down to one final act of defiance, the Bible declares that you still abide in darkness (1 Jhn. 3:9-10).

Now you may argue: “A murderer can go to heaven, and suicide is simply self-murder”. Well, it is true that if a murderer repents and gives his life to Christ that he will be saved, but then he is no longer a murderer, but rather one who dedicates his life to Christ and loving the brethren. This is very different than a murderer who professes to be a Christian but continues killing people right up until his death. If someone is characterized by sin, then he is still a murderer, and no murderer will inherit eternal life (1 Jhn. 3:15). Know that if you repeatedly consider suicide and then commit it, you will end your life demonstrating the fruit of the devil, and that is a terrifying thought.

My point is that if you are considering suicide, then we are talking about a serious sin that you need to repent of, a fruit of the flesh that ought to cause you to examine your life to see whether you’re really saved (2 Cor. 13:5), a test that will be hard to pass with that sort of fruit. But take heart, this sort of self-examination is healthy, and whatever the test result may be, the solution is the same: repentance. And if you ask for it humbly in the name of Jesus, God will give it to you freely and without partiality, along with the living hope that He will preserve you to the end to receive an unimaginably wonderful inheritance.

image003The life that God has given you is a gift, though you might not see it that way, and what should motivate you to live is to glorify Him with all your being, trusting that He will bring His children into His presence at the exact moment that is best for their eternity (Rom. 8:28). Take heart, God will finish the work He has begun in His children (Phil. 1:6), and many great Christians in times past have wrestled with the dark temptations you now wrestle with and God has always been faithful to provide a way to triumph (1 Cor. 10:13). Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; He has made peace through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Is the “believer” you knew who committed suicide in heaven?

Again, words seem inadequate. And though it might seem easiest to begin with some false hope that anyone who ever professed to be a Christian is in heaven, if that professing “believer” never evidenced the fruit of the Spirit, I dare not communicate that someone can live a life characterized by sin and be saved. Loss is hard, but lies will not make it better. Ultimately we must place our hope in God alone and what His Word says.

However, unlike some, I do not believe that the Bible teaches that everyone who commits suicide goes to Hell. Perhaps the best place to begin is with a good biblical definition of the word believer.

God declares in no uncertain terms that a believer is that one who has been predestined, justified and glorified (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Salvation does not depend on any human work, but upon God (Rom. 9:11-23). It makes absolutely no biblical sense, then, to talk about a believer going anywhere but heaven. When someone believes in God, all of their sins are forgiven – past, present and future. Thus, I do not need to live in fear that if my final thought before I die is being frustrated with a nurse, that I’m going to go to hell because I killed her in my heart and never got to ask forgiveness. Though I pray that would never occur, if it does happen to a believer, that sin was paid for on the cross before it was ever committed (Col. 2:13-14). In that sense, all Christians die sinning; yet all Christians die forgiven, having received an irrevocable promise of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Jhn. 6:39-40; Rom. 11:29).

image004Therefore, we should never question the eternal destiny of a believer – this is secure. All of God’s children will be preserved by Him until that moment that they meet Him in heaven – even if they were to commit suicide. In fact, I would imagine that many Christians have passed through moments where they have thought about terminating their own lives (which makes them liable to judgment, Mt. 5:22), but their salvation as Christians is never affected because no work of man could ever alter God’s divine declaration that we stand righteous before Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Of course, many fear saying this – that it is possible for a Christian to commit suicide and go to heaven – because they fear that might be all the encouragement a depressed person would need to commit the most heinous sin imaginable. This no doubt would be the most horrendous of all tragedies, especially if the person only thought they were a Christian, and ended up in Hell, God forbid, based upon a false assurance that we gave them.

However, we dare not let fear guide us. If we were to use the same logic, we would not be able to tell the murderer that he can be forgiven, fearing that others might murder thinking that they could just later ask for forgiveness. Truth never engenders sin in the believer, but rather sanctifies.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible never says that suicide is unpardonable. In fact, as a chaplain I can think of many extreme cases where the opposite seems true. For example, what about a believer who has been faithful to Christ for decades but then sufferes a mind-altering stroke? If months later he commits suicide in a moment of weakness must we say that he is now in Hell? Another example, should a senile person be considered damned because he died without demonstrating faith over his last 6 months?

I give these examples in hope that they demonstrate the vast difference between a believer who falls into a sin that does not characterize his life as a child of God, and the unbeliever whose suicide expresses with absolute perfection what his fallen nature is made of.

image005In summary, God knows who His children are and always saves them. Our salvation is safe in the omnipotent hands of God. However, the only way that we can know if we are His is by the fruit our lives produce. Thus, the certainty that we feel regarding our salvation ought to fluctuate accordingly. If we walk in the light we ought to know and rest in our salvation (1 Jhn. 5:13, cf. 1 Jhn. 1:7). If we abide in darkness, we ought to fear that we profess to be something that we are not (1 Jhn 2:9).

Suicide is a fleshly and satanic fruit. One might assume that no one could commit it and be saved (In fact, I would guess that a majority of those who have claimed to be Christians and have committed suicide were not what they claimed to be.) However, we ought never to say that every person who commits suicide necessarily goes to Hell, because that would be to commit a greater sin: To attack the merciful nature of God who promises to save all His children. This, then, is the great and final lesson: No act of man can ever supersede the mighty power of God to preserve all of those whom He graciously decides to save.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 8:38-39.

Josiah Grauman

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Josiah is the director of the 'Instituto de Expositores', a Spanish language training institute at Grace Community Church, where he and his wife serve as missionaries.
  • Terri

    Thank you for writing on such a difficult subject in great wisdom and candor. I would also add a thought for the one who claims to be a believer that is struggling with thoughts of suicide. The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself life. For those who are in Christ, we have Life in us. Life “Himself” was crucified only because He laid His life down. He raised Himself up on the third day because death has no power over Life (John 2:19).

    For those of us who truly know Life–Jesus Christ–it would seem to be impossible to carry out suicide. (I say this NOT to judge the salvation of suicide victims, but to challenge the faith of those who contemplate it.)

    I would also add that we must be sensitive to those who suffer from chemical imbalances or who are on medications that affect their mental processes, who may “hear voices”. For example some women have great difficulty with menopause and have succumbed to suicide.

  • michael

    Finally, someone bold enough to write clearly on the issue. What you said in the first half of this article is what many Christians today are not willing to say.but it is biblically sound nonetheless.

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  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    I lost a beautiful niece to suicide. She had been diagnosed bi-polar at 18, was married and pregnant at 25 and went off her meds because she was afraid they would harm the baby. She took her life before the baby was born. She loved the Lord with all of her heart and it was evident by her fruits. In her case, and based on your blog here, I believe with all of my heart she is with Jesus.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I’m not sure there’s a distinction to be made between committing this sin (without the possibility of confessing it to Him) and committing any other one, and then dying. If, even as a believer, I have a fatal heart attack while secretly in the company of a woman I’m not married to, is that any different than jumping in front of a train? To posit that the latter might indicate the actions of an unsaved person but not the former, while also admitting that we all sin in this life, what do we get from that?

    Or put it this way: What sin could we commit that is beyond the reach of the cross? Any sin COULD be indicative of an unregenerate person; but the list is very long of those indicators.

    • http://www.elidex.org/ Josiah Grauman

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that any sin could be indicative of an unregenerate person. The only issue I was trying to highlight is that suicide is most often the evidence that a person is enslaved to a habitual sin. I’ve counseled a lot of professing christians in psych wards, and I’ve never met one who just decided to commit suicide without having thought about it for some time.

      With that in mind, my point of encouraging them to examine themselves to see whether they be in the faith seems Biblical, as I would do that to any and every professing Christian who is sinning, especially if they are stuck in a habitual sin. Paul doesn’t say that only the worst sinners should examine themselves, rather it is something that ALL Christians should do, especially if our fruit doesn’t match our confession.

  • imalulu

    I have a question,which, I believe ties into the subject of this article: what about the Believer who opts for “no further treatment” of a disease? I have RA, (Rheumatoid Arthritis),and have chosen against aggressive drug modalities. What about Christian cancer patients or those with other serious diseases who say,”…enough chemo./medications” or “no surgery” ? I never consider “taking my life”,(as it is not mine to take), and Philippians 1:21 has become my “anchor verse”. What do you think?

    • http://www.elidex.org/ Josiah Grauman

      Good question. I definitely think those cases are completely different. In fact, I lead with a definition of suicide in order to make that distintion. So my article does not addres DNR issues, nor soldiers throwing themselves on hand grenade type issues, because that is outside of the scope of the definition of suicide.

      In addition, wanting to be with Jesus, Phil 1:23, is not the same thing as wanting to actively kill myself.

      Hope that helps!

  • Slightly Ticked

    I personally believe this would have been written with a lot more grace and understanding from someone who has contemplated suicide. I am a strong believer who at 25 have been through a lot of health issues the past two years. I have contemplated suicide. Is it wrong? Definitely. Are there physical circumstances that could drive a person to feel so terrible that it sounds more logical to die than to live? Absolutely. In my case, I got bit by a tick. The bugs that lived in that tick transferred to my body and began eating me. I cannot tell you what this does to a person physically, mentally, and spiritually. Please have more grace.

    • http://www.elidex.org/ Josiah Grauman

      Dear Slightly ‘Tick’ed

      First, I’m glad to read you haven’t lost your sense of humor, that is a very witty username based on the incredibly difficult trial the Lord has put you through. I pray the Lord strengthens your faith to rejoice in His will!

      Please forgive me if you felt like I was not very gracious. Our Lord is full of grace and truth and I earnestly desire to be like Him.

      So that I can communicate better in the future, I’m wondering what specifically in the article you felt lacked grace? I know it is hard for anyone, including myself, to hear that we ought to examine ourselves to see whether we are actually saved, but isn’t that something that Paul commands all of us to do? 2 Cor. 13:5. Writing on the internet to people that I don’t know, it seemed like the best place to start. Would you concede that at least some professing Christians who attempt suicide are not actually saved?

      It seems that the only way anyone is going to receive the strength and joy they need to press on is trusting in the Gospel, that Jesus died to save sinners, and that His resurrection guarantees our hope.

      Lastly, as a side note, it was interesting to hear you say that the article would be more gracious if I had comtemplated suicide, I’m wondering, where did you gather that I had never done so?

      Lord bless

    • 4Commencefiring4

      Not to dismiss your clearly difficult circumstances and pain you are going through, but it seems you’re suggesting that only those who have experienced the condition in question should be the ones to treat it. Only doctors who, for instance, have had cancer themselves should endeavour to treat cancer patients? I’m sure you wouldn’t advocate that, nor would any of us.

      “You don’t know what it’s like” is certainly a legitimate emotion, and no one should presume to know your trials who has never walked a mile in your shoes. At the same time, if only those with burn scars can warn others of fire hazards, we’re all in trouble.

      Many will be praying that you find relief from your current condition.

  • Elhanan

    With regard to your premise that we should never question the eternal destiny of a believer because it is secure – Does that then entail that there is no need for repentance since all past, present & future sins are forgiven? If you answer in the affirmative then there is no reason for a person to lead a life bearing good fruit and character because one’s sins are automatically covered as one’s salvation is a done deal. On the other hand, if the forgiveness of one’s sin is dependent on confession/repentance, how can a person repent from the sin of suicide since the opportunity of the now dead person to repent is tragically negated?

    • 072591

      If you are doing good deeds in order to have your sins covered, then you are attempting to earn your way into Heaven, which is an insult to God and, ironically, another sin you’re committing.

      The Bible does not imply that for the redeemed, all past, present, and future sins are forgiven – it explicitly tells us that salvation is assured and nothing can pluck us from the Father’s hand.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        I don’t understand your last paragraph. It’s contradictory. If all sins are NOT forgiven, then salvation is not assured. If they are, it is.

      • Elhanan

        If I’m trying to be obedient and obey God, do you consider that works-based? Last time I checked my Bible, obedience was not a sin and certainly not an insult to God. Works/good deeds don’t earn salvation; rather they are the evidence of saving faith. James 2:24 plainly states: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Also you take John 10:28-29 totally out of context. Verses 28-29 are predicated upon the verse immediately preceding it. Per v.27, salvation is only reserved for those sheep who hear and follow the Shepherd. No such assurance is given to those who do not follow and disobey. Big difference there.

        • 072591

          Let me clarify the last paragraph, as it appears I over-edited it. The Bible is clear that for those who are redeemed, ALL of his sins have been covered, past, present, and future. Simply put, once you are redeemed, there is nothing anybody can do to alter that – including you.

          Now, for Elhanan, if you are trying to be obedient and obeying God in order to earn or retain salvation, then that is works-based; that is EXACTLY what works-based means. And if you re-read what I said, it is clear that attempting to earn your salvation through good works is an insult to God, and not obedience.

          “Does that then entail that there is no need for repentance since all past, present & future sins are forgiven? If you answer in the affirmative then there is no reason for a person to lead a life bearing good fruit and character because one’s sins are automatically covered as one’s salvation is a done deal.”

          That statement is absolutely right – if salvation is the entirety of existence. In terms of our salvation, there is no reason to lead a life bearing good fruit and character. Those things come as a result of salvation, but adds nothing to it. The matter of the sin debt to God the Father is resolved! Sanctification is a different issue, and that is where striving for good deeds comes into play, but salvation cannot be lost even if a believer NEVER shows fruit – which by the way, doesn’t happen.

          • Elhanan

            Sounds like you subscribe to antinomianism which I reject. I also clearly stated that obedience is the result of salvation rather than its cause despite your attempt to portray it as works based. I quoted James to show how salvation is not based on faith alone and I showed you how you quoted John 10 out-of-context. Instead of wrestling with the plain meaning of the text, you have ignored these scriptures and instead ventured your opinion without offering any scriptural warrant your own. It is best to stick with what the scriptures actually say so I’ll offer another for consideration: “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who OBEY him, (Heb 5:9). This verse does not refer to sanctification as you would prefer to believe but explicitly references salvation and the expectation that obedience is required of those who believe.

          • Joe

            Are you saying that once God has adopted a believer into His household and eternal life that this adopted son can fall away due to sin in his or her life?

          • Elhanan

            Joe – In a word, “yes.” To be more specific the doctrine of eternal security has been debated for ages and it seems that more believers now subscribe to it as that is what they have always been taught and therefore simply accept it as being dogma. I too believed that one could never lose their salvation when I first became a Christian and later when I attended seminary as my theology professor was a strict Calvinist whom I still respect. However, several years ago I came to believe that the Bible taught otherwise as I studied this subject for myself – something which I also encourage others to also do and come to your own conclusion. I do consider this an important matter because if someone believes they are a believer when in fact not, then they might have a false sense of assurance. I do not wish to hijack this comment thread so perhaps Joshua can write about this topic further if he has not already done so. I’m always open to discussing with anyone who is open-minded and is wanting to arrive at their own understanding but I refrain from dialoguing with those who want to argue and engage in uncivil discourse to defend their position as it betrays our primary responsibility to love one another. Hope that helps.

          • Joe

            Thank you for your civil manner. I agree that we should not hijack the thread so I would just ask you this, “If a believer can fall away then what does he have to do to get his salvation back?” My sincere apologies to the other readers for this off-the-topic debate.

          • Elhanan

            In order to answer your question it is necessary to distinguish between “occasional” sin and “habitual” sin. 1 John 1:8-10 makes it clear that no one is without sin. When we do sin, our merciful God is faithful and just to forgive us upon confessing our sin. Therefore it does not entail that we lose our salvation each and every time we sin. We are not asking for our salvation back when we sin; we are asking for His forgiveness. However, if we knowingly practice sin in our lives to a point where sin can be characterized as habitual disobedience, then no assurance of salvation is to be had. 1 Jn 3:6-9 states: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God MAKES A PRACTICE of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he CANNOT KEEP ON SINNING BECAUSE HE HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD.” It is apparent that a “believer” who fits this description has never genuinely repented and instead willingly and knowingly continues to sin in outright disobedience to God. At the beginning of Rom 6, the Apostle Paul asks the question: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! WE are those who HAVE DIED TO SIN; how can we live in it any longer? And in Rom 8:13 Paul issues this stern warning not to unbelievers – but to his fellow brethren in Rome: “For if you live according to the flesh, YOU WILL DIE; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, YOU WILL LIVE.” We know that Paul is referring to spiritual death here because everyone experiences physical death but spiritual life is only promised to those who live by the Spirit and die to themselves.

          • Joe

            Should the moderator feel that this s off topic please feel free to kill Thank you for taking so much time in your comments. I agree with you that no person should have the assurance of salvation if they live as an unbeliever. As you say, it is quite possible that such a person is indeed unsaved and has not tasted God’s goodness at all. These scriptural warnings are God’s way of making the believer check whether they are adopted sons or not. My questions to you pertain to saved people. Can an adopted son be spurned by God due to sin? If the answer is yes then what does such a person need to do to be accepted by God again?

          • Elhanan

            Hello again. Read carefully in my previous post as I noted that in Rom 8:13 Paul specifically addresses the Roman brethren i.e. the saved ones living in Rome. He is warning these believers that IF they sow to the flesh, they WILL die spiritually. Thus in answer to your question – yes I believe an adopted son can be spurned by God due to sin. But perhaps a more accurate way of saying it is that an adopted can spurn God by continuing in known sin. We know that God is merciful and wishes that none should perish. He goes to great lengths to search after the one lost sheep in order to save it. You ask what does a person need to do to be accepted by God again? I would encourage you to carefully read Luke 15:11-32–the story of the prodigal son. More often than not, whenever this parable is taught or preached the message is focused on God’s love and forgiveness as exemplified by the father who rushes to welcome his wayward son back with open arms. While that is certainly true, notice what the father says about his prodigal son. Vs 24: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found…..Vs 32 “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Note that the father describes his son who WAS DEAD (spiritually) and lost but now is found and ALIVE (spiritually) AGAIN! In other words, when the son was abiding within his father’s house he was alive. He became dead when he wasted his inheritance on a lifestyle of sin. Fortunately when he came to his senses, he decided to forsake his practice of sinning and return to his father’s house in humility and repentance seeking his father’s forgiveness. As he does so, his father declares him to be ALIVE AGAIN. So it is no different with us – when we stray afar from God, He is willing to welcome us back to his household with open arms. We like the prodigal need to repent, seek God’s forgiveness and forsake sinful living. In doing so, we will never be perfect or sinless but we will be doing what Jesus asks all of his disciples to do when he called us to follow him.

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  • M

    As precious a thing as assurance of salvation is, isn’t it interesting that God can use lack of assurance for good, as an instrument to hold one back from such a sin as taking one’s own life. In moments of deep darkness, I wonder how many lives have been preserved through God putting lack of assurance to “good use”?
    Josiah, I’ve been encourage by your story. My wife (una hispana) and I (definitely a gringo) minister as laypeople to Spanish-speaking people in our church. Compared to the abundance of sound English-based biblical training, it makes me happy to see you and “the Instituto” training Spanish-speaking shepherds here in the US.