What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?
You probably are not aware of the extent of the problem. These deaths are not reported on the front pages of newspapers. The BBC doesn’t air specials on this violence. Yet suicide is one of the great killers of our day. The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year. According to one foundation, “More teenagers and young adults [in America] die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.” Unfortunately, this trend is only increasing. In America, the total suicide rate has increased 24% over the past 15 years.
What Does the Bible Say?
As a Christian, I am saddened to read these statistics. Because the Bible should inform every aspect of our lives, I want to ask the question – ‘What does the Bible say about suicide?’
Issues like suicide are very sensitive to discuss. You may know someone who died by suicide. You may have a strong emotional reaction to the issue. While I understand the height of emotions associated with this topic, the duty of Christiasn is to lay their personal beliefs and opinions to the side, and come as faithful servants to God’s divinely inspired revelation, the Bible. This is the guidebook that God has provided for us. It is our duty to understand what God says, rather than justify our views with proof-texts.
Is Suicide Murder?
In understanding the Bible’s view of suicide, the first question to ask is whether suicide is the same as murder. Let me answer this question indirectly, by first giving a quote from a famous devotional allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress.
At this point in the story, Christian and his friend Hopeful (who represent two Christians on their spiritual journey) find themselves imprisoned in a gloomy dungeon, tormented by a giant named Despair. This giant makes their lives miserable by tortures, and offers them only one way out of his castle: suicide. In the depths of misery, Christian begins to contemplate this option. He says, “The life that we now live is miserable. For my part, I know not whether it is best to live thus, or to die out of hand. My soul chooseth strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon. Shall we be ruled by the giant?”
Hopeful responds to his despairing friend with these words: “Indeed our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me than thus for ever to abide; but yet, let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going hath said, “Thou shalt do no murder,” no, not to another man’s person; much more, then, are we forbidden to take his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another, can but commit murder upon his body; but for one to kill himself, is to kill body and soul at once. And moreover, my brother, thou talkest of ease in the grave; but hast thou forgotten the hell whither for certain the murderers go? for “no murderer hath eternal life,” etc…But, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while: the time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers.”
If this quote shows us anything, it reveals that historically, suicide has been considered self-murder.
Another way to answer this question is to look at the Biblical term. The sixth commandment says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), and the Hebrew word for murder is ratsach. This word means, “Properly to dash in pieces, that is, kill (a human being), especially to murder: put to death, kill, slay, murder” (Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary). Hence, the Hebrew word indicates that to kill a human being – whether someone else or one’s self – is to break the sixth commandment, or commit murder.
Finally, the premier dictionary of the English language, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, defines suicide as “Self-murder; the act of designedly destroying one’s own life. To constitute suicide, the person must be of years of discretion and of sound mind.”
Since suicide is self-murder, the Bible has much to say about it. Look at this sampling of Biblical verses on the topic:
“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood…” (Proverbs 6:16-17)
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:10-11)
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Suicide in the Bible
There are seven possible examples of suicide in the Bible: Abimelech, Samson, Saul, Saul’s Armor Bearer, Ahithophel, Zimri, and Judas.
Samson died when he caused the building he was in to collapse. While he died in the collapse, he broke the building because he wanted to kill the Philistines, the enemies of God, who were in the building. Hence, we can remove Samson from this list. It was not his intent to kill himself, but to kill Philistines.
While we don’t know anything about the character of Saul’s armor-bearer, we do know about the other men. Abimelech was a tyrant in Israel who murdered his brothers. Saul was a king who started out serving the Lord, but turned away and was rejected. Ahithophel was a traitor who tried to prevent king David from returning to the throne. Zimri was a rebel who seized the throne of Israel after killing the previous king. Judas, of course, was the traitor who handed Jesus Christ over to be crucified.
In other words, the only examples of true suicide that we see in the Bible (except for the case of Saul’s armor-bearer, since we know nothing about him) are of wicked men who had rejected God in their lives.
Suicide and the Christian
But what about those who call themselves Christians and commit suicide? Haven’t their sins been paid for on the cross? What does the Bible say about these people?
The Bible directly addresses how Christians should treat their physical bodies. Paul counsels the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
It is true that righteous people may fall into despair, even despairing of life itself. However, God says that “…the righteous falls seven times and rises again…” (Proverbs 24:16). In other words, while the righteous may fall into despair, they do not stay there. God’s people recover their strength and move forward in their spiritual lives.
Here is the sad reality: many people call themselves ‘Christians’ but are not actually Christians. Jesus warned of throngs of people who would be disappointed in the end of the world, when they realize that their entire Christian profession was a sham, unrecognized by God.
Praying a prayer does not make someone a Christian. Having a ‘faith experience’ or ‘conversion experience’ does not make someone a Christian. Rather, the saving power of Jesus Christ makes a person a Christian, and that saving power always demonstrates itself through a life of virtuous obedience to God. Jesus gave an ultimate test to discern whether a person has the saving power of God in their life: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). In other words, those who are true Christians will continue to serve God to the end of their lives, even if they have falls along the way.
Is Suicide an Unforgiveable Sin?
This is a tricky question, so follow the reasoning carefully. Suicide is a loss of hope, a state of utter despair in which life seems worse than death. This is the exact opposite of a life that is lived in hope of God. The Bible tells us to hope in God and not to fear. Suicide is a state of unbelief in God’s grace and goodness. Suicide is the opposite of faith. To die by suicide is to die in a state of unbelief, not a state of belief. There is no opportunity to repent.
However, Jesus told us clearly that the only unforgiveable sin is that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).
We can make sense of this when we consider the life of William Cowper. Cowper was the author of many beautiful hymns, including ‘There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.’ Yet Cowper experienced deep despair for much of his life. Even after he was converted, he experienced periods of despair, including multiple attempts at suicide!
While we cannot overlook Cowper’s suicidal actions, we can see God’s grace in his life: he never actually succeeded in his attempts. Instead, his conscience was filled with shame when he remembered his suicidal actions. He knew that he had committed sin, and he fled to the Savior.
Cowper’s story shows us that God prevents his people from committing suicide. The Bible encourages us that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9). The answer, then, is clear: while suicide leads to eternal death, God is able to keep his children from this path, so that they have the opportunity to repent and avoid this sin.
Conclusion: How Do We Respond?
There are three responses to take in light of the Bible’s clear teaching on suicide.
First, we need to understand that suicide is never a last resort. Living in despair is terrible, because we can forget that God shows mercy. But living in eternal death is far worse, because there is no opportunity for mercy.
Second, those who are struggling with despair need to turn to the cross of Christ. The book of Psalms is filled with people who turn to God in periods of deep sorrow and discouragement, and find the hope that they are looking for.
Third, and perhaps most challenging, we still need to comfort those we know who have experienced the suicide of a loved one. Some people will speak untruths like ‘they are in a better place.’ Yet the Bible never teaches that those who die by suicide are in a better place. However, we can still comfort the mourners with Scriptural truth. God knows our sorrows. He offers us hope and comfort and solace. Even for those who die by suicide, we know that He is a just judge. He does not delight in the death of anyone.