This week was the first time that my life directly intersected with the hurt of suicide. It will not be soon forgotten. At first I wasn’t sure how to process what had actually happened. As I slowly started to digest these events I came to the most inevitable question that those close to a suicide (or even who spectate from afar): Why?
Most will typically commit suicide because they feel there are no other solutions and no hope. I found one description online saying that the reason could stem from either financial or personal (relational, low self-esteem) difficulties. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of hopelessness that one would have to feel to wake up one morning with the desire to end it all – much less follow through with that desire (especially one that has a loving family).
Adding to the hurt of the act itself, is a frequent religious response to the act. It is my understanding that the particular family impacted by this was Catholic. This compounds the hurt because according to that religious tradition is the teaching that they are damned to Hell solely because of this decision.
There are two questions that need to be answered when discussing suicide, particularly of one who has claimed to be a Christian.
First, is suicide is a damnable (i.e. unforgiveable) sin in and of itself? In other words, will a true Christian who commits suicide be barred from Heaven. Second, is what does the Bible offer to those who are so hopeless and feel so helpless before the suicide ever happens?
Can suicide alone automatically condemn someone to Hell?
This is an issue that must be addressed due to the religious doctrine of the Catholic Church. For hundreds of years they have created a stigma around suicide that it is a sin that will not be forgiven and thus anyone (Christian or not) who commits suicide will be sent to Hell. There is no biblical support for this opinion. To the contrary, there is ample evidence to support that once a Christian possess salvation, they have been absolved of all sin! This would include the sins you have committed in the past, the sins you are committing now, and the sins you will commit in the future. There are many scriptures that support this doctrine (Eternal Security/Perseverance of the Saints) let me briefly call out three:
Colossian 2:13-14: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
Notice the use of the word “all.” It does not say that God forgave us of the sins we did commit only, but ALL sin that we have and will commit. There is a finality to this verse that indicates that the sin we have and will commit was nailed to the cross. As Jesus said…IT IS FINISHED!
Romans 8:38-39: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If the Colossians verse does not do it for you then perhaps Romans 8 will. Could Paul have been any more explicit? Nothing can separate a Christian from God, NEITHER PRESENT NOR THE FUTURE! Notice the Paul specifically mentions death. Not even death is powerful enough to separate us from the Father and the Son.
Romans 8:1-2: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Again Paul could not have been clearer. As Christians we face no condemnation and are free from the law of sin (and death). The outworking of the law Paul references here is the condemnation that we all would face from God were we not in Christ Jesus. This ultimately results in spiritual death- eternal separation from God.
The final picture that is painted… Once we have accepted Jesus’ payment for our sin (which places us “in Christ”, we have been forgiven for them ALL, past present or future, we will not be condemned. At the moment one is joined to Jesus in this way, there is nothing they can do to separate them from God. Suicide, being a sin, cannot separate a Christian who commits that sin from God.
There is something else that needs to be discussed here and that is the stigma associated with Christians who commit suicide. There are many would make the argument that “true” Christians cannot commit suicide. The premise of this argument is that “true” Christians find their hope in Jesus. 1 Peter 1:13 tells us explicitly to set your hope on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. If a Christian has lost hope then it would appear that the only way it could be rationalized is that they never had hope, and were never really saved.
This thought process is a fundamental breakdown of the basic understanding of sin and the role it plays in our life. If you conclude that suicide is a sin, then it must be considered in the same light as all sin. We as Christians will still struggle with sin until we reach Heaven.
We are to strive to become more and more Christlike, but we will fail at different points in our life. With that in mind one must conclude that there is NO difference between a Christian who lies, and a Christian who commits suicide, or a Christian who commits adultery in their heart and one who commits suicide. In the eyes of God there is no difference. James 2:10 states this as directly as possible “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” In the eyes of God there is no difference between the one who commits suicide, and the one who lies about why they were late to work. Many may scoff at this notion because in their eyes it may represent an extreme. However, God does not think like us He deals in perfect judgment. There is no difference in His perfect judgment between the two.
I believe the reason for this stigma is the finality of the sin. In suicide we see the ultimate in finality. It’s a permanent “solution” to a temporary problem. We see the hurt caused to the family of someone who commits suicide. The emotions involved, both anger and grief over the action are on full display. The Bible states that there is only one sin that is unforgivable and that is the denial of the Holy Spirit (i.e. never believing in Christ – cf. John 3:18). Nowhere does it mention that suicide is an unforgiveable sin.
What hope does the Bible offer?
Suicidal thoughts can end up enveloping someone just as quickly as adulterous thoughts do. The Word of God is designed to offer instruction for life and comfort in our time of need, no matter the circumstances of that need. Without exception, we all hit a time where we are depressed. We hit a point where we believe nobody gets it. We hit a point where we feel like we are alone on this planet. As I write this I am reminded of the footprints in the sand poem. What a simple but powerful demonstration of how God works in our lives.
Psalms is truly an incredible book in the Bible. In it we get a candid look at the prayer life of David and others. It includes bouts with depression. Take for example Psalm 31:9-13: Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear many whispering , “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.
This is the reason that I love Psalms. It is David being completely honest and open with God. WHO HASN’T FELT THIS WAY?! What we see in the book of Psalms is that David wasn’t afraid to say out loud everything that he was thinking: All of the pain, all of the anguish, all of the anxiety, and all of the hurt. But David always had one more thing to say with each passing moment that he was in aguish… he knew that God would sustain him. Verse 14 of Psalm 31… “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ’You are my God.’”
1 Peter 5:6-7 sums up the Psalmists’ experiences in two verses: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may Exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.”
There are a number of verses that can help you in your time of need.
Psalm 9:9, 22:24, 27:4-5, 46:1, 56:8, 116:1-2
This is a great sampling from the direct and honest prayer of David. These come from the depth of his soul as he cries out in anguish to God.
Finally, if you are reading this and you are thinking about suicide, or know someone that is, please call for help. Call a pastor of a local Bible-believing church and speak with them. www.iamsecond.com can point you to one. You should know that God loves you. We are not talking about the kind of love that is fleeting, or abusive, or anything like that which may have exacerbated your present circumstances. His love is perfect. He will never abandon you. He will always love you. If you don’t have a relationship with God, know that He wants one with you. Hebrews 13:5 – Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
We are not talking religion, we are talking a personal one on one relationship with the creator-God of all of the universe.
Do you have to believe in God to be moral?
According to the Pew Research Center, a growing share of Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral. That is the headline, and I have to admit it grabbed my attention. So here is the data breakdown. From 2011 to 2017 there was a 7% (49% to 56%) increase in the percentage of people who say that belief in God is not necessary to be moral and have ethical values. During that same timeframe, there was a 6% drop in the percentage of people who say that belief in God is necessary to be moral and have good values.
Ahhhh, this has the makings of a great ethics, theological and philosophical debate all wrapped up in one.
So, let me start with the theological aspect, and there are two key parts. First, is the idea that we have all fallen from grace and need saving. A couple of verses just to show you how “good” and “moral” we all are. Isaiah 64:6: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Romans 3:10-12: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
If we were able to BE ethical and moral, even with an ardent belief in God, we wouldn’t need saving grace. There are two things to take from the scripture I quoted. 1. None of us are moral or have good values according to God’s standards. 2. God’s standard is perfection, and we are not perfect.
Since none of us can be good/moral, let’s tackle the ethic’s aspect of it. Can a person, who doesn’t believe in God do something good? I for one don’t think that Christians have the market cornered on doing good. There are many philanthropists out there who do good works with their money, and a number of them are atheists. In the business world, some atheists are far more ethical than some who claim to be Christians. Many Christians struggle with the concept that an atheist can do good things, demonstrate virtue, or follow some of the ten commandments without any faith. This isn’t to say that they are good people (see above), but they are capable of acting, behaving, and demonstrating behavior that is talked about by Christ. Nevertheless, many atheists struggle with what ethical means, which takes me to the philosophical point.
What is good? What is ethical? To a Christian, right/ethical/moral are values derived from the Bible given by an absolute lawgiver. Strike that. Most Christians know that…well, maybe a few. Anyway, the world has ebbed and flowed over the very definition of good, and the idea that there is an absolute idea of what good is seems to be believed by few comparatively speaking. So when Pew asks a question about morals and good values, are they reference virtue ethics? Are they referencing ethics based on the greater good? Are they referencing a humanistic ethic (relativism)? Because they don’t define morals, we have no idea as to what those that answered the survey believe good to be.
So, what do we know? 1. No one can BE good. It implies a constant state of being, and no one IS good. Scripture and common sense make that clear. 2. All people are capable of doing some good things, but that does not make them good. 3. The definition of good, ethical and moral have been obfuscated by modern philosophy. The further away we get from an absolute moral law giver, the more confused good becomes.
So what does all of this mean? Well, lets start with the questions of the survey. Is it me or does anyone else notice two different questions in the one? Certainly, someone at Pew understands that there is a difference between BEING good and HAVING good values. This tells me that someone who doesn’t understand philosophical ethics, or the fundamental tenants of the Christian faith wrote the question.
What is the point of the survey then? I think what Pew is attempting to do is shape opinion by showing the world that the United States continues to become post-Christian. The data collected here is not indicative of anything other than to show the lack of ignorance on ethics and religion by Pew. There is so much ambiguity wrapped up in the question that there is no discernable way anyone, atheist or Christian, could answer it in any meaningful way.