Suicide from a Christian perspective

By David W. Jones
Oct 14, 2014

Introduction

  • Definition: Suicide is to purposefully take one’s own life out of misdirected self-love. The term “suicide” was coined in 1651 and literally means “self” (sui) “to kill” (cide).
     
  • There is a moral difference between volitional suicide and suicide due to psychological or physiological factors such as a chemical imbalance, clinical depression, an altered mental state, etc.
     
  • A distinction should be made between suicide and willful self-sacrifice of one’s own life.
    • Examples of self-sacrifice include: military service, dying in defense of a friend (cf. John 15:13), ministering to the infectious sick, dangerous missions work (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7–18; 11:16–23).
    • In regard to his own self-sacrifice Jesus declared, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18).
       
  • There are roughly 29,000 successful suicides in the United States each year; compared to 19,000 murders and 13,000 AIDS related deaths.
     
  • Roughly 500,000 people will attempt suicide each year.
    • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 25.
    • 72% of successful suicides are white males.
    • Females are more likely to attempt suicide; however, males are four times more likely to successfully commit suicide.
       
  • Suicide almost always occurs in response to suffering or anticipated suffering.
    • Suffering could be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual in nature.
    • Major reasons for suicide include: depression, financial trouble, dissolution of a relationship, a form of protest, sexual gender confusion, religious ritual, escape from punishment, and escape from pain.
       
  • Some may wrongly argue that suicide ought to be allowed, as a right, if one’s body is viewed as one’s own property.
    • The body is not our own (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20).
    • As image bearers, human beings live in community. As such, suicide grieves those left behind, as well as producing guilt and strained relationships.
    • Encouraging suicide communicates that there is no answer to despair and no comfort in affliction. This is the opposite of what the gospel promises.

Church History

    • The Christian church has always viewed suicide as a grave sin.
      • The church has viewed suicide to be the prime example of self-idolatry.
      • The difference between suicide and other sins is that successful suicide allows no time for repentance.
    • Early church councils denied Christian burial to those guilty of suicide.
    • Southern Baptists have passed resolutions expressing concern about suicide in 1972, 1983, 1992, 1996, and 2001; yet, all of these statements are tangentially related to suicide, focusing upon things such as euthanasia, alcohol and drug use, and assisted suicide.
       
  • Suicide in the Bible;
    • General Scripture references;
      • Satan tempted Jesus to commit suicide (cf. Matt. 4:5–6; Luke 4:9–11).
      • The Philippian jailor purposed to commit suicide (cf. Acts 16:27–28).
      • Some of God’s ministers, especially his prophets, became so frustrated with their ministry that they asked God to kill them, including: Moses (cf. Num. 11:12–15), Elijah (cf. 1 Ki. 19:4), and Jonah (cf. Jonah 4:1–11).
      • During the Great Tribulation many will attempt to commit suicide, but will be unable to find death (cf. Rev. 9:6).
         
    • Examples of suicide in the Bible;
      • Saul (cf. 1 Sam. 31:1–6; 1 Chron. 10:4–5)
        • The first king of Israel.
        • Suicide by falling on his sword once wounded.
        • 1 Chron. 10:14 says that the Lord killed Saul.
        • 2 Sam. 1:10 says an Amalekite killed Saul.
        • 2 Sam. 21:12 says the Philistines killed Saul.
           
      • Saul’s armor–bearer (cf. 1 Sam. 31:1–6; 1 Chron. 10:4–5)
        • Suicide by falling on his sword.
           
      • Ahithophel (cf. 2 Sam. 17:23)
        • A counselor to David and Absalom.
        • Suicide by hanging when his advice was spurned.
           
      • Zimri (cf. 1 Ki. 16:15–19)
        • The fifth king of Israel.
        • Suicide when deposed, after a week, by structural fire.
           
      • Judas Iscariot (cf. Matt. 27:3–5; Acts 1:15–19)
        • One of the twelve apostles.
        • Suicide by hanging after betrayal of Jesus.
           
      • Disputed examples;
        • Abimelech (Judg. 9:52–54)
          • The son of Gideon and sixth judge of Israel.
          • Killed by armor-bearer at his request once wounded.
          • Perhaps an example of assisted suicide
             
        • Samson (cf. Judg. 16:23–31)
          • The thirteenth and final judge of Israel.
          • Suicide by building collapse.
          • Cited as a hero of faith in Heb. 11:32.
          • An example of divinely-enabled self-sacrifice after repentance.
    • Observations;
      • All of the biblical examples of successful suicide are men.
      • All of the biblical examples are dubious characters and none are personally praised for their actions.
      • All were spiritually bankrupt or went through a period of spiritual collapse before their suicide.
      • Many of the biblical examples were in pain and/or afraid before suicide.
      • Scripture generally presents these examples of suicide as a fitting end to a wicked and unrepentant life (cf. Judg. 9:56; 1 Ki. 16:19).
         
  • Toward a Christian Perspective;
     
    • Suicide is not the unpardonable sin, however suicide is sinful (cf. Matt. 12:31–32; Mark 3:28–29).
       
    • Reasons why suicide is wrong;
      • Suicide is a sin against God as the creator and sustainer of life. It rejects God’s sovereignty and usurps his prerogative in regard to life and death (cf. Job 12:10).
      • Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment (cf. Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17).
      • Suicide disregards the image of God and the sanctity of human life (cf. Gen. 1:26–27; 9:5–6).
      • Suicide is poor stewardship of one’s body (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20).
      • Suicide demonstrates misdirected love and is injurious to others (cf. Matt. 22:36–39; Eph. 5:29).
      • Suicide overlooks the value of human suffering (cf. Rom. 5:3–5; 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:17–18; 12:10).
        • Believers are called to suffer with Christ (cf. Rom. 8:17).
        • The present life is not one of earthly glory and conquest. Believers are called to have joy and hope in the midst of current trials, looking forward to the age to come.
      • Suicide fails to recognize the unnatural nature of death (cf. Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:26; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).
      • Jesus refused to commit suicide and Paul prevented it (cf. Matt. 4:5–6; Luke 4:9–11; Acts 16:27–28).
  • Ministry
    • To those contemplating suicide;
    • Recognize signs of suicide, which include: talking about suicide; statements about hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness; preoccupation with death; sudden happiness and calm; loss of interest in material things; disposal of material things; visiting loved ones; setting one’s affairs in order.
      • Practical response;
        • Ask pointed questions if you suspect someone is suicidal.
        • Persuade them—even take them—to get help (e.g., crisis hotline, emergency room, family, counseling, etc.).
        • Refer them to available resources and stay involved in their life (e.g., support group, church, etc.).
      • Gospel
        • The gospel itself is a response to the conditions that lead many people to consider or to attempt suicide.
        • Christianity acknowledges the emptiness and brokenness of the world and offers hope, newness, and abundant life. Jesus shared in man’s pain and suffering and provides redemption and restoration.
           
    • To those who have been affected by suicide;
      • Treat as normal death.
      • Grieve
      • Listen
      • Pray
      • Meet material needs.

 

Resources

Biebel, David B. and Suzanne L. Foster, Finding Your Way after the Suicide of Someone You Love. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Black, Jeffrey, S., Suicide: Understanding and Intervening. Phillipsburg, NJ: Resources for Changing Lives, 2003.

Cox, David and Candy Arrington, Aftershock: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide. Nashville: B&H, 2003.

Hsu, Albert Y, Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

McDowell, Josh and Ed Stewart, My Friend is Struggling with Thoughts of Suicide. Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, n.d.

Powilson, David, Grieving a Suicide: Help for the Aftershock. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010.

Further Learning

Learn more about: Life, Suicide,

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