Jarrid Wilson was an inspiration to me. He and I worked on Sermons.com together, he helped me launch Power Love Sound Mind, and he taught me a lot about the publishing industry and marketing. He was generous, authentic, and kind. He never kept secrets and would pick up the phone whenever you needed him. If anyone had a pastoral heart, he did. His passing is a shock to me. The world has lost one of the greats — a Christian who didn’t need to lie about their struggles. A man who was happy to know God and simply trust him to do what only God can do — namely, save us.
Which is why the subject of suicide gets me so worked up. Forgive me if I get a little passionate in this post. I’m going to take some liberty. Call it righteous anger if you want — or don’t. I don’t really care. Quite frankly, there is a lot of mis-information and very bad theology about suicide, and for me, there is one, and only response that is appropriate. For this reason, any time we lose someone to this horror, I believe it deserves the full weight of our attention.
So I want to set the record straight with a question that comes up every time this happens. It shouldn’t, but it does.
The question is this: Do Christians who commit suicide go to hell?
In order to answer this question, we need to start at the very beginning of God’s story of redemption.
So let’s begin. The Bible sets a bar:
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”
That bar, for everyone, is high. Very, very high.
This bar is high in the past. This bar is high in the future. This bar is always unobtainably high. Even a virtuous person, by virtue of not being God, would fall short of God’s standard and glory. They’re not God. How could they share in something that doesn’t belong to them?
Which is where the concept of sin comes in to play.
For the record: sin, in shorthand, is anything that cools the kiss of freedom in our lives. The “size” of the sin is not significant. Each and every one of them, without Christ, separates us from our Maker in similar ways.
So for this very reason, a gift was given for the sole purpose of mending separated souls. And that gift is free. It always has been. It always will be.
Most of the time, we call this gift salvation. This is the name given to God’s good gift, through his son, Jesus.
We could talk a lot about how wonderful this gift is. But the heart of the matter is this: “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”
There are some things that simply can’t be earned by a Human. We call one of those things grace. Grace is one of the favorable conditions of Christ’s contract with us. “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” as the Good Book says. You can’t earn it. You can only receive it.
But let’s be clear…
If you never got frustrated in traffic again, if you never lied again, if you never did another bad thing AGAIN it would remove no less doubt in the mind of God about the lack of his glory you possess without him.
At best, we’re drowning in our own dogma.
But to God’s credit, we’ve all been given a life raft called “love” to keep us from sinking.
“God is Love” as scripture says. Subject and verb.
In this sense, dog paddling in the middle of the ocean is only impressive if it gets me to shore. Which it wouldn’t. In the same way, I don’t argue my goodness with God based on my ability to swim around sin. I simply enjoy the raft for what it is.
In the same way, we don’t waste time measuring sin.
We’re awash in it without Jesus.
Sure, we could say otherwise. We could say that one bad thing is worse than another bad thing. But what good would that do? If we really do believe the Genesis story, then we know that eating the wrong fruit was enough to condemn a man and woman to death and to hell. So if we do want to compare apples to oranges, it’s best not to measure the fruit of our own lives.
The bar, my friend, is high. Most High.
So on to the subject of suicide.
There is one sin that the Bible says is different. Just one.
Not murder. Not sex. Not stealing.
Jesus tells us about this sin in the books of Mathew, Mark and Luke.
We’ll stick with Matthew for now.
For sure, I tell you, all sins will be forgiven people, and bad things they speak against God. But if anyone speaks bad things against the Holy Spirit, he will never be forgiven. He is guilty of a sin that lasts forever.” Jesus told them this because they said, “He has a demon.”
If I’m in the raft, there is only one thing that pokes a hole in it. And even then, Jesus never says what the consequences are. After all, his nature, as a loving God, doesn’t suddenly change.
But let’s say, as some do, that suicide is murder. And that you can’t say “I’m sorry” or repent after the act (since no one ever has mixed emotions about anything).
Which by the way, is saying that correlation is causation. Which we would never say. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the cause is correlated correctly.
It’s a jump. But who doesn’t like a trampoline?
Okay. So, the next important question is this: what is the biblical definition of murder?
Jesus had some thoughts:
Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
1 John 3:15
I’m no gymnast, but that bar seems really high.
Does that mean that gossip is attempted murder?
By Jesus’s measurement, I’d say so. But I’m not a Levitical-law-lawyer. That’s a different bar exam.
Someone who was, however, is King David. David “a man after God’s own heart,” who gave Christ the honorary name Son of David, killed a man in order to sleep with his wife. And then he lied about it. But we’ll just ignore this for now.
No, wait. Let’s go a step further.
Let’s run a scenario. Let’s say that two people, in full knowledge and belief of the gospel, died.
One person committed suicide.
The other gossiped, and was hit by a bus.
Neither one had a chance to apologize for their actions. Is Saint Peter turning both of them away at heaven’s gates? (Since when is Peter a lobby boy anyway?)
Since we aren’t measuring the amount of wild oats someone sowed, I’ll let you answer the question for yourself.
Which verses say that I have to name every sin before I die in order to be saved? Which amendment to the Christ-constitution do I need to be aware of? Also, what does this perspective imply for people who died in a coma, or who were medically sedated when they passed? Is Alzheimer’s capable of undoing the Almighty’s work? Does being scared while one is drowning mean they are without faith?
Should we write new sin rules for every edge case? We can…but there are LOTS of them.
Where then, do we draw the line? I’ll ask it again, where do we as Christians draw the line?
Jesus, if you’re interested, did draw a few in this account.
But I digress…
We are told God never “leaves us or forsakes us” here. And also here. I personally don’t think we need a verse to know that, but it’s nice of scripture to say so nonetheless. Is there another lost gospel where I can find an exception? Perhaps the Q Document or some lost Dead Sea Scroll?
We could just take this from an entirely different angle too and look at the verses that cover the sin of suicide. But…there are…drum roll….zero.
Zero verses that address the topic.
Zero ancient laws for it.
Zero Sermon-on-the-Mounts about the magnitude of the subject.
Which, by my guess, is probably by divine design.
In fairness, the Bible does tell us a few stories where suicide is mentioned. Let’s take a look at them real quick.
One was with a King named Saul. One with Judas Iscariot. The Bible never takes a position on their behavior though.
Saul killed himself because he was about to be killed. Judas, after he realized what he had done to Jesus, gave back his blood money and killed himself in sorrow. Which no one would ever say was an appropriate response except for the fact that some do because of what he did. So. That’s awkward.
But these guys have tainted stories. So let’s look at someone whom we consider a saint. Samson.
Samson, Israel’s judge, killed himself.
He intentionally made a building fall on himself as a last-ditch effort to settle a score with some Pagans. He killed himself on purpose – with the purpose of killing other people. Double whammy. We could argue that he was forcibly blind and imprisoned so it was justified – but we won’t. We could also say he was a kamikaze. But we won’t say that either.
Hebrews 11, The famous Hall of Faith chapter of the Bible, mentions Samson as one of the great people who model faith in action. Because, in general, he was. Also awkward. When Romans says that “neither life nor death” can separate us from the love of God I guess it applies to Samson too.
So where does this idea that suicide is the Chutes-and-Ladders of Hell (horrible game idea) come from?
Since it’s not in the Bible, we have to look somewhere else.
Specifically, Augustinian and medieval theology. The latter was a mix of superstition with Greek and Roman ideas neatly packaged into something we call cultural bias.
In point of fact, during the time of the Roman Empire, Christians sometimes had a habit of committing suicide if they thought they were going to be martyred or if their community was being martyred. These Christians were honored and celebrated. Not that this is an appropriate response, but it was a very normal one at the time.
For example, in the martyrdom of Bishop Carpus, a by-standing woman named Agathonike, saw the elder executed while his friend, Papylus, was burned. This woman was not, however, under arrest or even thought to have committed a crime. But as she watched her Church family die, she exclaimed “this is the meal that has been prepared for me!” and throws herself onto the fire. Agathonike’s self-immolation is not a one-off event either.
When a Christian philosopher named Ptolemy was executed, two other Christians volunteered to die with him — just to show support. One of them, named Lucius, is even celebrated with his own feast every October 19th. Again, no one in today’s modern church would support this behavior, and I for one, would never condone it either. However, before the church made new rules and traditions about suicide, it was not always seen as it is today.
The reality is that the religious lie that suicide is a one-way ticket to hell is evil. It’s not supported by scripture and it doesn’t have a leg to lean on. Surely, dying in sin is one thing, but in Christ, you are a new creation.
Again, this doesn’t make light of suicide. It is tragic and damaging and wrong. But it is also hateful to pass judgement on someone who loved the Lord, led many to Christ, and pastored the Church.
One more thing. Just to put a nail in the coffin of this evil idea. If someone, who knew and loved the Lord, who genuinely struggled with mental health, who prayed to be healed, who was prayed over to be healed, who battled and surrendered their life to Christ and believed him for restoration, was not healed — who, who, who would be to blame? Would you blame God? Of course not. Or maybe you would. But either way you slice it, many people, even many people I know have asked God for healing in the area of depression or severe anxiety and he does not remove it.
This does not make God uncaring. Nor does it belittle the faith of the person seeking God. It simply means that God is in control, knows those who know him, and has made his grace sufficient. The thorn may be in their side, but death has no sting.
Ultimately, there is one thing we do know about suicide. Suicide is a tragedy. A tragedy that happens to 34,000 people a year. *Nearly* once every 15 minutes.
Like you, I would forgive my friends of any tragedy – whether they caused it or not. I’m sure I speak for most when I say that you would likely do the same. So then, are we more forgiving than God? Or is God a calculator – continually moving numbers to settle our balance sheet? If God is a calculator, then so is salvation. And everything is a game to get on God’s good side.
Which as we know, is the opposite of what scripture tells us:
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.
So are we convinced that death doth not part? I think we have to play some serious mental games to say it does.
Julie Cerel, a board chair of the American Association of Suicidology and a psychologist told USA today:
“Having depression and being in a suicidal state twists reality. It doesn’t matter if someone has a wife or is well loved, they get so consumed by the depression and by the feelings of not being worthy that they forget all the wonderful things in their lives.”
The Bible has two thoughts regarding how we should act towards those who have a twisted state of reality. One is in the New Testament; the other, is in the Old.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:14 ESV
Leviticus, if you’re curious, is not being literal. Israel didn’t have a problem with people cursing other people who had Otosclerosis. They also didn’t have a problem with people putting Stumble BlocksTM in front of the blind. These phrases are idioms. Idioms which ask us to have a practical empathy for each other; to make an effort to understand the pain and depression other people feel.
For the person who struggles with severe depression, they are in many ways blinded by the way they feel. They are also, in many ways, lied to by the enemy. It is not something they can stop stumbling over any more than a deaf person can be told to simply listen up.
The position of the Christian, is always to try and be the hands and feet of Jesus. This doesn’t change, if heaven forbid, someone passes from this life by their own hand. At the very least, we don’t speak ill of them. At best, we pray for and support their families in the wake of their absence. Mourning with those who mourn.
The Almighty knows those who know Him. If ever there was a time when someone needed a loving God, you can imagine it would be in their darkest moment. Much like many of us.
My heart breaks for Jarrid, his wife, and his family. The church has lost a dear brother and friend of the faith. He will be sorely missed. But we will see him again. You can be sure of it. Pray for his family during this difficult time and hold those you know who struggle with depression a little closer. In this way, you honor his life and what he stood for.
Also, please consider giving a gift to Anthem of Hope, the non-profit Jarrid started to bring awareness to mental health.
If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255