I hadn’t planned on writing about suicide this week. There are a number of things on my heart and mind that I would like to take priority. But because of the heightened reality of it in the news, and some not too distance Christian examples, I wanted to spend some time on the topic. If only because it’s good for us to understand what the Bible says about the subject. “Study to show yourself approved” as we’re told.
The Bible sets a bar:
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”
That bar, for everyone, is high.
This is true in the past. This is true in the future. Even a virtuous man, by virtue of not being God, would fall short of God’s glory. He’s not God. How could he share in something that doesn’t belong to him?
Which is where the concept of sin comes from.
Sin, in shorthand, is anything that cools the kiss of freedom in our lives. The size of the sin is not significant. Each one separates us from our Maker in similar ways.
So a gift was given to mend separated souls. And it’s free. It always has been. It always will be.
Most of the time, we call it Salvation. It’s the name given to God’s good gift, through his son, Jesus.
We could talk a lot about how wonderful it is. But the heart of it is “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.”
Some things simply can’t be earned by a Human. We call one of those things “Grace.” It’s 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.
But let’s be clear…
If I never got frustrated in traffic again. If I never lied again. If I never did another bad thing. Again. It would remove no less doubt in God’s mind about the lack of His glory I possess.
At best, I’m drowning in my own dogma.
But to God’s credit, we’ve been given a life raft called “Love.”
“God is Love” as scripture says. Subject and verb.
Dog paddling in an ocean is only impressive if it gets me to shore. In the same way, I don’t argue my goodness with God based on my ability to swim around sin. I enjoy the raft for what it is. Love.
In the same way, we don’t measure sin.
We’re awash in it without Him.
We could. We could say that one bad thing is worse than another. But what good would that do? If we do believe the Genesis story, then we know that eating the wrong fruit was enough to condemn a man and wife to hell. So if we do want to compare apples to oranges, it’s best not 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 it 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.
But let’s say, as some do, that suicide is murder. And that you can’t say “I’m sorry.” in the act of doing it (since no one ever has mixed emotions about things).
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?
What then, 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 His 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 he lied about it. But we’ll just ignore this elephant in the room.
No wait. Let’s go a step further.
Let’s say that two people, in full knowledge and belief of the gospel, died. One committed murdercide. 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 it 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 I drown mean I’m without faith?
Should we write new sin rules for every edge case? There are…lots of them.
Where then, do we 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 here. I 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….zero.
Zero verses on the topic.
Zero ancient laws for it.
Zero Sermon-on-the-Mounts about the magnitude of the subject.
Which is probably by design.
In fairness, the Bible does tell us a few stories where suicide is mentioned.
One with a King named Saul. One with Judas Iscariot. The Bible never positions 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 is appropriate except for the fact that some do because of what he did.
So. That’s awkward.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Samson. Samson killed himself.
He intentionally made a building fall as a last-ditch effort to settle the score with some Pagans. He killed himself on purpose – with the purpose of killing other people. 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 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 him 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. Which is a mix of superstition, Greek and Roman ideas neatly packaged into something we call cultural bias.
But there is one thing we know about it. 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 says:
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 how should Christian’s approach suicide, and it’s predecessor, depression?
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. One in the New Testament. One 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 put Stumble BlocksTM in front of the blind. The Bible does, however, ask us to have a practical empathy for each other; to make an effort to understand the pain and depression others 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 move away from on their own.
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.
If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.