I have always thought the act of committing suicide is one of the bravest things a human being can ever do. I cannot even begin to understand the state of mind somebody would have to be in to contemplate killing themselves or what could drive a person to decide that nothing can be done to alleviate their situation or stress. I know many of us have experienced low points in our lives and we all have ‘off days’ but that’s just part of the human condition. There are so many pressures on people these days, particularly with the fast pace of modern living, and the recent Covid pandemic has done nothing to ease the problems of loneliness and isolation which existed before and are worse now. Suicide is such a complex subject and one which raises so many questions about the state of mind of those who feel they cannot go on.
There are so many reasons why people might decide they cannot cope any longer: social media, peer group and celebrity influencer pressures which can make people feel inadequate; being a part of the so-called “snowflake generation” where people do not feel they are resilient enough to cope with modern life; relationship breakdowns; losing a job and income; believing they have no future leading to feelings of hopelessness; addiction problems; bereavement; abuse victims, especially those inflicted during childhood, etc.
There are also those people for whom suicide might have been a “cry for help” that goes too far; situations where people carry out imitational suicide which leads to accidental death; sexual deviant acts that go wrong and a myriad of other causes where someone might not have been in a rational mental state and didn’t mean to do it.
Some people think committing suicide is a very selfish act – think of all those friends and relatives who are left with the burden of wondering why they didn’t realise what their loved one’s state of mind was or why the person didn’t share their pain so the death might have been avoided. Often families and friends come to terms with their loss by raising money for charitable causes in order to focus their minds on helping other people or organisations connected with mental health problems.
When I was a child, and being very friendly with a deeply religious Catholic family, I was told that committing suicide was a “mortal sin”. What would Jesus’s view be of suicide and what does the bible say on the subject?
Rev Graham’s response
Carol, you certainly give me some challenging questions to consider and you have identified many of the issues that are central to the whole debate and understanding around suicide. Trying to think of what Jesus would say and finding a biblical stance on the matter is not easy but will help us in our thinking. I have to declare that I have lost a very close family member who took their own life a few years ago and have been wrestling with this subject ever since.
In the Beginning
In Genesis 1:27 – 31 we read that God was pleased with his creation and wanted Adam and Eve to live a happy and perfect life. However, following the ‘fall’, humankind was free to make choices that had their own consequences which might be contrary to God’s perfect will for us. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in John 10:10, who gave up his own life, so that we in repentance and faith may live our lives to the full. The relationship between God and Adam and Eve had been broken and Jesus as the Good Shepherd enables the relationship to be restored.
In its purest form, suicide is the taking of one’s own life outside the sovereign will of God as found in the sixth commandment that we should not commit murder (or self-murder) as it represents an act of despair that denies a person the possibility of God’s healing and restoration. However, suicide has been defended as permissible or even honourable on the grounds that a human being has a right to end their own life especially when facing wasting and incurable diseases.
There is also the case of innocently giving up life as a self-sacrifice for others, as Jesus did, and those on military duty or in the defence of family, friends or strangers have done. Other examples include those who care for infectious individuals and make a stance for their faith in the light of persecution. In such circumstances a person does not willingly seek to end their own life but accepts the consequences of performing such heroic acts as part of God’s plan for them.
Church and Society
In traditional Christian thought suicide is seen as a grave sin before God and has been supported by most religions and moral codes. An individual is not the controller or absolute owner of their lives and does not have a right to prematurely end it. Life is given to each one of us as a gift from God and true faithfulness can be found in service to God and society in general. Over the years church and society have implemented various laws to ensure people do not see suicide as an acceptable form of death as in Canon law that forbade the burial of those who had committed suicide. The theologian Aquinas condemned suicide as being contrary to natural law, inclinations and a proper self-love. A person has no right to deprive society of their presence and contribution or to reject God’s gift of life to them.
Greek and Roman philosophers were divided, with some condemning and others agreeing that there was some scope for taking one’s own life. In 1 Corinthians 3: 16 – 17 Paul writes that we are a temple of God’s Holy Spirit and we should care for it and not seek to destroy it as echoed in 1 Corinthians 6: 15 that are bodies are members of Christ and to be kept holy and pure.
It can be argued that taking one’s own life is an offence against the togetherness and structure of humankind which looks for help and support from everyone living in it. Family and society are robbed of opportunities to show love and support for them. The impact of suicide upon family and society is one of the worst forms of loss to experience. It can engender feelings of guilt for those left behind and an overwhelming sense of grief and sadness.
The bible does not specify a penalty or condemnation of suicide but there are a number of individuals named who have taken their own lives.
In 2 Samuel 17: 23 Ahithophel abandoned David to counsel Absalom and took his own life when he realised Absalom’s rebellion would not work.
In 1 Samuel 31: 4 – 5 we read of King Saul killing himself to avoid being captured by the Philistines alongside his armor-bearer.
In 1 Kings 16: 15 – 18 King Zimri of Israel, set fire to his palace and died in the flames after his devious plans failed.
For me, two things stand out when considering these individuals. Firstly, each one in their own way took their lives as an Avoidance from the troubles they faced. Secondly, if they continued to Persevere in whatever way required, they may have come through their problems with support around them.
In recent years there has been more psychological, medical and therapeutic understanding which has modified church and social law to be more sympathetic. We have to appreciate the impact that mental instability, guilt, failure and other pressures have upon people to willingly or mistakenly end their life. It is also important for all who are susceptible to suicidal thoughts and actions that they are able to access help when required as well as those who are left behind.
What would Jesus say?
In Christ we have a free choice but we have to accept the consequences of such choices and, when required, seek repentance and God’s forgiveness. Jesus bravely confronted people from different backgrounds and those who were cut off from mainstream society. He met a women who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8) and understood people’s reasons and circumstances for their actions. He didn’t condemn or necessarily condone, He spoke to them about a higher way to live and encouraged them to ‘go and sin no more’. When we are faced with contentious issues of tradition and morality, it is very easy to condemn and write people off.
Thanks for the question, Carol, which I thought would be quite a challenge for me personally. The study has increased my understanding of how my family member would have felt while retaining a strong Christian faith in the midst of emotional difficulties. A comment by a friend also helped, saying that my family member was ‘more afraid of life than death’ and that ‘our maker’s marvellous love’ knew the sadness and difficulties experienced and would be compassionate in receiving them. In our losses we can feel angry and confused yet trust that a troubled loved one is finally at peace.
- God gives us life and it is ours to Enjoy and Endure!
- Within Society we have lots to Give and Receive!
- We may be tempted to Avoid and not Persevere in all the challenges we face!
- With faith may we be able to find and hold on to Hope with family and friends around us!
Samaritans – Tel: 116123 (24 hr – free calls) www.samaritans.org or
MIND Manchester – Tel: 0161 769 5732 – http://www.manchestermind.org
MIND Infoline – 0300 123 3393
NHS – Greater Manchester Mental Health – Tel: 0161 773 9121 or 0800 9530285 (24hr helpline)
Papyrus Hopeline UK – 0800 0684141 – https://papyrus-uk.org
Shining a Light on Suicide – https://shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk
Help in a Crisis (University of Manchester – for students) Tel: 0161 275 2864 (Mon-Fri)
The Sanctuary – Tel: 0300 003 7029 (between 6pm-1am every night).
SANE – Tel: 0300 304 7000 (from 4.30-10.30pm every day).
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) for men.
Tel: 0800 585858 (open 5pm-midnight every day).
Switchboard (for LGBT+ people). Tel: 0300 330 0630 from 10am-10pm every day.
ChildLine (for children and young people) – call free 0800 1111 – 24 hours
For further reading check out my site insights from the bible
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