Suicide and the Bible

Daily Readings: 2 Samuel 17, Jeremiah 21, Romans 7-8

We are going to discuss a sensitive subject today. I think it is a topic that is not openly discussed, and is largely misunderstood – especially in the Christian world. I have had several people at the Bible Education Center ask me (in hushed, apologetic, and deeply shamed tones) if their loved ones who committed suicide are banished forever to a place of torment. My friends carried a heart-rending grief because religious authorities had told them this was the case. If you do not already know the answer to this question, perhaps you will find more peace as we discuss Ahithophel, Judas, and Bible thoughts on suicide.

The best place to begin this exploration is with the very character of the Living God. Although some Christians portray Him as a “Fire & Brimstone” Being (sadly, often to their own advantage), this is not the God you will find as you continue to delve into the Bible for yourself. In fact, guess what the first word is that God uses to describe His own character (when Moses asks Him to reveal Himself in Exodus 34)? “Compassionate.” Then comes, “Gracious.” Next is, “Slow to anger.” And then, “Abounding in lovingkindness…” These are not words that depict a vengeful, vindictive Being that damns people to never-ending punishment, are they? No, they are not! Nor does the Bible teach that God condemns ANYONE – suicide or not – to an eternity of torment. The Bible is clear that death is a state of unconsciousness (like sleep) – dust returns to dust – for both the righteous and the wicked. (That point can be further explored if you do a search for words like “hell”, and “death” on this blog.) So just how does God look on those who have, for whatever reason, resorted to taking their own lives? Will none of them be resurrected to be a part of His great Kingdom in the future?

In answering this question, another critical idea to consider is the overarching Bible principle of the sanctity of life. The Creation stories teach us that all life flows from God. And books like Ecclesiastes teach us that all life flows back to God as well. (cp. Eccl. 12:7, 9:24-610) He alone has the power and right to “give and take away” life as Job rightly declares in Job 1:21.

So life is from God’s realm and, for humans, it begins with conception in the womb. The faithful perspective of the Psalmist describes every child born to every parent ever since Adam and Eve, in this way:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.

– Psalm 127:3

Life is a gift. (Note: This does not mean all parents receive, maintain or cherish this gift wisely.) But life (babies) are a bundle of blessing and possibility given by God to parents. A precious little gift of life. And when each individual baby grows to adulthood, they take up the reins of that life, from their parents, and become their own caretakers of the life-gift.

The principle here is clear – the power over life – both giving and taking away belongs to God. What complicates it is that we have a free will. And in suicide, people are taking God’s prerogative into their own hands to make this sad choice. Job is an excellent example of someone who was likely sorely tempted to end his misery in suicide. Nevertheless, his understanding of God caused him to know that this was not a faithful response to the stress, depression and overwhelming illness brought into his life. There are other examples too – David in old age, Jeremiah in miserable circumstances, Elijah when Jezebel was after him, Jonah etc. – that show us that suicide is not a choice for the faithful – no matter how dire our circumstances

Let’s be reminded, once again, that modern and complex questions are always addressed in God’s word if “we have ears to hear” and hearts to search it out. So just what does the Bible have to say specifically about suicide? You might be surprised to discover that there are 7 suicides described in the Scriptures. For the sake of brevity, I have categorized and organized them below:

Bad Guys

Good Guys

I label the Bad Guys as “bad” only because the Bible gives its own commentary on their lives. So let’s consider this chart together.

Notice that all of the men that are Bad Guys are men of Israel. They are men who lived in the land where (theoretically) right worship of the right God was followed. If you read the accounts of the lives of the bad guys, however, you will find common themes of corruption, fleshly thinking, deceit, violence, betrayal and self-promotion. Take my word for it, they are a faithless lot. You don’t have to take only my word for it, however, because David gives an amazing summary of what Ahithophel and his ilk’s betrayals were like. Listen to Psalm 55. This passage is describing Ahthophel, yet I would submit it also gives a clear portrait/prophecy of the character of the rest of the bad guys, including Judas. I have highlighted some of the relevant words:

9 Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words, for I see violence and strife in the city. …

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them. …

19 God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change– he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant (presumably with God).

21 His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. …

23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.

These men are figuratively clothed in all of the accouterments of the worst thing that exists, namely; the unrelenting evil of human pride. They are human representatives of the picture language of what God describes as Leviathan in Job 41. Think of Ahithophel and Judas – they look like friends, they have “sweet fellowship together and walked in the house of God” with the faithful. Psalm 55:14 In actuality, however, they are; fakes, traitors, wolves, backstabbers, bloodthirsty thieves. Their misguided sin ran so deep that even in the face of their own defeat (or in the knowledge of Jesus as innocent) – they would not lay down their pride to take up humility and forgiveness. God cannot forgive when forgiveness is not met by repentance, and a responsive, humble spirit. This is the most tragic version of unbelief – cold, stubborn and unrelenting. This is Ahithophel and Judas choosing suicide, rather than returning – each of them humbled and broken – to their righteous king.

In my thinking, this is the unforgivable sin described in passages like 2 Peter 2, and this one in Hebrews 6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8

These are people who chose their own course, and in spite of exposure to God and His worship – spurned Him by their actions. And when they met – each of them their own unique versions of insurmountable brick walls in life – they did not turn to the power of forgiveness and repentance to get over it. They chose to die at their own hands, instead. It is a sad waste. It is never God’s desire. But we have a free will – and God does not often interfere with those who “again crucify to themselves the Son of God,” – literally, in Judas’ case, and figuratively in the others’.

Let’s turn now to the Good Guys in our list of Bible suicides. A very relevant fact is that Samson was definitely a “Good Guy” and will be saved – even though he committed suicide. We know this because Hebrews 11 includes his name among the faithful who are awaiting resurrection as righteous people. This should be comforting to those who have been told otherwise about the consequence of suicide. So, we know for certain the he is forgiven for taking his own life. In fact, God Himself empowered Samson to defeat his enemies one last time as his own death powerfully delivered his people from the Philistines. Samson’s story is clear evidence that blanket pronouncements that the act of suicide leads to God’s permanent condemnation is unscriptural. The Bible definitely relays a principle that God views the whole picture of our lives in the Final Judgment – and faith is key to that picture.

As far as Saul’s armor bearer, we don’t know for sure about his motivation or faith. We know nothing of his character. Certainly the dangerous circumstances surrounding his death were closing in on him and seemed hopeless. It is clear, that like many suicides of our day, fear and emotional distress drove him to this fate. If he was a only a pawn in Saul’s court – God will look on him with compassion. If he was hardened in unbelief, his lack of faith will drive his judgment.

And coming full circle, let’s remind ourselves of God’s omnipotence and His character. Life is His – to give and to take. Suicide is not an option for those of faith who are in their right minds, like Job. Many that turn to suicide, however, are desperate, hopeless, and depressed beyond measure. I firmly believe that no human (religious authority or not) has the right to pronounce their own condemning judgment on these instances of suicide. Far too much damage is done by this type of attitude. Jesus’ ministry to those overwhelmed by sadness and sickness is testimony to a far different response. In cases where people are sad to the point of mental illness the best answer is, “God knows – we do not. Trust Him to do what is right.” It is wise and kind to leave the fate of a believing but distraught person in the merciful hands of a loving God – one of whose primary character traits is compassion.