A Pastor’s Response To Suicide
The death of a loved one is always hard to process. And death via suicide compounds the heart ache a hundredfold. As Christian Counselor David Powlison says, “Suicide brings suffering and difficulty into the lives of everyone who is touched by it.”
I can still remember the first time I encountered the suicide of a family friend. I handed my mom the phone and then sat down next to her. Over the next hour or so, my mom’s friend recounted how she had come home and found her dead child. The reality that someone I knew had taken their own life filled my heart tension, sadness, and hopelessness. As the news began to settle, a whole host of questions started to pop up in my mind such as: “Is suicide the unforgivable sin; who’s at fault; and what do we do?”
While the Scriptures do not directly answer why our loved one died, they do teach us how to handle the tragedy of suicide. The following are five biblical truths that should inform our view of suicide:
1. It is Good To Grieve
When Jesus learned that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Jesus cried for his friend (Luke 11:35). When our friends, classmates, and children take their own lives, we should grieve for them. We should grieve for the life that has been lost. All death is grievous; all death is the result of the fall. All death screams that the world is broken and deformed. All death especially of that which takes a life prematurely should be mourned (Rom. 12:15). Those who love the Lord will mourn with those who mourn.
2. There Is Hope For Sinners
Although suicide should be grieved, it should not be excused or honored. Suicide is a sin. The taking a life, even the taking of one’s own life is sinful. It is wrong because all men and women are created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). Men and women are designed to glorify God. If a person commits suicide, he fights against God design for his life. He “essentially blames God for difficult circumstances while simultaneously failing to trust him for deliverance” (p. 115). The Scriptures always present suicide as sinful and shameful (I Sam 31:4-5; Matt 27:5). The taking of one’s own life is an attack against God.
For this reason, we should always take suicide seriously. Those who struggle with suicide are wrestling against God. We must warn them that their lives and very souls are in jeopardy. We must call them to examine their faith for their very thoughts may be evidence that they are unredeemed.
But suicide is not unforgivable. Suicide does not equal being lost. Nor does it preclude salvation. It is not the unpardonable sin (Matt 12:30-32). The hymn writer, William Cooper who penned “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” attempted suicide. Moreover, King David and Moses both committed murder and were forgiven by God. There is no biblical reason to assume that all those who commit suicide and/or murder automatically go to hell. God offers eternal life to all who repent and believe. Not even suicide can separate a believer from the powerful love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
So is our loved one in heaven? If they had faith in Christ, then yes. However, only God can see into people’s hearts. He makes the final decision according to his love, mercy, and justice. We must place our hope and trust in him.
3. God Judges People For Their Sins
Often when a suicide occurs, the family and friends left behind begin to assume responsibility for the person’s death. We accuse ourselves by asking, “Why didn’t we see the warning signs; why we didn’t we keep this from happening; how did we miss this?” And while it’s possible that we did things that hurt our friend, child or spouse, we did not cause the suicide. Numerous people have had inattentive friends, mean parents, and argumentative spouses. Most people don’t kill themselves.
Ultimately, the person who commits suicide chose to take their life. Their decision even if impaired by drugs, alcohol, or medication was their decision. We are not responsible for their sin. God never hold us accountable for the actions of another. In Romans 2:6, we read that God will “render to each person according to his deeds.” And Ezekiel 18:20 makes this point crystal clear:
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
We are not judged for our loved one’s sin.
4. We Are Finite
We like answers. We like to be able to explain everything we see and encounter. When we are hit with the news of a suicide, we often set off in desperate quest to explain why. We want to know why our brother, son, or spouse thought suicide was the best option. But we can’t know these things with certainty. We can’t perfectly retrace our beloved’s last steps and see into their mind. We can’t make sense of suicide. As David Powlison writes,
You will never have an answer that ties up all the loose ends.
We read in Deuteronomy 29:29 that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Friends, we will never know the secret things. We will never ultimately know why. And that’s ok. Our hope is not tied to the knowledge of everything. Our hope is tied to the all-powerful, loving, good God who cares for us. He knows everything. We must trust him for he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69).
5. Jesus Saves
The ultimate hope for all touched by the suffering and difficulties of suicide is Jesus. Though we do not know why our loved one committed suicide, we know that God is all loving, merciful, and compassionate. Regardless of how we feel, his mercies will be new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). He will hear us when we call (Psalm 86:7). And, he will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). As we deepen our trust in God, we will find hope and blessing.
Admittedly, the tears and heart ache will never fully go away in this life. But they will not last forever. Christ will return one day soon and wipe away every tear and sorrow. And even if our loved one is not in heaven on that day, we will be with Jesus. We will be with God. He will more than make up for all of our suffering. As Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Friends, we are going to glory! Trust in God.
If your are looking for more resources on suicide, I encourage you to listen to Jim Newheiser talk on the subject, COUNSELING AFTER A SUICIDE or to grab a copy of David Powlison’s little book, Grieving A Suicide: Help for the Aftershock