WARNING: This educational exploration of the subject of faith and suicide in no way endorses suicide. Neither does it encourage suicide, nor stigmatise the memory of the dead, nor trivialise the sorrow of the grieving.
In the Old Testament, there are six reported cases of suicide (one of which was assisted suicide), and 3 expressions of suicidal feeling. There is only one reported case of suicide in the New Testament (Judas), plus one attempted suicide (a prison warder). These apart from frustrated expressions of hopelessness that sound like a desire to end it all. All in all there were seven suicides reported in the Bible.
There was the suicide death of King Abimelech, a psychopathic killer who slaughtered 70 of his 71 half brothers. The last barely escaped. He procured assisted suicide through his bodyguard to avoid the legend of being killed by a woman. In one of his sieges, a woman had dropped a millstone, which hit him on the head and cracked his skull. (Judges 9:52-54)
Then there was Samson. Samson committed suicide pulling down the central pillars of the temple in which Philistine government and aristocracy were gathered for sport. It was a revenge killing. The Philistines had gouged out his eyes. (Judges 16:28-31)
Then there was Saul. He committed suicide to avoid being captured in battle and end up being taunted and tortured (1 Samuel 31:1-4); his bodyguard also committed suicide in dutiful obligation. (1 Samuel 31:5)
Ahitopel the uber special adviser to kings committed suicide upon loss of influence in government. He hanged himself. (2 Samuel 17:23)
The last reported case in the Old Testament was a bloke named Zimri. He had the shortest reign of any king in the Bible (7 days). He committed suicide by burning the palace on himself. (1 Kings 16:15-19) In the ancient world loss of political influence and power was a principal cause of resort to suicide.
But we do know that at the height of depression Job expressed suicidal feelings. (Job 7:15-15, 3:20-23, 6:8-13) As did Jonah (Jonah 4:8) and Elijah, when he fled from the threat to his life by Jezebel. He was declared an enemy of state. (1 Kings 19:3-5)
The only record of suicide in the New Testament is Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. He suffered killer’s remorse and went out and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5) It was a horrible death. He fell headlong as he sought to hang himself on the real estate acquisition he made from the bribe money. His body split open, spilling out his intestines. That estate later became known as Murder Meadow. (Acts 1:18-20 MSG) That horrific death brings to mind the warning of Jesus concerning his betrayal: “For the Son of Man must die as the scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:21 NLT)
We also know from scripture that a prison warder attempted suicide when he thought Paul and Silas had escaped jail. A strange earthquake had ruptured the prison, flinging open all the prison doors, the assigned cause being the praise-worship by Paul and Silas. (Acts 16:25-28)
NOWHERE IN SCRIPTURES IS SUICIDE ENCOURAGED. Scriptures do not promote suicide as a solution, or viable option in despair. The Bible preaches hope and perseverance. Neither do scriptures encourage martyrdom by suicide as a way to guarantee passage to Heaven. Suicidal martyrdom was a heresy of the Donatists, a 4th & 5th century Christian sect in the Roman North Africa. They suffered immense persecution under Emperor Diocletian. They believed that by killing themselves they could attain martyrdom and go to Heaven. The Bible does not teach this doctrine.
Instead we’re told repeatedly we’re not our own, that our lives do not belong to us, they belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); and that God cares so much for us and about us. (Luke 12:22-25) Jesus died that we may have life. (John 10:10) Life is treated as extremely sacred in the Christian faith. Death is seen as enemy in Christianity. (1 Corinthians 15:26)
Incidentally Satan offered Jesus suicide at the temptation. He presented a very curious logic for suicide. Listen to the narration: “For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you’re God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?” Jesus rebuffed him – “And it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
Many are quick to condemn those who commit suicide. But that is not taking into cognizance the problem and nature of depression. It’s a leading cause of suicide. Depression is a horrible disease. The Church does not treat the problem of depression as seriously as she should. It is a disease of the mind. Diseases of the mind are no less diseases than physical diseases. Depression is no less a disease than say cancer. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) refers to it as an illness and a disorder of the brain. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and other brain imaging technologies have shown that the brains of people who suffer from depression look different from those without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behaviour appear different. And some depressions run in families. Trauma from the loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship and a stressful situation can trigger depression.
There are different categories of depression:
- Psychotic depression is characterised by delusions and hallucinations – hearing or seeing upsetting things others cannot hear or see.
- Post partum depression affects 10-15 percent of women after giving birth. Hormonal and physical changes, and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn just become overwhelming.
- Seasonal Defective Disorder is characterised by the onset of depression during winter months.
- Bipolar Disorder is a manic-depressive illness. It is characterised by extreme high and extreme low mood swings.
Signs of depression include difficulty of getting out of bed in the morning, loss of appetite, loss of weight. The NIH lists the following: persistent sad, anxious and empty feeling; feeling of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness; irritability, restlessness, fatigue and decreased energy; THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, SUICIDE ATTEMPTS; loss of interest in pleasure including sex; insomnia or excessive sleeping; aches, pains and digestive disorders. If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms please URGENTLY see your doctor!
Does God view depression seriously? Yes! It is particularized in the prophecy of atonement: “He (Jesus) was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a Man of SORROWS and PAINS, and acquainted with GRIEF and SICKNESS.” (Isaiah 53:5) And the prophecy continues: “Surely he has borne our GRIEFS (SICKNESSES, WEAKNESSES, and DISTRESSES) and carried our SORROWS and PAINS…” The Bible persistently lists depression as a sickness. But it also tells us Jesus died for our depressive illnesses. Depression is covered by the atonement of Jesus, just like every other disease.
Will a Christian who commits suicide go to Heaven?
The Bible expresses no direct opinion on this. The only opinion concerning fate and suicide is as per Judas who is called a “son of perdition” (filius perditionis). In the Luther Bible he is referred to as “das verlorene,” meaning “the lost child.” Jesus said, “While I was with them, I kept and preserved them in your name. Those you have given me I guarded and protected, and not one of them has perished or is lost EXCEPT the son of perdition [Judas Iscariot – the one who is now doomed to destruction, destined to be lost], that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12) At this time, Jesus had not even been betrayed. Yet he was guaranteeing that not one of his disciples would go to hell except Judas who is described as “of the evil one and a false accuser.” (John 6:70) The only other person with the title of “son of perdition” in scriptures is the Antichrist, the man of sin. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
The only sin not covered by the atonement of Jesus is the sin of rejecting Christ himself. And that figures! The logic is simple: If you repudiate the Forgiver how can you obtain forgiveness. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will show the world that their refusal to believe in him is their basic sin. (John 16:9 MSG) Then he said in Matthew 12:31: “There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you’re repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.”
The Bible is very clear about salvation. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 NLT)
The simple question we need to ask is, Did the man who committed suicide believe in the Lord Jesus? If he did, the Bible says he will go to Heaven. Now, that answer may not be okay for some but scriptures are scriptures. The statement of guarantee of the perdition of Judas contained the salvation guarantee of believers in Jesus. And Jesus gave both guarantees even before going to the cross. Peter was still going to betray him. It will be curious if salvation is guaranteed the Christian who dies from the disease of cancer, yet is denied those who died from the disease of depression. Both are after all diseases!
If you will like to give your life to Christ, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at email@example.com. I’d be glad to answer your questions.