Is Suicide A Sin?
sermon by Gene Appel
When I was 21 years old I became the associate pastor of a small church of about 250 people in West Central Illinois. I spent the next four years of my life serving at that church. One of the most positive aspects of my experience in that church was serving alongside a faithful, loving, kind, godly senior pastor who on my first weekend at the church was celebrating his 25th anniversary serving that church. And as you might guess, the people in this church loved this pastor and his wife. They were crazy about them. Their roots ran deep, and it was inspiring. I’d been with the church for about two years when an event occurred that none of us in this little church family were prepared for. One morning, shortly after breakfast without warning, the wife of our much loved senior pastor died of suicide.
Nobody saw it coming, nobody was prepared for it. Nobody knew how to respond. I was an inexperienced associate pastor, barely able to shave, and I found myself responsible for conducting the funeral service, helping the congregation process its grief, and being a support to our senior pastor. At this confusing time, I was in way over my head. The death of someone you love is always difficult to grieve, but when it’s by suicide, the complications of grief get multiplied by a hundred. It’s complicated because there’s a fear of almost everyone mentioning the word suicide. Are we supposed to talk about it, even acknowledge it? It’s complicated because often family members are struggling with shame over the cause of death and guilt over what they could have done to prevent it.
It’s complicated because there are so many question marks about the mental state and the reasons behind suicide that we will never fully know or comprehend or understand. And it’s complicated because it presents us with some challenging biblical questions. Faith questions. Is suicide a sin? If it is, is it an unforgivable sin? What happens to the person who dies of suicide? I would venture to guess that most of us have been affected directly or indirectly by the suicide of someone. In my family, it was my uncle Dwayne, my mom’s brother.
Here are some facts that can’t be ignored. Every 17 minutes somebody in the US dies by suicide. In a recent 10-year period, the suicide rate among Americans aged 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30%. The biggest increase is among men in their fifties, a group in which suicides jumped by Nearly 50%. More Americans now die by suicide than in automobile accidents. Suicide is all around us. I mean, we were all shocked and saddened to learn about the suicide of Robin Williams, that great talent who moved us, who made us laugh. And it is a great reminder, isn’t it? You never know the burdens, the pains, the hurts, the darkness that someone is carrying. Suicide happens to the famous and the unknown. It happens to the rich and the poor.
People take their lives who sit in church week after week. Yet we seldom talk about this stuff. And I’ll tell you something else we don’t talk about. I’ll bet if there was a way of knowing how many of us have ever entertained, maybe ever, just briefly, the thought of ending at all, the number would be shocking. Would it surprise you to discover that some of the greatest individuals of faith that we read about in the Bible struggled with suicidal thoughts? In I Kings 19, we find Elijah a prophet of God battling depression. And he got so down that I Kings 19:4 reminds us Elijah sat down and prayed that he might die. I have had enough Lord, he said, take my life. Moses had moments like this, Jonah had a moment like this, and they both asked God to take their lives too. Did you know of the seven suicides that are recorded in the Bible? Not one of them has a comment about the eternal destination of those people. Nothing is ever said about Judas.
We can all help prevent suicide. Call 988 or go to 988lifeline.org/ for free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Is suicide a sin?
I don’t want to soft pedal this at all because, in my understanding of scripture, suicide is a serious sin. It violates the seventh commandment that you shall not kill, you shall not take an innocent life. I Corinthians 6 says, “You are not your own. You are bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. You’re a follower of Jesus. Your body doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God. He paid for it”. Jesus paid for it with his death on a cross for you, suicide is a sin because you start playing God. The Bible says God gives life. God takes life away. But when I take life into my own hands, I’m playing God. And I’m violating the first commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Clearly, suicide is a sin. And like all sin, it breaks God’s heart.
Is suicide THE unforgivable sin?
The belief that suicide is an unforgivable sin actually grew out of the teachings of a man named Augustine centuries ago. Later it was reinforced by a Catholic named Thomas Aquinas who believed that the confession of sin must be made before you depart from this life and world for the next. And so he taught suicide was the most fatal of sins because the victim could not repent of it. I’ve even known churches because of this kind of teaching that would not host the funeral of a person who died by suicide.
I believe that’s incredibly damaging. I believe that’s an unbiblical view, and that it breaks God’s heart. Listen to me, you’ve never committed a sin (none of your loved ones who’ve accepted the grace of Jesus Christ have ever committed a sin) that God cannot forgive. The Bible says that where sin increases, grace increases all the more. And for a believer who has received the grace of Jesus Christ, even though they’ve gotten confused, even though they’ve committed the sin of suicide, I don’t know how you can say they’ve committed an unforgivable sin.
Titus 3:5 reminds us when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. We’re not saved by our goodness. We’re saved not by our lack of sin, but we are saved because of God’s mercy. Because Jesus Christ took every one of our sins to a cross. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are not saved by our faithfulness; we’re saved by God’s faithfulness. Grace is either sufficient for all of us or it’s not. Jesus either died for all of our sins or none of our sins. We are saved by grace, not by works.
Romans 8 says, “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.” I believe a suicide victim, who sincerely made their decision to accept Jesus as their forgiver and Lord, will find their way to the loving arms of God by the same amazing grace that all of us will find our way into the loving arms of God.
I keep a 38-caliber bullet in the top drawer of my desk, which is probably an unusual thing for a pastor to keep in his desk. But you know, there’s a story behind it, right? One weekend after a church service a guy in his mid-twenties came up to me and handed me the bullet. He then said that he was going to put that bullet in his head this week, but what happened here today made me believe that there is a God and there is hope for me. And he was right. He is so right.
This world has so much pain and heartbreak, and we have the privilege to be a hospital of hope. God has entrusted the message of hope to his church, and that message of hope is Jesus Christ. We must never stop offering forgiveness and healing and freedom and grace and new beginnings to people who need to know that our God gave his only Son for them. Let’s put our arms around each other and say, I love you and God loves you, and God and I will help you.
If you’re going through a personal struggle in your life right now and you don’t think the pain will ever go away, there is hope for you. And there are people in the family of God who can help you if you will take the step to reach out.
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