The topic of suicide is not addressed very often in Christian circles and when it is, it is usually coupled with very emotional responses that are not reasoned out very well. With the tragedy of what has happened to Rick Warren's family and the inevitable public discussion that will happen because of it, I hope to be a voice of reason and grace in the midst of what is sure to brew controversy.
Let me start off by sharing that I have not been immune to this type of tragedy. At age 18, my father is suspected of committing suicide. It was the early 80's and AIDS had just started being widespread. He engaged in a lifestyle of drugs and promiscuous sex and so was living a high risk lifestyle. The last picture that I have of him looks exactly like people who came down with full blown AIDS. Because of this my family suspects that when he found out, he took his own life.
The first funeral that I officiated at was of a high school friend who suffered from schizophrenia and ended up taking his life because the voices in his head told him that he was the anti-christ. My friend had accepted Jesus at my church and I truly believe that he was born again. Unfortunately due to the drug use earlier in his life, he had also become mentally ill.
About 10 years ago, my uncle, who pastored a church faithfully for 25 years, took his own life. He had suffered a nervous breakdown and never fully recovered. He was my mentor, friend, and father in the faith. I am confident that he had a personal relationship with Jesus.
Many people will look at these types of situations and have a knee jerk reaction. It will be based on emotion rather than on reason and grace. In my father's case, I believe he made his choice. I know that he knew the gospel and that God wanted a relationship with him. I don't believe that he accepted that offer.
With my uncle and my friend, the choice had been made to accept that offer. They were Christians by any definition of the word. So the question is; did their suicide cause them to go to hell? Did they miss heaven? This is a doctrine that is taught in many churches, both Catholic and Protestant.
DO CHRISTIANS WHO COMMIT SUICIDE LOSE THEIR SALVATION?
Without getting into the whole argument on Calvinism Vs. Arminianism I want to address the reasons why some would say that a person who commits suicide can't get into heaven. The Catholics believe that there are degrees of sins. They are called cardinal and venial sins. For those of us that are not Catholic, that means "sins unto death" and "sins not unto death". In other words, big sins and little sins. Catholics believe that murder, including self murder, is a sin unto death, meaning that they lose their state of grace and fall under eternal damnation. So in this case, since there is no way for the person to repent and receive grace again, the person loses their salvation. I am not a Catholic theologian so I ask that you that are Catholic forgive me if I did not explain it correctly. I did the best that I could.
For Protestants who operate under a more Arminian theology, they believe that if we have unconfessed sin, that sin is not forgiven and thus someone who commits self murder has sinned and does not have the grace of God extended to that sin, thus they have lost their salvation. Only those with confessed sin are allowed to enter into heaven.
THE RESPONSE OF REASON AND GRACE
The first thing we need to do in order to be reasonable is to ask ourselves the question: Why do people commit suicide? In every situation that I know of, suicide is caused by mental illness. Nobody in their right mind commits suicide. It may be depression, it may be schizophrenia, it may be another mental illness. So since suicide is a result of mental illness, then the question is whether or not God holds illness against a person when deciding whether or not to allow them into heaven? Does He hold it against cancer patients that die of cancer? Or heart disease patients who die of heart attacks? Is that reasonable?
The second thing we need to look at is what was promised to us by God.
John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."
Romans 10:9-10 "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved."
Eph 2:8-9 "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."
You see, salvation is not based on how good we are or that we get everything right. If it were, Jesus would never had to die on the cross in the first place and we would still be in the place where none of us would make it to heaven in the first place. Can you honestly from the bottom of your heart say that you have confessed every single sin you have ever done in this life? I have lived too long. I can't remember the things I did last week, let alone remember sins from 40 years ago!
So when it comes right down to it, if a Christian suffering from mental illness resorts to something that is both sinful and tragic, how does God respond?
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one - for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one - for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?
36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” )
37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, 16 neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What about suicide? Can it separate us? I think not. It is tragic, it deeply wounds those that loved the victim, and those that are considering suicide need to get help rather than take a self centered way out hurting all those around them but it will not send a person to hell no more than cancer will send a person to hell.
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