A BIBLICAL LOOK AT SUICIDE
A recent report published by the United States government Centers for Disease Control says that in this country death by suicide is now more frequent than death by automobile crashes. Furthermore, the report says that suicide has increased some 28% among White People, American Indians and Alaska Natives between the ages of 35 to 64. The biggest increases in suicide rates were amongst people aged 50 to 54 years (up 48%) and 55 to 59 years (up 49%). The rates for those aged 10 to 34 and those 65 or older did not change much. This news is indeed distressing. If this trend continues you and I can expect to hear of more and more suicides amongst our families, neighbors and acquaintances in the future. While we believe that the greatest single deterrent to the sin of suicide is an experience of regeneration by the Holy Spirit in connection with Divine Truth, there are some questions that do come to mind. Obviously professing Christians do commit suicide. However, one question that arises is this: can a true child of God commit suicide? Along with that question, another one is this: if a true child of God commits suicide will he or she spend eternity with the Lord or not?
The Arminian view held by many Protestants, some Baptists and the various branches of the Catholic church is that suicide automatically results in eternal punishment. The idea behind the typical Arminian view seems to be that a person who commits suicide cannot afterward be forgiven of his sin. If he is of the Catholic party, he cannot seek and be absolved of the sin of suicide by a priest. That is their view. Protestants and Baptists who hold that suicide results in eternal punishment do so based upon the idea that after the commission of such an act a person cannot repent and confess his sin. Thus the forgiveness of sin in their mind depends not upon the finished work of Christ, but upon the actions of sinful human beings. To them, forgiveness is based upon man’s works, not upon God’s grace. To them justification can be undone by unconfessed sin. It matters not to them that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to the believing sinner. According to the popular view, justification is negated by failing to confess one’s sins – in the case of suicide, by failing to confess just one sin.
However there is another view. Some people believe that God will work in such a way as to not allow His true children to commit suicide. This writer can find no basis in the Bible for it. This view causes those who hold it to automatically condemn to eternal punishment all professing Christians who commit suicide. To be consistent they must condemn to eternal punishment all who fail to confess even one sin! It is true that God provides grace for His true sons and daughters, but it is also true that all of us sometimes fail to avail ourselves of it. The Bible says: „There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it„ (1 Corinthians 10:13). That verse certainly is true. However, Christians still sin. We do not always look for the way of escape! There is nothing in the Bible of which this writer is aware that teaches that God will not allow His true sons and daughters to take their own lives any more than there is a verse that says God will not allow His children to commit any other sin.
The Bible teaches that while all sins are equal in that they are disobedience to God, there are some sins that result in more severe consequences than others. There are natural consequences to sin and there are eternal consequences also. For instance, Jesus said that certain persons saw His revelatory works but did not repent: of these He said, „But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matthew 11:20). Clearly, those who are given more light will be judged more severely than those who have received less light. Speaking of Pilate Jesus said, „…he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (John 19:11). Here Christ spoke of the High Priest and perhaps other Jewish religious leaders who were well-taught in the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. In spite of their knowledge they sinned by willfully rejecting their Messiah (Jesus) when He came to them. The difference is not in degree of disobedience; rather the difference is in degree of punishment. This difference in punishment is tied to the amount of light against which a person sins. If we understand this, we see that all the sins which men commit are equally reprehensible in God’s sight and ought to be in our sight also – even those „little sins” we allow in our own lives.
There is only one sin mentioned in the Bible as being unforgivable. Jesus said, „Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). Do we have the right to say that there are two unpardonable sins? We know that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. But if suicide is also unpardonable why is it not so stated in the Bible? What Biblical authority do we have for saying that suicide is unpardonable? Or should we class suicide as one of the „all manner of sin and blasphemy” which Jesus said „shall be forgiven unto men?” We must admit, if we believe the Bible, that all sin is sin. Killing another person or killing one’s self is no worse than telling a lie or having lustful thoughts about the spouse of another in the sense that all these things are a transgression of God’s law. There are no „white lies” or „white sins.” So we must conclude that suicide is no worse than any other sin. Consider James 2:10-11: „For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”
Let us consider these facts. When Christ died He died for the sins of people yet unborn. That is, He died for sins yet uncommitted. If He did not, all who have sinned since He died are yet in their sins. To paraphrase old John Owen, Christ died either for (1) all the sins of some men: (2) some of the sins of all men: or (3) all the sins of all men. We believe that the first is the truth: Christ died for all the sins of some men. If Christ died for only some of the sins of all men, then all men yet have sins for which they must answer. If this is true, then all men are hopelessly lost for they must pay for those sins not paid for by Christ. On the other hand, if Christ died for all the sins of all men, then all men are saved. This last is, of course, foreign to the teaching of the Bible. If Christ died for all the sins of His elect then all their sins – past, present and future – have already been paid for by the precious blood of Christ. Paul’s words addressed the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia are recorded for us. In Acts 13:39 he spoke specifically about what Christ accomplished. His words were these: „And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” True believers are „justified from all things!” Justification is a two-sided coin. It means the righteousness of Christ is put down on the account sheet of one who believes. It also means that God no longer puts down their sins on their account. This is clearly stated by Paul in Romans 4:8 where he wrote: „Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Think about the meaning of that verse, please! Unless you understand the two-fold nature of justification, you will not have a clear picture of what God does for those who believe. True believers are declared to be righteous even though they are sinners. That is one side of the coin. And sin is no longer imputed to them. That is the other side of the coin. It matters not whether the sin is of omission or commission. It matters not whether the sin committed is one of thought, word or deed. It matters not whether the sin was committed prior to or subsequent to the new birth. So, why then, is suicide said to be some kind of unforgivable sin which will send a true child of God to eternal punishment? Did not Christ promise safety and security to all that come to Him? Did He not specifically say, „No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day”? (John 6:44). This is a promise of a future blessed resurrection to all whom are drawn by the Father to Christ. Is not this a promise of eternal safety and security? If we hear that a child of God becomes so emotionally distraught or mentally afflicted as to take his own life, we must ask some questions. (1) Did God know ahead of time that such a sin would be committed by one of His elect? (2) If so, did Christ die for that sin as well as the other sins of this elect person? (3) Was such a believer justified from this sin as well as all the others committed by him? We must answer these questions in the affirmative. Yes, God knew from eternity of such a sin and yes, Christ died for all the sins of the elect. And yes, by Christ „all that believe are justified from all things.” This is free and sovereign grace! This is salvation!
But, someone says, what about 1 John 1:9? That verse says: „If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Does not that verse teach that we have to confess our sins to have forgiveness? Let us remember first of all that forgiveness and justification are not the same thing. Ponder that a bit, please. Next, let us look at this verse in its immediate context. We read: „This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:5-2:2). We may be sure that these words concern saved people. The „we” does not include the unregenerate. Do not err by making plural pronouns include more than the context indicates. Second, notice that John here writes not about individual acts of sin but about habitual or continual sins. One individual act of sin does not mean that a person is walking in darkness. What John says here is that if or since we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him. Fellowship with other believers is not the subject here. Fellowship with God is the issue! If you doubt that, read the context cited above again, please! This passage teaches that if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with Him in whom is no darkness at all. Walking in the light or according to the truth is evidence that „the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” What sin? The answer is all sin! Did you notice that the Bible clearly says that „the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” „That means both confessed sins and unconfessed sins, does it not? If it does not, pray tell how a child of God is cleansed from unconfessed sins? If he is not cleansed of unconfessed sins, how shall he escape eternal punishment? Will just one honestly forgotten and therefore unconfessed sin condemn one of God’s elect to eternal punishment? Now some would tell us that this cleansing applies only to past sins – sins committed before we were regenerated. Therefore they conclude that there is a work we must do in order to obtain forgiveness for sins committed after we were born again. Such a view, it must be admitted, confuses forgiveness with imputed righteousness and holds that salvation is at least in part by works.
We have pointed out that the context of the passage quoted above is clearly about walking in fellowship with God! The issue is not „sonship,” but fellowship! The issue is not justification, but forgiveness. That is the context! „Sonship” has to do with justification (imputed righteousness). The „sonship” of all the elect throughout the whole world depends upon the propitiation (satisfaction or payment) made for our sins by Christ. God said in Isaiah 53:11 that „He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” When the Father saw the travail of Jesus Christ’s soul as He hung on the tree, God was satisfied. The demands of God’s justice were met. Christ bore „their sins” – i.e., the sins of many whom He justified by His death. Furthermore, Christ, who satisfied the just nature of God by His death, is our advocate with the Father. The very One who paid for all the sins of all the elect now appears in Heaven on their behalf! Christ was the satisfactory payment for all the sins of all the elect throughout all the world. That is what enables and determines the „sonship” of God’s elect people.
While „sonship” (justification) is dependent upon the work of Christ for His people, „fellowship” is another matter. Fellowship is walking in fellowship with God. It is communion with Him. It depends upon whether or not we walk in the truth and includes whether or not we confess our sins. The idea of confession in 1 John 1:9 is not merely a dry intellectual recital or enumeration of acts of sin which we have committed. Someone said it means to say the same thing about our sins as God says. It means to see and speak of them as the horrible deeds they are. It means – having seen the holiness of God – that we say with Job, „Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It means to condemn or judge sin in our own lives. The Bible is clear: if we do not say the same thing about our sins as God does – if we do not judge ourselves, we can expect chastening from God. Paul made this clear even in the sin of omitting self-examination prior to taking the Lord’s supper. He wrote, „For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
When a child disobeys a parent by a willful act of disobedience fellowship is broken between them. The parent may chasten the child hoping to bring about repentance. But until the child sees and repents of his or her wrong, fellowship remains broken. The child is not walking according to the wishes and instructions of the parent. The child is in rebellion to the parent to one degree or another. But the child has not destroyed his or her „sonship” by such disobedience. The disobedient child is still the son or daughter of the parent and will ever be even though they no longer „have fellowship one with another.” The same is true of the child of God in relationship with the Father. „Sonship” is never destroyed. The righteousness of Christ never ceases to be imputed to the believer! Sin is never imputed to the believer! Just as your natural child will always be your child, so the child of God is always God’s child. Even suicide cannot destroy that relationship! Why should it? It is not a greater sin than any other. What is destroyed by acts of sin – and that temporarily – is fellowship. And only confession to God restores that fellowship!
Are we Baptists going to take the position of the Thomists (Arminian Catholics)? Will we say that if a person dies with unconfessed sin they cannot go to be with the Lord? Will we imagine a Baptist purgatory? Purgatory is the Catholic answer to unconfessed venial sins. Are we such strangers to grace as to think that our actions are the cause of either our initial or our final salvation? Can we not accept the fact that all the sins of God’s elect were paid for by Christ? Do we really believe that we can pay for or somehow erase our sins by confessing them? Are we capable of such a Divine act? Can we not understand the difference between fellowship and „sonship?”
There is a promise of God to His people that will prevent suicide. It is a positive promise of both mental and emotional safety. This promise is found in Philippians 4:6-7 which says: „Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The promise here is for a garrisoned heart and a garrisoned mind. It is clearly stated that this keeping or garrisoning of the heart (emotions) and mind (intellect) is by the peace of God which passes all understanding. Someone said this is the kind of peace that must be „felt” rather than „telt.” This is a peace only experienced by true children of God when they (1) do not worry but who (2) in faith make their requests known unto God earnestly and with thanksgiving. (3) This praying and thanksgiving must include „every thing.” Prayer with thanksgiving in all things is the boat hook that pulls our little boats along the dock of God’s sovereign unchangeable will. As one man said it, „I have often used a boat hook to pull my boat alongside the dock. But I have never used a boat hook to pull the dock alongside my boat.” Surely this promise means much to those who understand something of the absolute sovereignty of God for only they understand that all things both good and evil come from the hand of God (see Job 2:10). After all, God is absolutely sovereign and therefore is in control of all things. Although He chastens His children, He shall never allow real harm to come to them. Sins committed by true believers may result in temporary pain or hurt as God chastens His children. But no real harm spiritually or eternally comes to them. Even so the act of suicide cannot spiritually or eternally harm the child of God. (It is certain to hurt the family and friends of the one who commits suicide and it will certainly bring a reproach on the name of Christ and upon the congregation of which the person is a member).
Let us always keep in mind that the world in which we find ourselves is enemy territory. This modern world is too much with us and we are too weak to walk through it alone and unaided even thought we are God’s regenerated sons and daughters. The carelessness of prayerless-ness and unthankful-ness is not walking in the light. From such omissions as prayerless-ness and unthankful-ness we can expect discouragement, despair, and depression. These things come when we have not docked our little boat alongside God’s dock. These are the seeds of suicide. The CDC report cited at the first of this article mentioned that „…those struggling with financial challenges, job loss, intimate partner problems or violence, stress of caregiving for children and aging parents, substance abuse and serious or chronic health problems” are the most likely people to commit suicide. True children of God face these difficulties even as others. These are problems that often seem insurmountable even to the children of God – especially to those of us in the United States. We are presently either experiencing difficult times or are seeing them zooming toward us on the horizon – or both. We see increasing losses of freedom and a society that has thrown away the morals and ethics of the Bible. These things are beloved to the children of God. Furthermore, we must admit that we have become accustomed to prosperity and a „cushy” lifestyle. Experiencing the erosion of such a lifestyle is stressful. Such stresses as these added to daily personal pressures which we all experience sometimes become what seems to be an insurmountable mountain. Only „by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” can the child of God experience „the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” And only by experiencing it will God’s peace „keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We must walk – i.e., live prayerfully and thankfully for all things – so that we walk in fellowship with God. In that way the glorious „peace of God, which passeth all understanding” shall guard our hearts and minds. Paul exhorted his readers with this brief phrase: „…continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). That is the need of the hour! Let us all seek to „walk in the light, as he is in the light” so that „we [God and the believer] have fellowship one with another.” The three Hebrew children were enabled to survive in the fiery furnace because Christ was with them. King Nebuchadnezzar looked into that furnace and said that he saw four men and that „the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Fellowship with God is only ours when we walk in the light! Consider these words of exhortation: „As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). Amen.