Recently, two similar events have been brought to the forefront of attention. One was the suicide of Braxton Caner, the son of well known Evangelical Preacher Ergun Caner, and the other was the even more recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams. Although one was more highly publicized than the other, neither one was more tragic than the other. Both Caner and Williams had reasons for taking their own lives, perhaps we will never know for sure why they both made that decision, but regardless of the decision their loss has been felt strongly in both cases. It is when we face times like this that many questions arise, especially amongst Christians.
Growing up as a pastor’s son, I have seen the tragedy that suicide is. I have personally known two fathers whose sons have taken their own lives. Both of them asked the same question, “Was my son forgiven for his action and is he in heaven, or is suicide unforgivable?” It is a tough question to answer, but I am positive that these two recent suicides have no doubt brought that question to the forefront of many a Christian’s mind. I would briefly like to address this question and look at what Scripture has to say.
First and foremost, I must acknowledge that yes, suicide is a sin. The Ten Commandments clearly state “you shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) Another possible translation from the original Hebrew word used in this passage is to kill. Hank Hanegraaff points out,
“Suicide is the murder of oneself. As such it is a direct violation of the sixth commandment. . . Indeed suicide is a direct attack on the sovereignty of the very One who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).”(Hanegraaff, 399)
Suicide is a sin as killing another human being is a sin, just as stealing is a sin, or not obeying your parents is a sin.
As human beings, we feel the need to rank or categorize certain sins as more grievous than other sins. The truth is that no sin is greater than any other sin. Romans says, “The wages of sin is death.”(6:23) Paul in Romans does not designate any one sin over the other as being more deserving of death; he simply says sin is deserving of death. Those who have studied the Bible know, however, in Romans 3 Paul states “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.” (3:23) This simply means that those who have accepted the gift that comes through Christ’s death and resurrection will spend eternity in Heaven and not experience death. This does not mean that we will not experience the death of our bodies, but rather we will not experience death in Hell.
Now that I have established that suicide is a sin like all other sins, equally deserving the punishment of death as other sins, and that if one has accepted the gift that Christ gives, then eternal punishment in Hell can be avoided, then let us address the issue at hand.
One of the fathers I knew who had a son commit suicide was told by “Christians” that his son automatically went to Hell because suicide was the unforgivable sin. First of all, what a horrible thing to say!!! Second of all, how would they know the eternal security of that young man!? I have already established that suicide, while egregious, is handled the same way by God as the sin of lying. If God handles them the same way, then how can suicide be the unpardonable sin?
I personally agree with and appreciate what Hanegraaf has to say about this:
“no single act is unforgivable. The unforgivable sin is a continuous, ongoing rejection of forgiveness. Those who refuse forgiveness through Christ will spend eternity separated from his love and grace. Conversely, those who sincerely desire forgiveness can be absolutely certain that God will never spurn them.”(398)
Who are we to say that someone who has committed suicide did not get right with God, ask for His forgiveness, and accept Christ fully right before they committed the act? If a person who has accepted Christ right before committing suicide is sent to Hell, then so is the person whose tells a lie right before they die. Ephesians 2:8 points out, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son, that whoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This means, when we put our faith in God and what He has done through Jesus, then we receive Christ’s grace. That grace is poured onto our whole lives. Christ’s forgiveness is of our sins past, present, and future. Think about that for a second: Jesus has already forgiven sins I have yet to commit!! Woah, talk about mind blown! (This is by the way, not a license to go out and sin as we please.) Here’s the point: if you have accepted Christ as your savior then God has already accepted you; you are one of His children. YOU BELONG TO HIM!!!
Nothing can change that; not even something bad that you did at the last moment of your life. Our relationships with Christ are not about keeping track of rights and wrongs, that is grace through works. Our salvation is in grace through faith in what Christ has done for us. In that breath then, we need to be exercising our faith in Him by glorifying Him, worshiping Him, enjoying Him, and loving Him with our entire being. To say that if a Christian commits suicide and they are not forgiven is a slap in the very face of God.
Now, as to the debate of if a Christian would really commit suicide, I do not know if I should get into that. Hank Hanegraaf says that the thought of suicide is one that Christians dare not contemplate.(398) But, who am I to say that even a Christian could not lose sight of the value of their life? Many Christians battle with depression and anxiety. These diseases have been linked to many suicides. For this part of the debate, I will say that I cannot say for certain if a true Christian can commit suicide or not. Instead, what I will say is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be spreading the wonderful gift that we have through Jesus… It is not our job to condemn people to Hell (I am thankful for that), rather, we need to spread the word to people that YOU MATTER AND GOD CARES!
Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book. Nashville Tennessee Thomas Nelson. 2008.