Recently I was asked whether someone who commits suicide can go to heaven. A corollary of this question was also asked: Is it possible that a Christian could ever commit suicide? This latter question is the essential one, for only Christians have been promised eternal life.
I addressed this important question briefly in a recent sermon. This has led to more interactions with people who are confused by my assertion that, yes, it is possible for a Christian to commit suicide. And, if the person who committed suicide was a Christian, then, yes, they went to be with the Lord. It is my conviction that Paul’s teaching that, at death, the Christian is “absent from the body” and therefore “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), doesn’t have any caveats or footnotes.
After the question, “What is the unpardonable sin?” the question concerning Christians and suicide is one that I have faced more than any other. Upon reflection, I find this interesting because, for some reason, many think that suicide is the unpardonable sin. Where does this idea come from? I would suggest that there are two sources.
The first “source” is the erroneous teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Because the RCC believes that one must receive absolution from a priest before they die, suicide is thought to be unpardonable. The RCC teaches that you must confess your sin to a priest before death, but suicide obviously precludes this. And without confession, there can be no salvation. But surely we must ask, where is this taught in Scripture? The answer, of course, is that it is not. Nowhere in the Bible will you find such teaching. Nothing can be deduced from the word of God that even suggests this. Nothing. Zero. Nada.
Of course, the idea that we are to confess our sins to a priest is also foreign to Scripture, at least in the Catholic sense of priest. The Bible does exhort us to “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). And since every Christian has the status of priest before God (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6), you could argue that Christians are called upon to confess their sins to a “priest.” But this is very different from how the RCC defines a priest.
Catholics believe that suicide is unpardonable because it results, in their view, in that person dying in their sin—therefore, hopelessly. Sadly, this false teaching has so permeated church history that it is assumed, even by those who reject the broader teachers of the RCC.
This should lead us to consider more carefully the practice of the Bereans who, upon hearing men who claimed to speak for God, began “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Be careful what you embrace as truth. A lot of needless damage is done by a careless handling, or careless ignoring, of Scripture. I wonder how many loved ones, left in the emotional, gut-wrenching, mind-tormenting wake of a suicide are further agonised by Christians parroting the false claim that suicide means eternal condemnation? Let’s be very careful.
Before moving on, let’s note that the argument that unconfessed sin at death shuts the door to heaven collapses in on itself logically. That is, what if a Christian has an evil thought and they did not confess it before the massive heart attack that killed them? Are they barred from heaven? What if, in sinful anger, a Christian sins further by ignoring the red robot, kills someone in a collision, and dies himself. Is this also unpardonable? I could give example after example. What are the boundaries of “pardonable” and “unpardonable”? The only unpardonable sin that the Bible reveals is persistent rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:30–32). And this is a sin that a Christian can never commit.
An unbeliever who commits suicide will not go to be with the Lord. But this is not because he or she committed suicide, but because he or she did not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This brings us to the next observation.
The second “source” or reason behind the idea that those who commit suicide have no hope of eternal life is a faulty doctrine of salvation. This, of course, has long been a characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism has an errant view of the gospel.
When Martin Luther discovered the gospel in the book of Romans, he brought to light the glorious truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone because of grace alone. That is, one is eternally reconciled to God by God’s grace, enabling the sinner to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. This results in the believer being forever accepted by God in his beloved Son (Ephesians1:6).
Luther rejoiced in the reality that those who are born again are “in Christ” and therefore seated with him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:1–6). This position assures the Christian that nothing can separate her from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. Paul argues this in Romans, culminating with a glorious, iron-clad assurance:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This description of every possible obstacle to the Christian’s full and final salvation is exhaustive. Even the greatest enemy—“death”—is no match for God’s saving, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying work in Jesus Christ in the life of those who believe on him. That includes death by suicide.
Friends, I don’t want to be offensive, but shame on us for being so careless about the biblical teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. If we understand what it means to be justified by faith, we will be of the conviction that no sin in the life of a Christian can keep them from eternal life—including the sin of self-murder, the sin of suicide.
Yes, suicide is a sin, which, like all sins, it originates from unbelief. It is a horrible sin that produces immense damage in the lives of those left behind. But like every other sin that a Christian might commit, it is powerless to overcome the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This article does not have the capacity to address in depth the many questions surrounding the Christian and suicide. But in closing let me point out that Christians can experience profound emotional and mental darkness—even to the point of such despair that taking their own life becomes a very real temptation. And sadly, some do not resist it. They should, and they could, but for various impulsive and irrational reasons, they do not. As Joni Erickson-Tada writes, “a person’s desire to commit suicide transcends reasoned argument.” Even Christians. Yes, even Christians at times want their lives to come to an end (Job 3:1–26; 1 Kings 19:4). Though these two examples (Job & Elijah) are not exact parallels with suicide, they highlight the despair that a Christian may find themselves experiencing. We need to be compassionate and understanding and we must practically come alongside and help where we can. But the point remains: Even though Christians should reject the sinful thought of self-murder, nevertheless, sometimes they do not, and they attempt to end their lives wrongfully. Sadly, in many cases, they succeed. And when they do, even though they go to be with the Lord, they leave behind inexplicable grief. Though suicide by a Christian is not unpardonable, it is irreversible, and it leaves a pain that can be unbearable. The Christian must resist the temptation to suicide, not because they will lose their souls, but because they will lose their opportunity to glorify God in the midst of their trials. Suicide and salvation are not mutually exclusive but, thank God, the latter has the power to drive away the former.