How should believers think about the matter of suicide?
‘Hmm, another light and breezy topic from the pen (keyboard) of Bill’ you might be thinking. Yes, well, I confess – I do tend to shy away from fluff pieces and cotton candy articles. But suicide is of course a huge problem in the West – even more so with all the draconian, disproportionate and untargeted lockdowns we have been going through of late.
So who am I to write on these matters? Am I a counsellor, a pastor, a psychologist or a mental health expert? No. So I claim no expertise there. But I do know a bit about theology and Scripture, so I can say a few things from that angle. And I can run with a bit of personal application on this as well.
Indeed, in my non-Christian youth I was suicidal. I also know of various Christians who struggle in this area. And in my book on euthanasia I did speak to this matter as well. Let me proceed then in offering a few thoughts on the issue. Two main ones will be presented here.
Firstly, some biblical and theological considerations. Scripture takes a very dim view of suicide. All up five cases of it are reported in the Bible, and all of them are viewed in a very negative light. For a full exploration of these five episodes, see this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/14/suicide-a-biblical-assessment/
Why is it the case that suicide is seen as being so wrong? There would be various answers that can be given here. Augustine had looked upon suicide as being doubly sinful: first it involves taking an innocent life (self-murder); but also, it leaves no room for repentance following the act.
One clear reason why this is so sinful is what it says about God. The person contemplating suicide is telling God he did a lousy job of creating him, that he blew it, and that the person himself could have done a much better job of things. It is the age-old problem of man wanting to play God, and thinking they can do things much better than God can.
So it is to slap God in the face. But it is also to slap others in the face. All the people who care about and love the one considering suicide are also being viewed as being of no worth. The person thinking about suicide has a very low view of not just God, but of others. And of course he has a very low view of himself as well.
But the truth is, in many ways it is the height of selfishness. To shake your fist at God and spurn all your friends and loved ones is to focus exclusively on oneself. The essence of Christianity is to love God and to love your others. Suicide is the exact opposite of this.
Sure, when you are going through all the terrible things that you might be going through that leads you to think about taking your own life, it is pretty hard to focus on God and others. I get that. But all sin is basically selfishness, and all such selfishness is the antithesis of what we are called to be and to do.
In this regard something that G. K. Chesterton wrote back in 1908 – and which I quoted in an earlier article – is well worth sharing here again. He wrote:
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world….
Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/04/19/christianity-and-suicide/
And it is not just the Judeo-Christian tradition that has viewed suicide as wrong – even sinful. Most cultures have as well, and until recently, many even made it an illegal offence. Sure, those who may have been successful in this will not need to worry about any sanctions thereafter for breaking the law, but there you have it. Most cultures do not look favourably on suicide.
The second main thing to say about this is more practical in nature, and will hopefully be of some help. It goes without saying that it is vital for the person going through these periods of suicidal thoughts that they do not keep it bottled in, but reach out to others. Hopefully they have friends, family members, and/or others that they can share their concerns with.
And it works the other way as well. Friends and loved ones who know of people in this state need to reach out to them – often, if need be. They need to check up on them, seek to offer any help they can, and at the very least keep them in regular prayer. We ARE our brother’s keeper, and we all do have an obligation to look after one another, especially those who are in such vulnerable and precarious places.
One also needs to speak of the issue of depression, which so often is closely linked with the one contemplating suicide. I have written about this often before. I have myself been depressed to various degrees over the years, and any general knowledge of church history will reveal that many of the great saints have been as well.
The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon is just one such example, and I have discussed him more than once in this regard. See these two pieces for example:
And of course biblical characters could be mentioned here. The weeping prophet Jeremiah may well have been easily depressed. So too Elijah, or Jonah, and so on. Being depressed is not necessarily sinful at all – it is more a matter of how we deal with it.
Yet many ‘hyper-spiritual’ Christians have the mistaken notion that no true believer can or should ever be depressed. I disagree. It is a very prevalent condition amongst Christians, and even some of the greatest of Christian giants have struggled with it.
Sure, depression can very easily veer into sinful attitudes and actions. One can live in perpetual pity parties and always carry on about how bad things are. When we focus exclusively on ourselves, and not on Christ, and simply wallow in pity and the like, we do indeed move into selfish and sinful territory.
So biblical balance is needed here. Let me finish by sharing three paragraphs from an earlier article of mine. In it I quoted from Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his 1965 volume, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures:
“We all agree that we should examine ourselves, but we also agree that introspection and morbidity are bad. But what is the difference between examining oneself and becoming introspective? I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end of our life. We are meant to examine ourselves periodically, but if we are always doing it, always, as it were, putting our soul on a plate and dissecting it, that is introspection.”
As to actually dealing with depression, he reminds us that ultimately it all comes back to knowing God and his Word: “Spiritual depression or unhappiness in the Christian life is very often due to our failure to realize the greatness of the gospel.” He goes into more detail on this here:
“In other words, the great antidote to spiritual depression is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, Christian doctrine. Not having the feelings worked up in meetings, but knowing the principles of the faith, knowing and understanding the doctrines. That is the Biblical way, that is Christ’s own way as it is also the way of the apostles. The antidote to depression is to have a knowledge of Him, and you get that in His Word. You must take the trouble to learn it. It is difficult work, but you have to study it and give yourself to it. The tragedy of the hour, it seems to me, is that people are far too dependent for their happiness upon meetings. This has been the trouble for many years in the Christian Church, and that is why so many are miserable. Their knowledge of the Truth is defective.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/10/02/on-depression/
23 Replies to “On Suicide”
Two incidents with suicides in my life, first in grade school my great uncle committed suicide several years after returning home “shell shocked” though I did not know him before WWII I was told he was not the same after the war. All I knew he was very quiet. My father led the memorial service for him as Catholic priest were precluded from presiding at services for suicides. His appeal that my uncle was not right-minded to the Bishop was rejected. My first crisis of faith as a child.
The 2nd, one of my production workers committed suicide for which none of us had any tell-tale signs as he was happy go lucky at work but as we learned later his relationship with his wife was pretty one sided much to his dismay (obviously). His wife dispelled most doubts when she called the following morning to set up an appointment to apply for his survivor benefits the following day. Our management team did a little soul searching for something that we did or didn’t do to no avail.
This is a big and very sad topic.
Last week a young man very close to us took his life. He was a man who had come to a deep faith in Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. He had asked one of our daughters to marry him and she accepted. They loved each other very much. His mother, however, in India, told him that if he proceeded with this marriage that she would ensure that he and our daughter were killed, either if they visited India, or else she would hire a hitman here, and after that she would kill his father and herself. Indian culture is very respectful and loyal to parents and people older than self, and, devastated, he couldn’t bring himself to what he regarded as having all this blood on his hands. His parents, his brother in the U.S., and another Indian ‘keeper’, rang him daily and drummed into him what he had to do. He succumbed to the massive pressure and family requirements and married his Hindu cousin, as his mother required in order to keep their money in their family (he had been sent to Australia as a ‘gold digger’ and was required by his family to send money back to his parents each time he was paid). Before he left Australia for his marriage to his cousin in India (his work was by now interstate), he rang our daughter sobbing. He told her he would always be thinking of her.
When paperwork was in order, the new Hindu wife/cousin followed him back to Australia, but she hated our country and she hated his Christian faith. He was terribly unhappy. A man of deep Christian faith, he was living under heavy spiritual opposition and oppression. He had honoured his parents, but was deeply unhappy. His wife returned to India for the birth of their first child, unable then to return due to virus restrictions.
Last week our dear friend – feeling utterly hopeless, with Christians in his area telling him he must stay in the desperately unhappy marriage, and with hostile wife on her way to the airport in India to return to Australia – took his life. He was a man of deep Christian faith and his conversation was almost always about his Lord and Saviour, to whom he was growing ever closer each day.
He is being flown back to India today for a Hindu funeral. His favourite song was ‘Amazing Grace’.
We believe our Lord is weeping with us. He is in God’s hands.
I always look forward each day to reading your articles.They are nearly always provocative and of the highest quality and I regularly post them to Facebook.
I found your article on suicide however, harsh and judgemental and it would not be recommended reading for anyone who just lost a loved one through suicide. That said I do not dispute what you said is supported in scripture but your article should have been balanced from a mental health perspective.Most persons who take their own lives are very very deeply depressed and moral culpability for their actions would likely be reduced.
Thanks Edmund. But a few things in my defence if I may. It of course was not my intention to be “harsh and judgemental” and I am sad to hear it may have come across that way. And the truth is, I was NOT writing this piece mainly for those who lost a loved one, but more for those who were suicidal or depressed, or just more as a generic piece offering a few general thoughts.
And I did clearly say I am not a counsellor or mental heath expert, so that may well explain why I did not talk a lot about the mental health perspective. And I could not cover everything in this short piece, including broader issues of culpability and the like.
I did however speak a fair amount about depression, and I did say how very real it is. And my final quote may have ended things a bit abruptly. So for what it is worth, let me share here the three final paragraphs that came from that article. (Whether or not that helps to ‘soften’ things up a bit is a moot point.):
Thanks Bill. I better understand your position now.
I can understand Suzanna’s friend’s predicament and Anthony’s great uncle committing suicide but when people like Meghan Markle say she was suicidal I cannot understand especially when in contrast to on TV of late, a lady spent more than 400 days in an Iranian jail where she was beaten.
Also, as everyone knows the news yesterday also reported about Dan Andrews slipping over and cracking a few ribs and fracturing his T7 vertebrae. I will pray for him to be healed physically, mentally, and spiritually but I’m glad he is off work for a while so Victorians hopefully won’t have any more lockdowns and the chance of more suicides.
Greg Hunt, the Federal Minister for Health was also admitted to hospital yesterday to have antibiotics for an infection in his leg. He had just had his covid vaccination on Sunday that was not related to his infected leg but I am holding him and others responsible for not letting Australian doctors use Hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin etc in the early stages of those who had contracted covid to save their lives.
My mother was a life long committed Christian, and she too committed suicide. Suicidal thoughts are usually the effects of a ‘broken thought process. Mental illness is a sickness and a result of a broken, fallen world just like any other illness/disease/disability.
My mother; full of worry (3 huge crises that I knew of all happening at once) hadn’t slept for 10 days and in her distorted sleep deprived thinking decided to take her life because ‘she just wanted to sleep’.
I read once there were 3 reasons people take their lives: 1. Hopelessness 2. Purposeless and 3. Selfishness
I too found your writing harsh but when you show compassion and understanding you gain a better insight of why people do what they do.
Thanks Aly. I am not sure what more I can say to be honest! If people really perceive me to be hard-hearted, well, I don’t know what more I can say about how we need to take depression seriously etc., as I have written in numerous articles. Given that I clearly said such things as “we ARE our brother’s keeper, we all have an obligation to look after one another,” I don’t see how I can be accused of being so harsh. And I don’t think people like Augustine, Chesterton, Lloyd-Jones and most Christian thinkers over the ages were heartless ogres either for sharing some basic biblical principles on this. But thanks for writing.
I’m no stranger to suicide. Two of my grandparents and my father made unrelated attempts on their lives – fortunately all unsuccessful. My younger sister tragically succeeded in her attempt 26 years ago.
And I myself have come very close twice in my life. The first time, God miraculously intervened to stop me, and I promised Him then that I’d never take my own life. However, more recently I was plunged once more into deep depression and, mindful of my promise, I pleaded with God every day to just let me die. Of course, He didn’t, and so I railed against Him day after day for doing such a lousy job of creating me (just as you described), for placing me with parents who did such a poor job of parenting me, for allowing me to suffer various abuses in my childhood and adolescence, and so on.
God is patient, and He was incredibly patient with me. I gradually became aware that He was asking me to thank Him for the good things in my life, but I rebelliously refused. Until one day I very begrudgingly and reluctantly said, “All right – I will thank you”. As soon as I did, everything changed. I really felt it was like Nebuchadnezzar in his lycanthropic state at last lifting his face to heaven and praising God, and having his sanity instantly restored (Daniel 4).
I tell my story often, in hopes God may use it to help someone else.
And may I say, Bill, that I didn’t find your article harsh. The truth of it needs to be spoken. Thank you.
Many thanks Marion. Bless you.
Bill, I totally agree with your article. I could not help but think how unbiased it was and did not enter my mind for one moment that you were being harsh or judgemental. On the contrary, you showed compassion and understanding from all sides.
As a Christian I have always believed it is wrong in God’s eyes to commit suicide for the very biblical reasons you stated. However, depression is a powerful tool of the enemy (Satan), and can attack anybody anytime whether a Christian or not, including myself!
I completely understand and feel for those who, through much despair in their lives, feel there is no alternative but to take their own life. Therefore it is so important, as you say, to look out for one another to offer help and support during those dark days when one might feel there is no hope. But to Jesus, there IS hope, for He cares and loves us all and is not willing that any should perish in this way.
Thanks again Bill for your informative article.
I don’t for one minute percieve you as hard- hearted. At the start of the post you ask “How should believers think about the matter of suicide?”
My answer…it is a sin and it is wrong like every other sin. My point, which I failed to get across; not all suicides are a result of depression and/or acts of selfishness; if they were we would not be shocked so much when it happens and by whom. In reality we often hear friends of the deceased express surprise and confusion.
A young girl takes her life because of a bad photo. A farmer takes his life because of a financial decision. An elderly lady takes her life because she does not want to be a burden. A young man takes his life because he sees no future.
Suicide is the result of impaired thinking (mental illness) and a spiritual problem. If all resources and efforts are thrown at only those suffering from depression we miss the big picture. Suicide is not an option. Euthanasia gives credibility to the option and will in effect lead to more suicides.
Christ is the answer for in Him is my hope.
Thanks for that Aly. And sorry if I misunderstood you, especially the last sentence of your first comment. Bless you.
self-examination to introspection
I would the first is like taking monthly inventory at a warehouse to see what you have in stock and anything you are running low on the later taking DAILY inventory to make sure everything thing says at 100%.
As a person whose normal condition is on the slightly depressed side I know quite a bit about depression. For me it is just my life but for someone used to being happy it is devastating. Only recently have we thought we must be happy all the time that high self esteem is what we all need. Truthful a normal condition isn’t exactly happy or sad just normal. A regular amount of self esteem is best not think too much of yourself or too little but just the right amount.
Above Augustine not having a chance to ask forgiveness being a bad thing about suicide as if it is unique but does everyone out there know EVERY sin they have committed everyday?? Has everyone repented of every sin everyday??? I can say unlike others before us I do NOT see suicide as the unforgivable sin. A lose of potential rewards yes but not unforgivable. Many a Christian has wept unnecessarily over the supposed lost soul of a loved one who committed suicide not as some conscious act of defiance against his creator but as a desperate act of a tortured soul bearing a near impossible weight. That actual act only takes a moment, a moment of weakness, but it is that moment that the attacks of satan are at their worst without someone there at the moment a cavalry to ride in and save the day a person feels overwhelmed with no way out. It’s easy for some Christians to say call on Jesus or think or God but if you’ve never been depressed, which is more than just really sad, you don’t really know the incredible difficulty you have in doing that.
You make a good point we ARE our brothers, and sisters, keeper. We are one body in Christ and if one part is sick it should effect us all. If your small toe is diseased you don’t ignore it because it is your SMALL toe you do what it takes to get it disease free. How much more should we as the body of Christ work to get any part of the body disease free???? As a person with mental disabilities I can tell you it is hard to get people to understand and care because they can’t SEE your disability. A broken leg they can see. A malformed limb the can see. A arm blown off from war they can see. Often even downs syndrome and some other genetic disabilities they can see but mental, which depression qualifies as, they can’t see. When we can’t see something we often dismiss it rather than take the time to understand it. A lot less I am holier than thou and a lot more you are my brother in Christ and while I don’t quite understand your problem I will do whatever I can to help make you whole again is what is need. Being super spiritual even on only a few issues doesn’t help the body. There far too many Christians while understanding and accepting and willing to help on most issues have at least ONE they feel the super spiritual approach is best. (How many who called themselves Christian treated homosexuality in this way because it was a different sin and thus required a different approach????)
While it is super tough in these authoritarian lockdown time still you can call, text or even zoom people to check in and do whatever you can. Sometimes people with depression won’t ask for help or might appear normal BUT there are signs they aren’t and every Christian should familiarize themselves with the signs of depression to be able to soot the subtle warnings that something is wrong. You owe it to the body. You would do this for YOUR toe you should do it for CHRIST’S.
As yet another Australian state is on the verge of legalising certain types of assisted suicide – in fact also legally redefining certain types of suicide as “not suicide” – the talk is of “voluntary death” as a form of individual self-empowerment – a kind of “Pro-Choice” activity… Such thoughts may be found in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and his Twilight of the Idols.
The tragedy of most suicides in grim reality is that they often spring from an individual’s sense of complete self-disempowerment – often in the wake of broken intimate relationships, or in the disarray of PTSD following extremely traumatic experiences, such as active combat in a war or undergoing abortion.
In a Post-Modern civilisation that is in the process of committing cultural suicide, sadly we may expect suicide to reach epidemic proportions.
It is my understanding there are a few cases where there is a medical issue that can lead to a sudden plunge into depression and sometimes suicide. I speak of a deficiency of essential chemicals for proper brain operation and brain chemistry.
I knew someone studying medicine at University of Cape Town. Very clever and a longstanding, bright, active Christian. Suddenly and absolutely uncharacteristically to all who were close to him, and without the slightest warning, he committed suicide.
If I remember correctly, Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to medical issues in his 1965 volume, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures i.e. that in a few cases severe depression can have a biochemical root.
In these cases, and in others, suicide is not the unforgivable sin. Christ’s work of salvation and is grace is greater than our sin of the deepest dye.
I skimmed over this a couple of times and honestly, unlike a couple of others, I don’t see it as harsh or judgemental.
The only explanation I can see is people making a distinction between those who kill themselves in their right mind, though I’m not sure why you would, and those who kill themselves whilst under a great deal of pressure or influence e.g. a major depressive episode, and thus incapable of seeing clearly. When there is no longer any light to be seen, the only amusement found in darkness, can a person be held fully accountable for their actions? It doesn’t make their actions any less devastating, but I’m not sure I’d consider it an instance of ‘doubly sinful’ perhaps more succumbing to extreme turmoil, or to use the Matthew 14:30 example, started to sink and failed to make it back to the boat?
Many thanks Andrew.
I’ve been bankrupted by Dan Andrew’s response to the virus. Yet I continue to have to work 16 hours a day every day to keep food on the table, as I have done for 5 years. Before that, I worked the same hours 6 days a week for 7 years.
I am emotionally on a knife edge, affecting everyone I meet in a negative way. My kids are afraid of me. My wife is beside herself. I am committing self harm.
I’ve been suicidal every moment of the day for the past two weeks.
The reason that I have not jumped in front of a train is because I have thought of the suffering of my kids that would torment them throughout the rest of their life whenever asked about their father.
If I did not have kids, I would not be here still.
I get that I am selfish. I get that suicide is an offense against God. It adds to my loathing of self. Which makes it harder to keep getting up in the morning, and to keep pretending to be normal.
You contemplate suicide because you loathe yourself. Then you realise that you are being sinful, which adds to your loathing of self, which makes you want to suicide more.
Much more to be said. Better to keep quiet.
Thanks John. Yes it is so hard, especially with the lockdown madness. So many have suffered so very much. You are not alone. I will pray for you. Your family needs you. God needs you. Don’t let Satan win by his lies. God bless you.