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Q&A #124 - Suicide: What does the Bible teach?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
What does the Bible say on suicide?
Thanks so much for your question on suicide.
Each of us is so dearly cherished, loved, and needed by God. As the scriptures tell us:
See how much the Father has loved us! His love is so great that we are called Gods childrenand so, in fact, we are. This is why the world does not know us: it has not known God. My dear friends, we are now Gods children, but it is not yet clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is. (1Jo 3:1,2, TEV)
Each of us also is valued and loved, right here, right now, by others -- even if we do not personally know who those "others" are. I, for one, can honestly say that there is not a single individual living on earth today whom I do not love, whose life I do not value, whose continuation of life I do not desire, or on whom I would give up as beyond hope. And there are many, many people who feel the way I do about this.
Whatever one may conceive to be a justification for suicide, nothing is gained -- and much is lost in working out one's salvation (see Phi 2:12,13) -- by reverting to violence against others and/or against oneself.
If we seem to have exceeded our point of enduring pain, stress, rejection, or other mental, physical, financial, social, or occupational burdens or discomfort, we should ponder:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. (Pro 3:5,6, TEV)
Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1,2, NRSV)
Are any among you suffering? They should pray... Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (Jam 5:13-16, NRSV)
If we are having trouble loving ourselves, we can begin by loving God more. If we are not loving our fellow-members of humankind, including ourselves, we are not loving God. (See 1Jo 4:20:21.) We can be comforted in knowing that even the strength and ability to love God and love ourselves and others comes from God himself.
We love because he first loved us. (1Jo 4:19, NRSV)
If we consider ourselves as our worst enemy, then we need to heed Jesus' command to love all of our enemies, including ourselves. (See Mat 5:44; Luk 6:27,35). A first century Christian manual states:
Love those who hate you, and you will not have an enemy. (Didache 1:3)
Though we may need to silently and/or audibly rebuke -- and maybe bring to justice -- those who are doing or have done wrong, we also need to forgive all enemies and anyone else against whom we have any issues. That also means that we need to forgive ourselves. As Jesus said,
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone. (Mar 11:25, NRSV).
Again, the power and ability to forgive comes directly from God. We do not need to hesitate because we feel unworthy, unprepared, or unwilling to forgive. We simply need to acknowledge what Paul wrote:
God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. (Phi 2:13, TEV).
There are no issues with ourselves or others that we should not and cannot forgive, even if we have to do so "seventy times seven" times. We and other erring ones need to make honest efforts for reform, but even if progress in reformation seems very slow or non-existent, we still need to keep forgiving.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times? No, not seven times, answered Jesus, but seventy times seven" (Mat 18:21,22, TEV)
If we know loved ones, disgruntled employees, or suicide bombers who have committed suicide, we need to begin by forgiving them and by acknowledging that Jesus' resurrection proved that violence and death are neither effective solutions nor even victors. Jesus was "the first-fruits of those who have died." (1Co 15:20) He provides us with the precedent for our ultimate victory over death.
We also should compassionately pray for suicide victims, including loved ones left behind. Suicide -- and collateral damage to others -- is punished, but not by us -- and such punishment is only for the purpose of correcting/destroying the false belief that God is not supreme and is not wisely and lovingly governing his entire creation. God corrects us, because he loves us. (See Job 3:11,12; Heb 12:5,6).
When addressing shortcomings in ourselves or others, we should always heed Paul's counsel:
You should forgive him and encourage him, in order to keep him from becoming so sad as to give up completely. And so I beg you to let him know that you really do love him. (2Co 2:7, TEV)
Below are some additional biblical (NRSV) and other writings that are relevant to suicide:
Exo 20:13 - 13 You shall not murder.
Mat 4:5-7 - 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said to him, Again it is written, Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Mat 19:18 - 18 And Jesus said, You shall not murder;..."
Act 16:25-34 - 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyones chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, Do not harm yourself, for we are all here. 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 They answered, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Rom 8:2 - 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
1Co 15:26, 55-58 - 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death... 55 Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Lactantius (260-330 A.D), a Christian, writing this sometime between 304-313 A.D. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 7, p. 89) - If a murderer is guilty because he is a destroyer of man, he who kills himself is under the same guilt. For he also kills a man. In fact, this crime can be considered to be greater, for the punishment of it belongs to God alone. We did not come into this life of our own accord. Therefore, we can withdraw from this habitation of the body ... only by the command of Him who placed us in this body. We are to inhabit it until He orders us to depart from it.
Lactantius (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol 7, p. 183) - It is a virtue to despise death. Not that we seek death, or of our own accord inflict it upon ourselves... For this would be a wicked and ungodly thing.
Mary Baker Eddy (S&H 39:10) - The educated belief that Soul is in the body causes mortals to regard death as a friend, as a stepping-stone out of mortality into immortality and bliss. The Bible calls death an enemy, and Jesus overcame death and the grave instead of yielding to them. He was "the way." To him, therefore, death was not the threshold over which he must pass into living glory.
MBE (Mis 52:18-10) - If this life is a dream not dispelled, but only changed, by death,--if one gets tired of it, why not commit suicide?... What progress would a student of science make, if, when tired of mathematics or failing to demonstrate one rule readily, he should attempt to work out a rule farther on and more difficult -- and this, because the first rule was not easily demonstrated? In that case he would be obliged to turn back and work out the previous example, before solving the advanced problem. Mortals have the sum of being to work out, and up, to its spiritual standpoint. They must work out of this dream or false claim of sensation and life in matter, and up to the spiritual realities of existence, before this false claim can be wholly dispelled. Committing suicide to dodge the question is not working it out. The error of supposed life and intelligence in matter, is dissolved only as we master error with Truth. Not through sin or suicide, but by overcoming temptation and sin, shall we escape the weariness and wickedness of mortal existence, and gain heaven, the harmony of being.
MBE (My 128:17) - Men cannot punish a man for suicide; God does that. [This is identical to a point made 1600 years earlier by Lactantius, as quoted above.]
Kathleen Greer - "Depression's hold released by the Word of God" (web-based online article)
Anonymous - "Stay right here -- God needs you" (web-based online article)
One additional action we all should consider is praying regularly for those in our community, in our nation, and in our world who are contemplating suicide of any type for any reason. May they feel God's gentle presence bringing healing to their hearts, their bodies, and their people. May they feel and reflect God's love and wisdom, guiding them and those around them to peace and safety. May they feel the assurance that they are deeply loved and valued by God and by us.
Please do not hesitate to write again.
With warm best regards,
Robert Nguyen Cramer
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer