Thinking about a subject no one wants to think about is hard. In this case, hard is a monumental understatement.
I’m referring to the subject of suicide. This is a subject that has come very close to my family. Six years ago my wife’s 21 year old brother took his own life. We had only lived in New Zealand (having moved here from the States) for about nine months. Nothing in our life really compares to this and it has never grown faint in our minds.
In the past couple of weeks I have spent time with two teens whose close friend took his own life recently.
For the last 25 years there has been a government imposed censorship on the media reporting suicides. Though this is under review, at this time the media is still not allowed to report a cause of death in the event of a suicide.
The best that I can gather, New Zealand would rank 38th in the world, just behind the UK for the number of suicides per 100,000 people at just over 11/year as of 2010. (The Ministry of Health in New Zealand provides helpful data.)
How do we think about suicide as Christians?
Let me suggest that this is a subject which generates more questions than answers and leaves a number of questions unanswered. In my opinion we are thinking about one of the most difficult subjects imaginable.
Yet, I am convinced that God’s Word is sufficient to answer the questions that must be answered and God is good enough to be trusted with our unanswered questions.
Is it possible for a true believer in Christ (someone who has confessed their sins and trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation) to commit suicide?
There have been those in Church History who have said, “no.” The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that a person who commits suicide forfeits any hope of redemption. They do not go to purgatory, they go directly to hell. They cannot have a church funeral or burial.
However, we must be careful to not say more than God has revealed in His Word.
Suicide is not the “unforgiveable” sin (Mark 3:28,29).
A Christian is not someone who doesn’t sin or who doesn’t struggle with questions, doubts, or even despair. A Christian is one who has confessed their sins and trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness, yet they still struggle. I see no Biblical warrant for concluding that a genuine Christian could not struggle to the point of suicide.
But, here’s the painful reality. Those left behind are left with incredible uncertainty. Only rarely would there be a suicide case where those left behind would have reason for certainty regarding the salvation of the one who took their own life. Most often, those left behind will have many, many unanswered questions. Most of those questions will circle around the deceased person’s eternal destiny.
Is it possible for a person who commits suicide, who clearly was not a believer in Christ, to call out to Christ for forgiveness in the process?
I’m thinking here of suicide scenarios where death does not occur instantaneously.
Is this possible? Of course. All things are possible with the Lord.
Yet, for those left behind. There is no way of knowing.
Like any other “deathbed” conversion, we must be careful not to overstate what we can know with certainty. We cannot rest in hopeful thoughts like, “maybe he/she cried out to the Lord in their last moments, let’s just hope they did.”
So what do we do with our unanswered questions?
Firstly, we ask them and I mean ask them out loud. We talk through our questions with those we trust will take us to God’s Word and help us think through our questions, our struggles biblically. It is very important to ask and not keep all our questions bottled up inside.
Secondly we leave the questions that cannot be answered with God, trusting in His goodness and sovereign care.
We may lack certainly regarding the eternal destiny of the deceased. But we can have absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of God. He is always good and He does all things well.
The clear truth of the Gospel brings hope. The Gospel isn’t a way to make your life better .The Gospel isn’t about what good things you can do for others or to change our world. The Gospel is about what God has done, which we could never do. He has provided a way for sinners to be forgiven by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins, so that all those who trust Him find forgiveness and hope.
We must proclaim the Gospel so that the Christians in our churches who experience great tragedy will have a foundation of hope in the torrent of unanswered questions.
We must proclaim the Gospel so that the non-Christians in our lives are pointed away from themselves and to Jesus Christ Who is the only source of true, eternal hope.