Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Safeguarding Human Life, Part 3)
March 26, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (Safeguarding Human Life, Part 3)
(Points for this article are taken from Christian Ethics, by Wayne Grudem1)
In researching the topic of suicide, I read a thoughtful and prayerful introduction to the subject which I felt expressed the difficulty of writing on this topic. Knowing that I couldn’t express it better, I will simply quote it:
The topic of suicide is an extremely painful one even to mention, and especially to discuss, for those who have lost a family member or friend who took his or her own life. Therefore, any discussion of the topic must be approached with thoughtfulness and compassion, and with the recognition that the memory of a suicide from many years ago may still be extremely painful and difficult. Nevertheless, in dealing with moral questions connected to the protection of life, it is necessary to consider the topic of suicide.2
The World Health Organization states:
Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Suicide is a global phenomenon and occurs throughout the lifespan. There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.3
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states:
In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts in the USA.4
As we saw in The Ten Commandments: Safeguarding Human Life (Part 1), the sixth commandment states: You shall not murder.5 The Hebrew verb ratsach, which is translated as murder, refers to willfully taking the life of another person. Since Scripture forbids the murder of another human being, it logically follows that it also forbids taking one’s own life—murdering oneself.
The Bible contains some mentions of people desiring death due to their circumstances, as well as passages which speak to the deep and tragic despair that the human soul can experience. Jonah prayed:
Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.6
In the book of Job, we read deeply disturbing expressions of the anguish, distress, pain, unhappiness, and hopelessness that some people may experience in their lives.
Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.7 Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?8 … For now I would be lying down in peace.9 Why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?10 Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave?11 I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.12
We also find instances of suicide in Scripture. When King Saul was facing military defeat, he fell on his own sword.
The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.13
In another instance, one of King David’s closest advisors, Ahithophel, deserted David to join Absalom’s rebellion, only to discover that his counsel wasn’t followed. Upon realizing that he was serving a lost cause, he took his own life.
When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.14
After Judas had betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leadership, he regretted what he had done.
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.15
From these examples, coupled with the teachings in Scripture about honoring and protecting human life, we can conclude that suicide is not in alignment with God’s plan for human beings and is wrong.
There is, however, a difference between committing suicide and sacrificially laying down one’s life for others. Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.16 This is what Jesus did when He voluntarily sacrificed Himself for all of humanity. He allowed Himself to be taken and executed for our sins. In the Old Testament, we see an example of laying down one’s life for others in the story of Samson. He killed the leadership of the Philistines, who were oppressing God’s people, and in the process was himself killed.
Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.17
There are doubtless times in some people’s lives when their situation seems so bad and irreparable that they feel killing themselves is the only way out. However, God promises that even if they can’t see a way out at that moment, there is always a solution, whether in this life or the next.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.18
The question from the perspective of Christian ethics is: Can a Christian who commits the sin of suicide be forgiven by God? The answer is yes. Suicide is a sin, but every Christian sins against God throughout life. All Christians who believe in and receive Jesus as their Savior have their sins forgiven. Everything that Scripture teaches about our Savior’s death on the cross for our sins, about atonement and forgiveness of our sins, applies to the sin of suicide.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.19
This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.20
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.21
In the event that someone asks you if they will go to heaven if they commit suicide, it’s important to inquire as to why they are asking such a question, as you wouldn’t want to inadvertently encourage someone to do so. People who consider suicide are often people facing difficult situations, who feel deep sadness, shame, regret, confusion, frustration, and hopelessness. In some cases, those who are suffering from mental or physical pain or terminal illness consider ending their life. If someone in such a situation were to seek out your advice, it would be important to listen sympathetically while praying for God to show you why they are asking about it and what you can say to bring them hope. It is also always wise to encourage people contemplating suicide to seek professional help. In some situations it would also be important to inform the person’s family about your conversation about suicide.
If you are speaking with a fellow Christian in such a situation, you can share scriptures to encourage them to trust that God can bring them through their troubles in time, and that holding on will allow Him to do so. If you’re speaking with someone who isn’t a Christian, it would be wise to pray and ask the Lord to give you the right words and the sensitivity to know how to convey that God loves them, and that they are important to Him and greatly valued by Him.
In any such situation, it’s vital to pray that the Holy Spirit will convey God’s love and concern through you, and will give you His wisdom and the right words of comfort to reach their troubled soul. It’s also very important to encourage and/or help them to get professional medical or psychological help from a trained counselor, and if necessary, seek intervention by calling your local emergency medical assistance hotline on their behalf.
There are numerous websites which give detailed instructions of what to do and say if someone you know is considering suicide. I’ve included links to two here:
Someone taking their own life is a tragedy which not only ends the life of the one who has committed suicide but also deeply affects their personal family and friends who loved them, often for the rest of their lives. While sacrificing one’s life for another is commended in Scripture, self-destruction is not.
If you ever come to a place in your life where you feel the only way to deal with the trouble you face is to take your life, realize that such thoughts do not come from God. Pray for strength to resist such thoughts and seek help from others. Don’t try to go it alone. Tell someone about your struggles. Call a suicide helpline or 911 (if you are in the US).
The Lord will never forsake you. He will never lead you to a situation where suicide is the only option. You may feel that it is your only choice, but such a conclusion is never the right one. Resist the temptation, ask the Lord for His strength, reach out to others for help, and know that He is with you.
Draw near to the throne of grace, that [you] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.22
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
2 Grudem, Christian Ethics, 606.
5 Exodus 20:13; also Romans 13:9.
6 Jonah 4:3.
7 Job 3:1.
8 Job 3:11 NIV.
9 Job 3:13 NIV.
10 Job 3:16 NIV.
11 Job 3:19–22 NIV.
12 Job 3:26 NIV.
13 1 Samuel 31:3–4.
14 2 Samuel 17:23.
15 Matthew 27:3–5. See also 1 Kings 16:18 for another example of suicide.
16 John 15:13.
17 Judges 16:29–30.
18 1 Corinthians 10:13.
19 Romans 6:23.
20 John 6:39.
21 Romans 8:38–39.
22 Hebrews 4:16.