Is suicide a sin?

Got this in yesterday. I respond after.

Dear John,

You helped me out once before a couple of years ago when I wrote this letter to you. I’ve followed your blog since and I’m still grateful for the advice you gave me.

Depression and the like has still been a part of my life (been in therapy, been given happy pills, been to A&E [Accident and Emergency]) and a part of that has been suicidal thoughts, which, touch wood, haven’t been as prominent recently and haven’t been acted on in over a year now. Indeed, I’ve been discharged from my mental health service, and, as Yazz said, the only way is up, baby.

One of my big challenges regarding my thoughts about suicide is whether suicide is a sin and the whole theology surrounding it. It’s a can of particular wriggly worms I’ve avoided opening but my insatiable curiosity is demanding I find my tin opener and crack it open. I fear the quest for knowledge may take me down a dark route so rather than go to Google, I’ve come to you.

Is it a sin? Is it forgivable? If it isn’t sinful or can be forgiven, why isn’t it a valid option? And so on, so forth.

Thanks and God bless.

P.S. As a wee update, I’m no longer in the ministry [see her previous letter] and instead run my own blog. My parents are accepting of me now and I am currently courting a lovely lady. University is fantastic too.

If by “sin” you mean an act which brings the punishment of being sentenced by God to hell, then no, suicide is not a sin. God’s not going to respond to a person who has been so destroyed by life that they’ve violently removed themselves from life by, of all things, punishing that poor soul.

If, however, you agree with me that sin is virtually any act which breaks God’s heart, then yes, suicide is one of the worst sins a person can commit. Imagine being a parent, and watching your adored child take his or her own life.


Related posts: She is not responsible for her husband’s suicide and “My gay Christian cousin committed suicide.”

[I've turned off comments on this post. Sadly, when using the Disqus commenting system, which Patheos employs (or perhaps it's just the way Patheos has it configured site-wide?) doing that deletes all the comments that were there before comments were disabled. So to those who commented here when the post first went up I apologize that your comments are no longer visible. I also want to thank you for the kindness of them.]


I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question:

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Bones

    Suicide isn’t a sin. We’ve come a long way since self murderers were seen as the ultimate sin as a self murderer can’t repent. Christianity’s treatment of suicide victims has been deplorable from advocating certain hell to denying ministry and funerals to suicide victims and their families. In the Middle Ages, suicide victims were paraded and ‘executed’ then left as a warning to others.

    Nowadays the ministry to those who have suicided is more about compassion.

    Suicide victims and their families suffer greatly.

    I’m still suffering after 29 years and I think about my Dad everyday. I don’t know how to tell my little kids how their Pop died. I’ve never talked about it with my wife.

    • Michelle Par

      My paternal grandfather committed suicide when I was a year old and my parents never really talked about it. I only found out the details from my maternal grandfather. It was really important because I hadn’t known about the alcoholism and depression on that side of my family. Finally hearing about it put a lot of things in perspective for me, regarding my father and his family and clarified things that had never made sense but always felt strange.

      I gently encourage you to talk with your wife, certainly, and think about what you feel would be an appropriate age (since you say your kids are little) to start bringing up the subject with the kids.

      I am sorry for your loss, and the hurt it continues to inflict on you.

  • James Walker

    Jesus told us to take no thought for tomorrow because if God provides for the sparrows, He will surely provide for us. I take this to mean that we are not to be concerned about the afterlife but are instead to be concerned with our behavior in the here and now on Earth. If there is an afterlife, God will take care of that.

    I won’t try to equate my experience to that of the letter-writer, but I can say I’m no stranger to feeling everything has become hopeless, that perhaps the people in my life might be better off if I weren’t “here” anymore, that perhaps I might be better off if I weren’t “here” anymore. For me, these episodes were ultimately cries for help. I had allowed myself to become so overwhelmed, trying to solve all my problems (and those of my friends, family and household) that no human could have taken them all on in the big tangled mess they had become. When I finally recognized that I needed help and reached out for it, help was there and what had seemed like insurmountable walls of problems all around me became manageable when it wasn’t just me looking at them.

    It sounds like you, letter-writer, have recognized this aspect of suicidal thoughts and ideas, that they represent a cry for help, and that you have taken a lot of good action to get help in that regard. I would propose to you that this dialog, of needing help, of being overwhelmed, of finally recognizing the need and of taking action to get help, is not something that will ever “end” but that you will get better at with practice so that you can eventually skip the “overwhelmed” step in the process.

    Meanwhile, please don’t let fear of “sin” be in your thoughts as you process your own emotions and your needs. Choose life not because choosing the opposite is somehow “sinful” or “selfish” but because it is so very final and leaves no opportunity for help and resolution. God loves you and will love you for always, regardless of your choices.

  • James Walker

    John, I absolutely love that photo you chose for this blog entry. =)

  • BarbaraR

    A person whose tremendous pain and suffering because so unbearable that they could see only suicide as a way to end the sadness could never be punished by God for it.

    Suicide does hurt other people, though, and it can reverberate through generations and cause its own suffering. So perhaps it isn’t the ending of one’s own life that is the sin – which must pain God, though His compassion is endless – it’s the resulting agony of those left behind (intended or not) and making others hurt through one’s choice that is.

    Is it unforgivable? I say no. How could a just and loving God condemn a child so tortured that they took their own life?

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    So well said. Suicide is an act that breaks God’s heart – not to mention the pain and destruction it inflicts on those left behind. Keep on keeping on letter writer.

  • Patrick DeHoff

    I hold we need to realize that mental illness is a disease and like any disease it can kill if left unchecked. Mental illness just uses an external device (rope or belt, razor blade or firearm). Suicide is the end stage. A preventable one (sometimes). We don’t judge someone who falls from cancer, or an infection. We treat them, root for them, but don’t blame them or say they’re going to hell when things don’t work.

    • Brandon Roberts

      agreed

  • Worthless Beast

    I can recall times when I’ve thought “Even if I go to Hell for it, it wouldn’t matter, all that matters is de-burdening myself from the world.” Then someone in my life would say or do something that told me it didn’t matter if I was burdensome, I was still loved.

    I made an online semi-friend recently. Just someone I talk to in my fandom/fan fiction hobby who lost a loved one this year to suicide. (She’s an atheist, so I can’t talk “heaven” stuff with her, though I dislike platitudes, anyway). Even though I’m a kind of “distant” person she only knows because we like the same videogames, the sense of pain and loss I’ve felt from her has made me… well… extra-resolved to fight my own darkness, so as not to put the relatively few people who care about me deeply that kind of grief.

    However, I have no idea what will happen to me in the future if I lose my support-system, or if one of my impulses gets the better of me. Sometimes, I think about death not because I’m particularly sad, but because I’m damn curious about it. What really happens? I want to know! I’m not important to the world (only to a few people). Once you get the news handed down that you’re riding the bipolar-coaster, you know that you’re strapped in for life. I honestly don’t know where my emotions and impulses are going to go next. My control over them (medication, help) is limited. Lately, I’ve been upbeat, but I’m thinking about how I’ll probably have to go to a very dark place in order to properly write parts of a creative project I have ideas for. I want to stave off going there for as long as I can because of my worries I might not come out.

    • James Walker

      you have a great big virtual hug from me (assuming you don’t mind hugs). none of us has ever been in exactly the same kind of dark pit that you experience, but most of us are capable of understanding it’s lonely and it’s dark and it’s scary there. I’ll pray that the memory of light, and of warmth, and of companionship will help you to keep on keeping on until you find your way through the darkness into a safer place.

    • Matt

      When I was about 17, I used to go out and sit in the mall, sort of absorbing the energy of the crowds when I couldn’t bear the disconnection from other human beings anymore. Sometimes bargaining with myself helped–if I still felt that way in the morning I had “permission” to do it, but for now I was going to sleep. That often gave me just enough lift to keep on. Sometimes my sheer curiosity about seeing this life thing through was what did the trick. The endless fight to stay alive one more day went on for years on end. I’m much better today, but that kind of fight leaves a deep impression.

      You’re not alone, I suppose I’m trying to say. You’re more important to the world than you think, and stronger than you know. I know that feeling of being unsure how exactly if/when those thoughts will get the best of you, but in the meantime there’s no need to feed them. You matter more than any project.

      • Worthless Beast

        I’ve actually been in an overall “up” mood lately, so I’m okay for now.

        Some of the things I’ve found to keep me going when my brain is not cooperating me (to smack it back into shape):

        1. Imagine my SO finding my body. That gets me out of dark ideas real quick. Hey, recently, we had to put our old cat to sleep and he… a grown strong man…was weeping bitterly. One just doesn’t want to hurt someone like that.

        2. Think about things I’ve done and seen since one failed, half-assed attempt I had a decade ago and/or more recent accidents I’ve survived. I’m not a jet-setter, but I’ve seen things I’m glad I’ve gotten to see. Two oceans, Times Square, eating crab cakes in Baltimore… I’ve also written a few novels, one of which I self-published on Kindle to no fan-fare, but *it exists* and that’s pretty cool. I think it’d be nice to see what other crazy ideas I get and get the guts to write and what other things the winds of luck will bring me to see. *I may not be able to afford to go to half the cool places I see on the Travel channel, but I can dream.*

        3. Spite. Seriously! Sheer blind ANGER at the world and all the people in it who can be festering a-holes (on and offline) just make me want to live in order to continue being a thorn in the world’s side for as long as I possibly can. (Then again, my particular experience with bipolar disorder has me flipped on the “anger” switch as a part of the manic-end pretty often). Anger can be inspiring to creative work, too. If anyone wants to get me mad… well, an expy of them might just get ripped apart by zombies in another universe I’ll create just for them. *Grin.*

        • Bones

          Beast, you ain’t worthless.

    • sharon peters

      i’m bipolar 2 & depression is my worst constant mood. creativity has helped shift it a little. when i’m blocked up & frozen my dreams seem more vivid. I can see a better day ahead through my dreams.

  • Robert Albro

    We are born into this life with a relationship with our parents. When we die all we have to be judged on is our relationships with other people and their relationships with us. Is it a sin to die, is it a sin to not stop one’s death, did Jesus sin when he didn’t stop Judas from going to the Romans, when he knew it would cause his death.Can God sin? Everyone says no God can’t sin, but he threw his arms up on the cross just as much as if he put a rope around his neck I don’t know the what Gods thinks, but I do know death is painful to those that survive to have a live another minute after the suicide. My middle son was killed in a car accident 2 years ago, I attend a support group for parents who have lost child(ren), I could never tell any parent that their child’s death was a sin. That is the part of Christinity of the Roman branch I can not stand anymore, if a person is sick the Romans send a cold hearted lawyer, when what the person needed is a caring doctor.

  • http://maryalicedo.wordpress.com Mary Alice Do

    I have bipolar disorder, am a retured Disciple minister, and I read your column. Thank for it. Ever so often I have suicidal thoughts. A couple years ago, I was having serious suicidal thoughts and I talked to my pastor. I told her did I thought God would understand if I killed myself and would not punish me. She said she agreed, but that she believed God’s heart would be shattered. It seemed incredible to me that I could shatter God’s heart. Then I remembered my favorite verse which is “Jesus wept”, but right before that it says that he was greatly troubled. His heart was shattered. Now when I think about suicide, I remember I would shatter God’s heart, and I would hate to do that to one who has loved me so. Thank you for what you wrote to this man. What you said was true.

    • John_Shore

      So beautiful. Thank you, Mary.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    Great response, John. I can’t imagine how anyone could refute that.

  • Bones

    I always found Psalm 23 comforting for the Dark Times.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    I had friend commit suicide several years ago. She had been ill for a very long time and was slowly but surely deteriorating, bit by painful bit. Yes her family was devastated, but her funeral was one of the most, comforting,positive events I’ve ever participated in. I suspect that she did it partially to finally escape the pain for good, as well to free her family from the agony and burden of watching her deteriorate and caring for a person who was dying. Of course its just a guess.

    The attendees were each given a sheet of stationary,where we could tell Shay goodbye.The pastor spoke of her pain, her dedication to help others in need, despite her great pain, her love of God that was evident to all who knew her,and of her weariness. Shay loved to dance, and hadn’t been able to in years. We were told that now she can. that God understood her choice, despite the pain left in its wake and that she was tearing up heaven’s dance floor.

    That funeral helped us pay tribute to a gentle loving woman,who we all realized was at peace and freed from constant pain, something I’m sure many of had been praying for. I miss Shay, but I respect her choice to exit life as she did. The impact of her life was profound. I am thankful to have known her.

  • http://www.exclusivechurch.com/ Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente

    You tell me what a sin is, Mr Shore (what a beautiful name, btw), and I’ll tell you whether suicide is one. I consider myself a bit of an expert, though my technique’s def not the best. www. exclusivechurch.com, if you don’t mind. Love your site, which is disturbing, I’m not often out-liberaled.

  • Melissa Auffinger

    If someone kills themselves, they are removing themselves from this world but their soul is still a forever existence. We can not kill our souls. They either go back to God or another world. If we are evil they go to lower dimensions. ( that’s my belief)

  • Brandon Roberts

    nice little article. i do think it’s a sin but i also feel so bad for the people. i know what it’s like to feel that way & i think we should focus on helping the people that feel this way.


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