Is Suicide Sin?
According to news reports suicide has increased in the United States by about thirty percent in the past two to three decades. It seems that is the case in some states more than others, so it might not be correct to project the statistic onto the whole country. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that suicide is increasing in America.
In recent years many celebrities have committed suicide and, in most cases, people who knew them said there were no clear “signs” of that impending death. One doctor I saw and heard on television explained that people who are determined to commit suicide are usually very good at hiding that intention because they don’t want to be stopped.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I, as a Christian theologian, have been asked “Is suicide a sin?” Of course, I’m always sensitive to the person asking the question because, in many cases, someone very close to them did commit suicide. I offer no immediate definite answer but ask “Why do you ask?”
Here I will only offer my best Christian theological answer and hope that it helps people struggling with a loved one’s suicide and possibly even someone considering suicide for himself or herself.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
First of all, if you are considering suicide—talk to a trusted and hopefully professional person about it. There is hope and help; don’t hide your inclination. Get professional help from a trained pastoral counselor or other professional person. Or at least call the Suicide Help Line in your state or city. Use a search engine to find one.
Second, if you suspect someone you know may be considering suicide, talk to him or her about it and help him or her find help to overcome the depression or whatever is causing these thoughts.
Here, however, my main concern is simply to offer the best Christian theological answer to the commonly asked question “Is suicide sin?”
Most people know that traditional Christian churches of all types have traditionally said it is a sin. And some have said it is the unforgiveable sin because it ends the possibility of repentance.
However, in recent years, even many traditional Christian churches and leaders have reconsidered that position in light of evidence from modern psychology that most people who commit suicide are clinically depressed—a condition rooted in brain chemistry.
I will offer this nuanced answer to the question: If a person kills himself/herself without being in a state of depression (broadly defined) and for the purpose of hurting other people (for example out of spite), it is sin. Their eternal destiny after death is God’s decision and not mine. I will not make any judgment about that. However, if a person kills himself/herself out of despair due to depression (broadly defined) I cannot consider it sin. I consider it a final symptom of an illness.
Many people are tempted then to point out to me the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and argue that I am excusing murder (self-murder). I respond that there are many exceptions to “Thou shalt not kill” including (in the context of the Old Testament where that commandment is found) war and capital punishment. Most people who make that objection to my claim that suicide is not always necessarily sin believe that killing another person in self-defense, when necessary, is justified and not sin.
I assume that the vast majority of people who kill themselves are not in their “right mind” at the time. It is an act of desperation to become free from the horrible, debilitating disease of untreated or uncured clinical depression.
So, no, I do not believe most suicides are sin; they are acts of mental and emotional illness. I believe in a loving, compassionate God who understands such despair and welcomes people into his loving presence those who kill themselves in a state of extreme mental anguish but trust in him.
Having said that, however, I do not want my theological-ethical judgment about suicide to become an excuse or justification for suicide. I just do not think that teaching suicide is sin is helpful to people considering it or to their surviving loved ones. And it is not consistent with my view of God as loving and compassionate.
*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).