(This is Part 2 of the previous article, The Evil of Suffering).
Author: Michael W. Dewar, Sr.
May 10th, 2020
This article addresses the question, “Will a believer in Jesus Christ go to hell for committing suicide?” Perhaps you are asking, who is a believer? By believer I mean a person who has repented of his or her sins and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, baptized, or not yet baptized in water. Bear in mind that this definition excludes a wide cross-section of religious people who are members of churches but are not truly registered in the Book of Life in heaven. Book of life registration is reserved for truly born again people (John 3: 1-8; Rev.20:11-15). This article, therefore, must be read in the context of this narrow definition of a believer.
A Mental Health Issue
Most suicides are committed by reason of mental health breakdown. I know something about mental health because I did two years internship at two different psychiatric centers working toward the Licensed Master Social Work (LMSW) degree. I also served many mental health patients during my 28 years in healthcare. So, I am looking at suicide not only from a biblical, theological point of view but also from a mental health frame of reference. Mental health is a serious health challenge for the church. *
There is what is called temporary insanity; courts recognize it as a legitimate defense for a person who commits a crime totally contrary to his or her character, providing two psychiatrists sign off on it. Sanity is like the pendulum of a clock; it swings from sanity to insanity and back. We are considered sane because the pendulum does not stay on the insanity side too long; it swings back.
But let us say, you got angry, out of control, throwing things and you remain that way for three or four days. You are likely to end up in the psych ward of a hospital on meds and perhaps in a straitjacket. What happen? Your pendulum did not swing back. If you hurt yourself or someone else during this time of breakdown, temporary insanity could be used as a defense. Our judicial system is built upon the Judea-Christian system of justice which is often restrained by mercy.
With that said, let us look at God’s judicial system. The God of the Bible presents Himself as the God of Justice and mercy (Exod.34:5-7). God’s justice is restrained by mercy and He wants human justice to be restrained by mercy (Micah 6:8). The Good Samaritan story teaches the priority of showing mercy to others (Luke 10: 25-37). Now, take the sin or crime of suicide; it is self-murder or a type of manslaughter of the self. Murder in the Bible is based upon premeditation. For this reason, Cities of Refuge were established as a safe space for the accidental manslayer to flee until the matter was investigated to see if it was truly accidental (Num. 35:10-28). The same is true with our system of justice today; if you kill someone by accident or without premeditation, it is considered manslaughter. The punishment, if any, is not severe as murder.
A Question of Motives
Now, if a child of God takes his or her own life—the first question to consider is, what drives the person to commit that sin against God and crime against self? Was it done to cover up another sin or crime? (e.g. in the movies, the crooked executive goes to his office and blows his brains out as the FBI closes in on him). If it is a cover up, chances are the person was not saved in the first place. A true believer would seek to repent rather than using sin to cover up sin. That is the Judas Problem. Was he really saved in the first place, or Just using suicide as a shamefaced cover up for the act of betrayal that did not achieve his purpose? Judas killed himself as a cover up for his sin of betrayal. His demise was well planned and executed with premeditation. He is lost; Jesus confirms it (John 17:12; Acts 1:16-20).
Had Judas stayed around like Peter who denied Jesus, Jesus would have forgiven Judas as he forgave Peter and restore him to ministry as He restored Peter (John 21:1-19). Why do I say this? That is the way Jesus is, He does not keep grudges! He forgave those who crucified Him, so there is no reason to believe He would not have forgiven Judas (Luke 23:33-34).
But if the stress of life drives the person over the edge; that must be a mental health condition. In this case, the believer is not lost; he or she has an advocate (an attorney) who represents and argues his or her case in the courts of heaven at the mercy seat (I John 2:1-3). Jesus Christ is also the believer’s High Priest and the atoning sacrifice for his sin (Heb.4:14-16). The believer is not lost in this case; he is covered. Jesus said of His people, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish…” (John 10:27-28). If you insist that the person is lost, then you make human courts more just than God’s mercy seat.
A Word of Caution
Do not try this at home or anywhere else chances are you could end up in a hot place. If you are a believer or unbeliever and feel overwhelmed with stress or a sense of hopelessness, call somebody: a friend, a family member a pastor or priest. If you are in the continental United States, call this number anytime of the day or night for help: 1-800-273-8255.
If you belong to a church, be sensitive to those who are under stress or have mental health problems. Be a good listener, no preaching, no lecturing, no telling them to get over it. Make yourself available, you may just save a life. Be particularly tender with children and the elderly who live alone.
*Mental health is a serious health challenge that most churches and pastors are not equipped to handle. I speak on this in two publications: Dwelling Place Spiritual Cleansing and Church and Family Conflict. To purchase your copy, click here.