Suicide

Q. If I commit suicide will I be damned to hell?  Is suicide ever justifiable?

A. People have asked themselves this question for centuries.  The medieval theology of the Roman Catholic Church taught that suicide led immediately to hell.  Suicide was considered a “mortal sin.”  Those dying with unrepentant and unconfessed mortal sin on their souls would go to hell.  Since suicide – the murder of self – left no place for personal repentance and no time for confession to a priest, suicide logically and naturally led to immediate damnation.

In its 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church of Rome has modified that position: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to Him also, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”  (p. 550; para. #2283)

Suicide does not lead to inevitable damnation in hell.  All sins are forgiven in Christ, and for those who have believed in Christ, trusted Him alone for their salvation, and surrendered their lives to Him in faith, everything is forgiven: past sins, present sins, future sins.  If a Christian commits murder, that homicide is covered by the blood of Christ and forgiven.  Suicide is the homicide of self; it is self-inflicted murder.  It too is forgiven in justifying grace.

However, suicide is a grave sin, no less heinous than murder, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, fratricide, ethnic cleansing (holocaust) or human sacrifice.  Life is sacred.  Life is to be preserved at all costs and by all means possible.  Individuals have no more right to their own lives than they do the lives of others.  Life is the property of God.  Job rightly said of God and human life, “The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21; see also Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Catholics and Protestants agree, with Jews as well, that suicide is sin; it is sin against God, against society; against loved ones and family, and against self.  Suicide is never condoned by the Church.  The sacrificing of one’s life in times of war, to save others from danger, of a mother caring for children, or an organ donor on behalf of the life of another is noble.  Suicide is selfish, senseless and sinful.

Those contemplating suicide should seek the aid and advice of both medical personnel and the clergy.  If you are feeling suicidal, please contact your rabbi, priest or pastor; a Christian counselor or a medical professional.  In life, there is always, always, always hope in Christ.  In death, all is final.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

Q. Can the same principle about suicide apply to ending life?  What should a Christian know about living wills, DNR orders (do not resuscitate) or removing life-support systems to those in a coma?

A. The Bible does not look at death the same way most Americans do.  Death is not the end of life, but the beginning of eternity – life going on forever in either heaven or hell.  Death is both unpleasant and unnatural; it was never a part of God’s original creation order.  Death is the result of mankind's fall from grace and into sin (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23).

The Scripture does not command “heroic efforts” to preserve life at all costs.  Certainly it binds all men to preserve life in all ways possible for mankind to do so: healing of diseases, transplanting of human organs, firemen risking life to save others, and the willful sacrifice of one life to preserve many lives.  But the Scripture does not demand preserving life at any cost.  What it condemns is the premature ending of life, usually referred to as euthanasia: taking life prior to natural death.

For example, a person with terminal cancer is not bound to undergo painful, expensive and drawn-out therapy with a low percentage of probable cure.  He or she may choose to simply die of cancer with dignity.  A person may write out a living will that includes a DNR request, and not be artificially kept alive by a machine.  He may well instruct his heirs not to stand in death’s way when it comes to him.  Another may well instruct her family and physicians to leave her “plugged in” to life-support systems only for a specific period of time, and then if no return to self-sustained life occurs, doctors may terminate both life-support and the person’s life.

These choices are not akin to suicide.  Suicide is the premature and unnatural end to life, apart from God’s divine will.  When God sovereignly sends illness or injury that leads to natural death, people are free to embrace that death or to attempt to prolong life.  Whatever their choice, this crucial decision should be arrived at through much prayer and family input.

It is advisable for individuals to arrive at agreements about living wills.  These decisions should factor in consultation with one’s clergyman, family members, Scripture study and prayer, realistic discussions with one’s physician(s) and legal documentation with the aid of an attorney.  Most tragic issues surrounding life support and DNR decisions are not issues of ethics but of poor planning, whereby doctors, lawyers, and family members are at odds guessing at what another “really wanted to happen” without primary input from the patient in question.

Pray.  Plan ahead.  Factor in all the issues of faith and family.  Communicate your wishes in legal documentation.  Then wait for God to act with reference to your death.  What is key is this: before you decide when to allow others to end your life or terminate “heroic efforts” to preserve your life, make certain you are spiritually prepared for eternity.  For those who have not trusted in Christ as Savior, death is the ultimate tragedy, leading to eternal hell.  For those resting in Christ in this life, death is but the release from one glory (humanity) to the Greater Glory (eternal life).  As the Scripture states: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).