Just a couple of weeks ago, a man in our community committed suicide in his early 30’s. He had ongoing concerns with his health and also, largely because of the health issues, had a growing problem with finances. Several members of his family are involved in my congregation and I spent quite a bit of time in the immediate aftermath with them. Ultimately, I officiated the memorial service.
THAT WAS ONE VERY TOUGH WEEK!
The father of the deceased, within his first five steps of coming home where the rest of us were gathered, asked me: “Is he in Hell for killing himself?”
You know, I grew up believing that suicide was murder (of yourself) and thus was a sin. And of course, like any sin, if you sinned you were absolutely, without question going to Hell UNLESS you repented before you died. And since you couldn’t repent before you died when you’ve just killed yourself, then it just made sense that committing suicide was an automatic one-way ticket to eternal damnation. Right?
In fact, as a pretty mixed-up teen, it was that belief that made me NOT give in to the whispers of the enemy that quite often suggested suicide as a way for me to escape from my painful situations in life.
My answer to this grieving dad, however, was ‘no.’
My reasoning is based on four things…
First, a mentor as I became a pastor had explained to me once that his own father had committed suicide. It was a comfort to him to know that God held people responsible for their decisions and behaviors based on their ability and understanding. For instance, if a severely mentally retarded person dies without having said the official sinner’s prayer, but knew they loved Jesus, would they go to Hell? No, the reasoning went, because God deals with you on the level where you are. This mentor shared that self-harm and suicide were behaviors acted out by someone who is suffering from such pain and turmoil that they are, in essence, extremely sick. In that moment of pain, when the suffering is so great, he believed that the suicidal person CANNOT properly reason out the choices anymore. Therefore, God, who deals with them in that moment like the mentally disabled person who knows no better, treats them as a sick person who just needs help.
Secondly, I took a one credit course at seminary on “Pastoral Care and Suicide” and I review my notes every so often… My answer is consistent with the teaching I received in that course.
Thirdly, I once got my hands on a audiotape teaching by Jack Hayford, a well-respected pastor and teacher in the charismatic and PromiseKeepers movements, called “The Sin Of Suicide.” In that teaching, following several suicides in the extended family of his own church, Hayford taught a similar idea. The ‘sin’ is the self-focus of suicide… the lack of considering what your action would do to those around you. Essentially: selfishness.
Lastly, my wife acted like a research assistant for me during this past couple of weeks and found an absolutely awesome webpage fashioned from a brochure put out by the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches entitled: “What should we think about suicide?” I have never read anything quite so succinct and Biblically faithful on suicide.
I’m really interested in having some other folks read through the pamphlet and share their thoughts. I would loan the Hayford tapes, as well. I want to have some conversation, online or offline, on this subject. I want to hear of others who have walked through similar situations and how you’ve ministered.