What Awaits a Person who Commits Suicide?

Christians believe that suicide is a sin.

Any sin, large or small would disqualify us from belonging to God who is holy.  We instinctively recognize that not all sins are equally heinous. While any sin remains sin, some sins are indeed worse than others. We can say that in most instances, a sin of commission (the wrong we do) is worse than a sin of omission (the right we fail to do) in most instances.  For example, if you can save a life and you fail to do so (omission), it is not as bad as you take another person’s life in murder (commission).  Both are wrong, but one is more evil than the other. (The Bible has a lot to say about sins of commission, speaks of omission rarely, James 4:17.)

Suicide is the deliberate action of taking a life. In that regard it is sin.  But there are many instances of taking human life.  The most heinous is murder, the pre-meditated, or the intentional and deliberate taking of human life.  Even for murder, we have different degrees of evil. For example: a serial killer is worse than a one-time murderer; a deliberate killing of a wounded person in battlefield so he will not be additionally tortured and then killed by the enemy is intentional and is murder, but it is usually classified as “mercy-killing,” and usually regarded as less heinous.  In the event that one acts to remove life-support from a terminally-ill patient but does not accelerate death, that deliberate act to remove life-support is not considered murder, and is not a sin.

Most Christians do not suffer angst over what happens to a person who commits suicide. Christians generally place suicide as one sin among many.  But this is not true for the Roman Catholics.  Popular Catholic belief is that if a person commits suicide, that person goes straight to hell.  The entertainment industry continues to encourage this representation, and it is not without some basis. I like to help my Roman Catholic friends understand the subject a little better, and bring comfort to all Christians everywhere who have suffered the pain of a suicide among their loved ones.

The Roman Catholic Church classifies sins into two categories: mortal and venial (big sins and little sins).  A mortal sin is one that leads to eternal death unless that sin is forgiven.  The word “mort,” in the Latin based languages, means “death,” referring to eternal death.  That is to say, by the very definition itself, all mortal sins are sins that cause a person to go to hell. Such a sin has to be forgiven through the Roman Catholic Church process that procures forgiveness as last rites before death (extreme unction). Since a suicide is the last act a person commits with no opportunity to procure forgiveness, a person who commits suicide (mortal sin) goes to hell. (There is an exception clause which the Catholic Church under-represents so as not to encourage the use of this exception clause; Catechism #2282.)

What happens to those who commit suicide is tied to the Christian view of sin and forgiveness. Christians outside of the Roman Catholic tradition reject the classification of mortal or venial sins because such a classification is not found in the Bible.  Instead, we believe that all sins, regardless of degree of evil, condemn us to eternal separation from God.  If we use Catholic terminology, we will say all sins are mortal sins because all sins lead to eternal death; all sins bring us to hell; there is no venial sin.

Christians believe that forgive- ness of sin in procured by Jesus Christ on our behalf through his death on the cross and resurrection thereafter.  Forgiveness of sin may be declared by one believer on another, and it is the affirmation of a reality, to bring assurance and comfort. Such affirmations do not confer forgive- ness.  That is to say, no priest, or pastor can either grant or withhold forgiveness. Whether or not we gain eternal life is not dependent on any last rite that forgives us of our sin so we go into eternity with a final forgiveness (as suggested by the Catholic Church).

Our place in the Kingdom of God is secured by faith in Jesus Christ.  This faith is expressed in confession of sin and baptism, and this faith subsequently lived out as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. We ought to seek holiness throughout life and enter eternity into the presence of God with no known sinful habit. Our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is secure unless our way of life denies what we confess in prayer and baptism. If we live by the rules of the kingdom of the evil one, we do not belong to God’s Kingdom. The confession of this or that sin in a final rite is totally irrelevant to our eternal standing before God.

When a believer commits suicide, it is a serious sin, for it involves the willful taking of a life. The Bible has six known instances of suicide or expedited death by request: Abimelech had his armor-bearer kill him (Judges 9:50-54); Samson killed himself while killing his enemies (Judges 16:30); Saul fell on his own sword when his armor-bearer would not kill him (1 Sam 31:2-5); Ahithophel hanged himself in what he knew as a failed coup attempt to depose David (2 Sam 17:23); and Zimri, a wicked king burned himself in a citadel when all hope was lost (1 Kings 16:17-19); Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3-5). Some of these involved the wicked; some are actions involving not dying under enemy hands.  In the case of Samson, a case can be made that he was carrying out God’s will; and in the case of Saul, his vacillation between faith and failure makes it hard for us to say where he stood with God, but the act of suicide in itself was not singled out for condemnation.

The Bible does not single out suicide as an unforgivable sin on account of some technicality about a rite that cannot be performed before a person dies. It is also against the character of God to be so petty as to penalize a person on account of the failure in one missing rite.

We all enter eternity with sins known and unknown; sins committed and omitted; sins in thought, word and deed.  Where we spend eternity is vitally important, and it depends not on last rites, but on whether we belong to God’s Kingdom. 

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God’s Kingdom has come and you are invited.  Have you accepted that invite? PE

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