Editor's Note: When Christianity.com articles address questions involving suicide, no part of any article should be interpreted as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or reaching out to an agency like National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to your pastor, your doctor, or the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) in the U.S. For hotlines outside the United States go to suicide.org.
Suicide has become a serious, escalating problem. While statistics paint a clear picture of suicide’s impact, raw data doesn’t alleviate the grief families feel when their loved ones commit or attempt suicide. For Christians, a biblical perspective sheds light and provides ways to address the problem.
Does the Bible Address Suicide?
Suicide affects all nations and cultures, with the United States ranking 27th among the nations in the number of suicides per population in 2018. But more telling than raw statistics about suicide is what the Bible has to say.
Christians will not find the word “suicide” in Scripture, but the fact of suicide is seen throughout Scripture as an evidence of the struggle some have with the effects of mankind’s fallen nature.
Suicide in the Old Testament:
1. Wicked Abimelech committed suicide, persuading another man to help. Mortally wounded by a woman who dropped a millstone on his head, cracking his skull, Abimelech cried out to his armor-bearer to kill him with his sword. Proud Abimelech didn’t want his death to be attributed to a woman. His servant “thrust him through, and he died.” (Judges 9:54).
2. King Saul, mortally wounded, fell on his own sword to prevent the Philistines from capturing and abusing him further (1 Samuel 31:4).
3. Saul’s armor-bearer also fell on his sword, choosing death with the king (1 Samuel 31:5).
4. Ahithophel, Absalom’s counselor, gave the king’s son advice about pursuing and killing David. But when Absalom ignored his advice, Ahithophel hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23).
5. Zimri, servant of King Asa of Judah, killed the king and reigned in his place, beginning a short reign of terror. When Omri, the Israeli army’s commander, came against the city of Tirzah, Zimri—rather than be captured—set himself afire in the king’s house (1 Kings 16:16-18).
There were also two possible Old Testament suicide attempts.Samson destroyed the Philistine temple, and died along with them (Judges 16:29-30)—but it’s not clear whether this was suicide or an act of bravery as a military strategy. Some also believe Jonah attempted suicide (Jonah 1:11-15).
Suicide in the New Testament:
There is only one example of suicide. Judas, Jesus’ disciple and betrayer, hung himself when he understood he had betrayed “innocent blood” (Matthew 27:3-10).
A preventedsuicide took place in a Philippian jail. Thinking the prisoners had escaped, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself, but Paul prevented the suicide, and the jailer—realizing this was a moment of decision—asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:27-30)
How Does the Bible Shed Light?
There are many reasons why people might commit suicide, and some are not addressed directly in Scripture. For example, a chemical imbalance, causing severe depression, or mental illness may drive people to commit suicide.
The Enemy Seeks to Destroy
The Bible teaches that Satan, the father of lies, “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a). He plants destructive thoughts in people—even Christians—and they may choose to act on Satan’s lies and kill themselves.
Jesus Christ Gives Life
God, on the other hand, emphasizes the sanctity of life. Jesus came to give us abundant life and freedom (John 10:10b). The Lord doesn’t want us to live in fear, but to discover strength and help in Him (Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 34:18-19). We can cast our cares on the Lord and know He will not condemn us (Psalm 55:22; Romans 8:1-2).
All Are Made in God’s Image
In the Old Testament, we discover we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and we are therefore not allowed to murder anyone, including ourselves (Genesis 9:6-7). The command to not murder is part of the Ten Commandments God provided to help us live faithful lives before Him and others (Exodus 20:13).
Suicide opposes the natural tendency of humans to preserve their own lives. It is contrary to self-care, cuts off the potential for loving relationships with family and friends, and is contrary to loving and honoring the Creator. God wants his children to choose life, not death (Deuteronomy 30:19). It is our sovereign God’s right to give and take away life (Job 1:21). Humans are required to be faithful stewards of the life He gives.
Believers Are Temples of the Holy Spirit and Don’t Belong to Themselves
In the New Testament, we learn the Holy Spirit indwells believers and Christians should treat Him with respect (1 Corinthians 6:19), doing all to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Suicide is not an appropriate response to our problems.
Suicide dishonors our body and the Lord who created us. God wants us to care for our bodies in the same way Christ cares for the church (Ephesians 5:29). Many New Testament saints and Jesus Himself were tortured and put to death, but they did not commit suicide. Instead, like Paul, they “fought the good fight” of faith until their death (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Is Suicide the “Unforgivable Sin”?
Some people believe suicide is “the unpardonable sin” (Mark 3:28-29), because there is no room for repentance; but suicide is not unpardonable. The “unforgivable” sin of Mark 3 is associating the Holy Spirit’s work with the work of Satan. Nothing can separate true believers from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:38-39; John 10:27-30).
For the Christian, all sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven through faith in the atoning work of Jesus. Confession of sin allows for intimate fellowship with God, but a believer’s eternal destiny is set at the moment of receiving Christ. Repentance is not our seal into the Kingdom of God. Our seal is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30).
Common sense teaches us many, if not all, Christ-followers can die with unconfessed sin. For example, sudden events like accidents or heart attacks may leave victims no opportunity to repent and confess sin, but they are completely forgiven in Christ.
How Can Christians Help?
1. Pay Attention and Ask Hard Questions.
Christians are not to make judgments about others’ destiny. That is God’s prerogative, delegated to Jesus (John 5:22). But Christians who want to reach out to people who may be contemplating suicide should become aware of signs someone is thinking about suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifelinesays there are three major signs of immediate suicide risk.
- A person talks about wanting to die or kill oneself.
- A person is looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online for information about suicide, or obtaining a gun.
- A person talks about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Also, be alert to new or increased behaviors that may relate to a loss, sudden change, or painful event. David Murray at HeadHeartHand says:
“Although it’s counter-intuitive, the most important thing to do is to ask the person if they are thinking about taking their life. Do so in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way, to make it as easy as possible to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings.”
This may encourage a suicidal person to admit their need and seek professional help.
2. Listen to Those in Grief and “Weep with Those Who Weep” (Romans 12:15).
Also, Christians can learn how to help those who are grieving after a loved one’s or friend’s suicide. Help them express their feelings, and especially, deal with their own usually-unrealistic feelings of guilt and shame over not being able to prevent the suicide. Encourage them to attend support groups like GriefShare or contact local biblical counselors.
Make sure the grieving do not go down the road to emotional healing alone. There may be many unanswered questions or things left unsaid. Encourage Christians in their own spiritual growth and commitment to life; and console them with biblical truth, even though it may be hard for them to hear in their intense grief.
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.
Photo Credit: Getty/Sam Thomas