Can One Who Commits Suicide Go to Heaven?

Suicides in heaven. Will there be any there? Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?

Suicide is a growing problem around the world. On average, every 40 seconds, someone on the planet takes his own life. Sweden, the country of permissiveness and free love, has the highest suicide rate. Worldwide, Jewish people have the lowest suicide rate of all, likely because they have a strong belief that life is a sacred trust from God. In Canada, self-inflicted deaths are approaching a hundred per week, and the numbers are growing. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 24. So what are the reasons for this tragedy? And what can be done about it? Does God’s Word have anything to say that can help us? What does the Bible say about suicide?

Suicides in the Bible
The Scriptures tell of seven specific individuals taking their own lives: Abimelech (Jud. 9:52-54); Samson (Jud. 16:25-30); King Saul (I Sam. 31:4); Saul’s armour bearer (I Sam. 31:5); Ahithophel (II Sam. 17:23); Zimri (I Kgs. 16:15-19); and Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:3-5). In addition, there were others who were either tempted to take that course, or wished they were dead: Moses (Num. 11:11-15); Elijah (I Kgs. 19:4); Job (Job 3:1-19); Jonah (Jon. 4:8); and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27). Finally, it is prophesied that in the future Tribulation attempted suicides will be epidemic–though God will prevent them from being successful (Lk. 23:30; Rev. 9:6).

Notably, all the specific instances of true suicide listed above involved men. No woman in the biblical record committed suicide–though that does not mean it never happened. Even today, suicide is far more prevalent among men than among women (by a ratio of 2 to 1).

Granted immediately that His is a special and absolutely unique case, it is clear that the Lord Jesus took His own life. He said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (Jn. 10:17-18; cf. Acts 4:27-28). Though He refused to endanger His life and tempt His heavenly Father for frivolous purposes (Matt. 4:5-7), Jesus deliberately allowed Himself to be taken and crucified when He had the ability to prevent it (Matt. 26:53). But, as indicated by His words, the Lord Jesus Christ had a power we do not have–the power to restore His life afterward, and return from the grave.

Reasons for Suicide
A study of the biblical cases, as well as an examination of what is happening today, will show some of the reasons why individuals are tempted to take their own lives. 1) There may be a cause to which the person is committed–rightly or wrongly (Suicide bombers have that, as did the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II. But so did Samson, a man of faith who sought destroy the enemies of God’s people in his death, Jud. 16:30; Heb. 11:32-33. The Lord Jesus too would fit this category.) With righteous motivation, suicide may well be considered a noble act, though it is not necessarily so most of the time.

Other causes are: 2) Feelings of meaninglessness and hopelessness about life, and fears about the future; 3) Extended (and often terminal) illness and unrelenting pain; 4) An inability to deal with frustrating and conflicted relationships, especially in the home; 5) Humiliation and despair over repeated or devastating failure, perhaps involving bankruptcy, loss of employment or loss of reputation; 6) Guilt and shame over some action or habit that has caused ruin to one’s self or others; 7) Physical exhaustion, loss of sleep, and prolonged stress because of worry and anxiety over various things.

There are also a number of factors which, when combined with one or more of the above, make attempted suicide more likely. 8) A physical condition, or a mental-emotional disorder, that affects the brain and the ability to make wise judgments; 9) Drug or alcohol abuse which impairs judgment; 10) Addiction to secular rock music, videos, or computer games that glorify violence and death; 11) Satanic attack, often working through one or more of the above; 12) Utter despair, the conviction that death is the only way out.

Why Suicide Is Wrong
Though there are exceptions, as noted, most often the act of taking one’s own life is neither normal nor, at times, fully rational. Due to a variety of underlying causes, this course of action may be ill-considered, or taken with undue haste. The individual may even have severely impaired judgment and not be of sound enough mind to consider the implications of what he is about to do. (Notice reasons #8 and #9 given above.) In addition, suicide may be, rather than an attempt to escape a painful situation, more of a cry of pain, a cry for help that goes too far. We must be careful about presumption, and making a blanket condemnation in such cases. We may not know all the factors involved. More of human weakness than human sinfulness may be involved. In all these things God is infinitely compassionate and understanding of the human condition. “As a father pities His children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame [what we are made of]; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13-14).

Nevertheless, it is true that life is a gift from God. It was Augustine who argued on this basis, in the fifth century, that suicide was a violation of the sixth commandment against murder (Exodus 20:13). Since it involves the taking of a human life, that suggests it is certainly akin to murder–though the two are not necessarily identical as we shall see. Yes, all life comes from Him (Job 12:10;33:4; Isa. 42:5; Acts 17:25, 28). For that reason, the act has also been compared to theft–the theft of something that does not rightly belong to the individual. In the case of Christians this is even more so. The Bible says we are not our own, for we were bought with the price of the shed blood of Christ (I Cor. 6:19-20; I Pet. 1:18-19). For that reason we should recognize God’s sovereignty over us and leave the time of our death up to Him.

Such explanations have their limits. Even so, it would seem as though most suicides could be described in terms of these two things, a theft or a murder–both of which are violations of one of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:13, 15). In addition, since many of the underlying causes of suicide are things which can be remedied by the grace of God, to take this course may show a lack of faith in Him. Suicide can also be described in many cases as a selfish act, involving a failure to consider the needs of others left behind (particularly family members), and a failure to consider what damage will be done to the cause of Christ. These things being so, suicide is usually wrong. This raises the question: how can God receive into heaven one who takes his own life?

Can One Who Commits Suicide Go to Heaven?
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a Roman Catholic scholar, believing that confession of sin must be made prior to departure from this world, taught that suicide was the most fatal of all sins because the victim could not repent of it before death. But is that the true basis for our salvation? Are only those who have all their sins confessed up to the last second going to make it into heaven? This is ridiculous. Keep in mind that to commit any sin–even one–is to violate God’s holy law and is essentially the same as being guilty of all (Jas. 2:10). Therefore the tiniest sin a Christian commits, before being suddenly struck by lightning or killed in an auto accident, would keep him out of heaven, unless provision has been made for that (and, praise the Lord, it has!).

Going to heaven when we die does not depend upon our unfailingly confessing our daily sins, but on the fact that there was a time and place that we appropriated by faith the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Admittedly, unconfessed sin in the Christian’s life has detrimental effects. It has much to do with things like a lack of spiritual power and peace, as well as a weakened testimony, and a loss of future rewards. That is why the Word of God urges us as believers to confess our sins, and know the joy of His forgiveness and cleansing (I Jn. 1:9). Sin in a Christian’s life affects his fellowship with the Father, but not his eternal salvation. A sinning child is still the offspring of his parents, and a sinning Christian is still his Father’s child.

The view that a person who commits suicide will not go to heaven does not take into account the doctrine of eternal security. The believing sinner is justified (pronounced righteous in the sight of God) the moment he believes. His sins (past, present, and future) are washed away by the shed blood of Christ (Col. 2:13). His hope of heaven lies not in his own ability to remain faithful, but upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. If the person who committed suicide had, at some time before, accepted Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for his sins, he is saved. Nothing can alter the truth that, as children of God, we have been credited with the perfect righteousness of Christ (II Cor. 5:21). Even when we sin, He is faithful to keep His Word. We are saved by the grace of God, not by works (Eph. 2:8-9), and nothing can separate a Christian from the love of God (Rom. 8:37-39; cf. Jn. 5:24; Jn. 10:27-29; I Jn. 5:11-13).

To emphasize the point, let me reiterate. God will not fail to complete the work begun when we put our faith in Christ (Phil. 1:6). We go to heaven not because of the manner of our death, or because we are confessed up-to-the-second, but because of the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross on our behalf. On the other hand, there is no such assurance for the one who has never taken that step of faith in Christ. He faces eternal condemnation, and separation from God. If the person has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, he will be in heaven. If not, he will be lost (Jn. 3:18, 36).

A text that is sometimes cited as proof to the contrary is First John 3:15 which says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Because they think of suicide as a murder, this has led some to conclude that no one who takes his own life can be a saved person. But that involves a number of assumptions that are by no means certain. First, “Murder,” by definition, is the unlawful and intentional taking of the life of another person. Webster’s Dictionary says it is: “the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Neither language nor law usually defines suicide as “self murder.” And nowhere in the Scriptures does the Holy Spirit refer to suicide as murder.

Then we need to consider John’s main point in the passage. It is not to condemn those who commit suicide. Rather it is to remind his readers of something Jesus taught–that outward sin begins with an inner attitude and desire (Mk. 7:21-23; cf. Jas. 1:14-15). To hate someone, John says, is spiritually akin to the physical act of murder. How many of us then, on these terms, have been at some time guilty of murder? And would we go so far as to say it is impossible for a Christian to hate another person? John’s point is that we ought to love others unconditionally, and sacrificially, as Jesus did (vs. 16). It is to encourage Christ-like love that John writes as he does (vs. 11).

Further, it is important to account for the word “abiding” in the text in question. Though some modern versions omit it, the word is there in Greek, and it is significant. In the upper room, just before He went to the cross, the Lord Jesus spoke at length with His followers about the matter of “abiding” in Him, and allowing His Word to abide in them (Jn. 15:1-10). That is not speaking of salvation. It is a word that connotes rest, and being at home in. It is closely related to the idea of fellowship and an active interrelationship.

Applying this understanding of “abiding” to First John 3:15, and to the act of suicide, it would be possible to say that in many cases the Christian who takes his own life demonstrates by so doing that he was out of fellowship with God at the time. But that is not the same as saying he is not God’s child, or that he is eternally lost.

Bottom line: Yes, it is possible for a truly born again believer to take his own life (for many different reasons). I am convinced Samson is an example of this. He had many flaws, but the Holy Spirit has included him in faith’s “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. The intentional termination of one’s own life will have many serious effects, but it will not keep a truly born again person out of heaven. Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:28). “Never” translates an extremely strong Greek negative meaning: not under any circumstances, not under any conditions.

The Alternative to Suicide
The Lord has a wonderful plan for each individual life, established even before we were born (cf. Ps. 139:13-16; Isa. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5; 29:11; Gal. 1:15). Our lives belong to Him, and He calls for us to use them as good stewards of what He has granted to us. While the devil’s desire for us is death and destruction (Jn. 8:44), the Lord wants us to enjoy abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Further, He loves us, and promises to meet the needs of those who trust in Him (Prov. 3:5-6; Phil. 4:13, 19). The Lord Jesus promises rest and peace to those who come to Him in faith (Matt. 11:28-30; Jn. 14:27; cf. Phil. 4:6-7).

The fact that suicide will not keep a truly born again Christian out of heaven should not be taken as the Lord’s endorsement or approval of that option. No one enjoys suffering. All of us sympathize with those who hurt, both physically and emotionally. However, Second Corinthians 12:9 is our assurance that in our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient, and that is our hope when life becomes a weary struggle. When nothing we try works, the Lord has promised He is able to give us sustaining grace for the asking (Heb. 4:15-16).

Frequently it is severe emotional depression and a resulting loss of hope that leads to thoughts of suicide. The causes of this can be many and varied. There may be a physical condition at the root of it, or a mental-emotional disorder, or a spiritual issue relating to sin and guilt. The one who is troubled in this way needs to seek help. Sometimes medication is the answer, or counseling by a therapist or pastor. If you are contemplating suicide, please let others know. There are answers, and you do not need to struggle on in isolation. Tell an understanding friend or family member, one who will support and encourage you, and get some assistance.

I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychotherapist. But as a pastor I want to point you to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is those who do not know Christ as Saviour that the Bible describes as “having no hope” (Eph. 2:12). Answers to your problems, whatever they may be, begin with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have never done so before, I urge you to accept Christ's free gift of eternal life and salvation. Romans 10:13 says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." John 1:12 says, “As many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

This should not be construed as the offer of a simplistic, easy answer. I am not saying, “Trust in the Lord and all your troubles will be over.” Rather, faith in God and the promises of His Word lays a solid foundation upon which we can build. When we accept Christ as our Saviour, God gives us a brand-new start. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That provides a foundation from which we can work toward a solution to other problems. Take heart! There is hope. Not easy answers, but God’s sure promise of better things up ahead.