My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Suicide:
Q: How does God judge people who die by suicide? Is it still possible for such a person to be saved and receive eternal life?
For many readers, this subject probably brings back memories of a past era when those who committed suicide were sometimes forbidden from having their funerals in the church and when their graves were often located outside the gates of church cemeteries rather than among the other deceased members of the congregation. These, however, are unfortunate forms of malpractice in the church’s past, which have since (I hope) been remedied.
Suicide is certainly a serious matter, and not one that the Bible encourages or permits. Today, in light of the knowledge that depression is a legitimate medical illness with physical causes, Christian ethics recognizes that suicide is typically an act that is committed out of despair in the midst of mental illness or seemingly hopeless circumstances rather than an act of unrepentant defiance against God.
Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther, who many historians believe may have suffered from clinical depression himself, already recognized this fact. He once commented in a letter that suicide can be like “a man who is overtaken by a robber in the woods,” when a person suffering from depression reaches a point of despair at which they take their own life. In the case where a suicide is committed out of despair rather than defiance, Luther saw the person as a victim in need of mercy rather than an unrepentant sinner deserving condemnation.
When the Christian considers the eternal consequences of suicide, he must keep in mind the central teaching of the Christian faith: that a person is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Jesus alone, and not by his own effort or worthiness. When faced with the death of someone close to us, regardless of the circumstances, the Christian ought not build or demolish his hope for the deceased person’s salvation upon how he died, but upon whether he lived and died trusting in Jesus.
Even though one who takes his own life does not have the chance to consciously confess and request forgiveness for his actions, this does not exclude him from salvation, because God’s forgiveness is not conditioned even on our asking. Instead, the forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus is a constant state in which the Christian is kept by the Holy Spirit.
For one who trusts in anything other than Jesus, no good deed short of moral perfection can save them from the justly deserved punishment for their sin, but for the one who does trust in Jesus, no act, even that of suicide, can separate him from the forgiving love of God in Christ crucified. While we cannot judge another person’s heart, the evidence to which the Christian looks is not the actions of the one who has died, but rather whether his sins have been forgiven by Jesus.