Unfortunately, in all my years at church, I have heard only one sermon on suicide. I believe this topic may be considered "taboo" by many preachers, and this lack of teaching could cause problems for any Christians dealing with the temptation of suicide. I have felt suicidal a few times and wished someone could give a good discussion on what the Bible says about suicide. I hope this article will help and discourage anyone who is dealing with suicidal thoughts from actually doing anything harmful.
Suicidal people in the Bible
First, it might be useful to know that there have been suicidal people in the Bible. You're not alone, and certainly not the first godly person to contemplate suicide. Here are some interesting quotes from people who felt the same way:
- Moses - "This job is too much for me. How can I take care of all these people by myself? If this is the way you're going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life." (Numbers 11:14-15). Moses had just led the Israelites out of Egypt, seen the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, and many other miracles God had sent. Yet when things got tough he complained about his assignment and wanted to die.
- Jonah - "Now let me die! I'd be better off dead." (Jonah 4:3). Jonah had been a prophet, and was told to go to Nineveh to preach God's message. On the way he was eaten by a fish and spit up 3 days later, then prophesied to Nineveh and the entire city repented! Still, after such an amazing success he is upset at God and wants to die.
- Elijah - "I've had enough. Just let me die!" (1 Kings 19:4) Elijah was a prophet for God and did many great miracles, including bringing fire out of the sky to light an altar. He was being persecuted by the King and Queen, and feared for his life, and wanted to end it all.
- Job - "Why does God let me live when life is miserable and so bitter? I keep longing for death more than I would seek a valuable treasure. Nothing could make me happier than to be in the grave." (Job 3:20-22) and "How I wish that God would answer my prayer and do away with me" (Job 6:8). Job was a wealthy but good person who followed God. God gave permission for Satan to test Job, and when Job loses his wealth, family, and health then he understandably wants to die.
Even these famous Biblical people thought about suicide. However, one important point is that they never actually did it. They may have wished it and prayed to God about it, but left the choice of whether or not they would actually die in God's hands. It actually increases my respect for these people to know that they have had suicidal thoughts yet been able to overcome it - it shows strength of character and endurance.
People in the Bible who did commit Suicide
There have been a few people in the Bible who did actually commit suicide:
- King Saul - was surrounded in battle and had seen his sons killed. He killed himself rather than be captured by the enemy. (1 Samuel 31:1-6)
- Samson - was very strong until he was tricked by Delilah to cut his hair. He lost strength and was captured by his enemies. As one last act of revenge he was given strength by God to push down the columns of a temple that was packed with his enemies, and killed himself and more than 3000 Philistines. (Judges 16).
- Judas - hung himself after betraying Jesus to the Pharisees for crucifixion. (Matthew 27:3-5)
In our times, it is unusual for people to kill themselves for these reasons. Sometimes criminals who are surrounded by police will kill themselves, and there are suicide bombers who see it as serving their god. Most likely the majority of suicides are from people who are depressed and cannot see any other way to cope. I believe depressed people who are suicidal have more in common with the first group of people - those like Moses, Elijah, and Job, than with Saul, Samson, and Judas. Most of this article will be addressed to depressed Christians who may be suicidal, because there is hope that they too will resist the temptation to end it, just like those famous and godly people in the Bible.
Is Suicide a Sin?
I have seen several movies where the Priest tells someone "Sorry, she killed herself, she's damned to hell". However, is this actually true? While I suppose it does offer a pretty good deterrent to suicide - at least assuming the person believes in hell - I don't know if it's theologically accurate. Some Catholics would claim that by committing the sin of suicide, a person would not be alive to confess it afterwards and would die with "unforgiven" sin, and thus go to hell. But there are many other times when people may die without time to confess, and they don't automatically go to hell. Would a Christian police officer who dies instantly after being shot in the line of duty go to hell? I don't think so. If you have accepted Jesus as your saviour, then all your sins are paid for - even future ones or ones you haven't had time to confess. There is no evidence in the Bible that the sin of suicide is more "unforgivable" than any other sin.
However, this does not mean that suicide is ok. A Christian who is temporarily overcome with grief and depression may act rashly and commit suicide, and I don't believe they would go to hell because of it. But this does not mean that there aren't better ways to deal with it, or very good reasons to try to overcome it.
I want to point out that if you are not yet a Christian and commit suicide, then you will end up in hell. The only way to heaven is by knowing Jesus and accepting that his death on the cross was payment for your sins. If you die without accepting this and having faith in Jesus, you will merely be prolonging your suffering for eternity. Hell is not a nice place (see my article here), and if you go there then you are stuck there for ever. Sometimes I wonder what 10,000 years will be like in Heaven, because it is hard to imagine living that long. But 10,000 years in hell, with no hope of ever getting out, would be absolutely horrible. I heard someone once say "For the unsaved, earth is the closest to heaven they will ever get". If you think life is bad now, hell is going to be worse, so don't kill yourself before you know Jesus. Maybe learning more about Jesus will give you motivation to keep living. I have written an introduction to what it means to follow Jesus here.
How can Christians resist suicide?
Sometimes I wonder if Christians have a harder time dealing with suicide than secular people. An atheist might want to hold on to their life - no matter how bad it is - just because they think they will never get another one. It would also probably be easier to admit that they are dealing with depression and/or suicidal thoughts than for a Christian. Sometimes in the church it seems like we must put on a mask and pretend everything is going great. If it's not, people might think you're a 'bad Christian' or 'don't have enough faith'. Even admitting suicidal feelings to a trusted Christian friend can be difficult because of this stigma surrounding it. It's probably easier in the church to admit having a problem with pornography or alcoholism than with suicide. However, the very first thing you should do is get up the courage to talk to someone. Sometimes just getting it out and telling someone can offer a lot of relief. Christians and pastors can pray for you, and you can pray to God also. God can handle your disappointment, sadness, anger, and any other feelings you might have, and is perfectly fine to let it all out to Him - He knows what you're feeling before you say it (Matthew 6:8).
I have found that there are various teachings in the Bible that have helped me not give in to the temptation of suicide. I will go into more detail on each one below, in the hope that these may also discourage other Christians from wanting to commit suicide.
What Would You Think in Heaven?
The promises of heaven that Christians are taught about may seem so very appealing to someone who is suicidal. I will admit - I have been a Christian since I was a child, and would say I have strong faith - yet I also have had struggles with suicide in the past. I have longed at times to die and finally see heaven and Jesus, to not have to deal with doubts and to live in this often horrible, fallen, corrupted world anymore. But sometimes I think - what would I do if I actually did it and ended up in heaven right now? Would I feel relief? Or would I feel like "Well, maybe I could have put up with it for another day or two...". Would I feel like I had thrown in the towel early? Would I see disappointment on Jesus' face instead of a smile?
Like Paul, I want to be able to say at the end of my life "I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful."(2 Timothy 4:7). I don't believe I could say that if I gave into the temptation of suicide - it would be cutting the race short, or giving up when the finish line might be just around the next bend. No one knows how much time we have on earth. To quote Gandalf from the "Lord of the Rings": "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.".
Earth is a Training Ground
Christians should know that God has put us here on this planet for a purpose. Our life isn't a waste, and it is valuable. Our purpose here is to learn to love and serve God, love people, and spread God's word. Earth is a training ground. Life here is full of suffering, but "These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing."(2 Corinthians 4:17). In heaven, Christians will be priests (servants of God) and kings (servants of humanity) (Revelation 20:6). We will be judges (Revelation 20:4) and will even judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Our time on earth growing in knowledge, maturity, and love is what prepares us for these positions. "You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything."(James 1:3-4). If we cut our time on earth short, we might not be ready for the position God wants to give to us.
After Death, We Are Judged
When we die, we are immediately sent for judgement: "We die only once, and then we are judged."(Hebrews 9:27). And "Christ will judge each of us for the good or bad that we do while living in these bodies." (2 Corinthians 5:10). Also "We must each be careful how we build, because Christ is the only foundation. Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. We will be rewarded if our building is left standing." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). I would not want to kill myself when I could potentially have another year or two of time to do good things for God that I will be rewarded for in heaven. When I get suicidal thoughts I remind myself - "Am I really ready to face Jesus for judgement right now?".
The Hope of the Rapture
The doctrine of the Rapture (see my article here) is very helpful to discourage my suicidal thoughts. The Rapture is when Jesus will return to rescue Christians from earth and take us to heaven. It could happen anytime, but as I study the news and Bible prophecy I see that it may be coming very soon. I would feel stupid if I killed myself only to have the Rapture happen 2 months later. It's going to be one of the greatest events in human history, and I want to be here to see it and experience it. While it is true that dead Christians who are currently in heaven will be resurrected at the Rapture, any Christian who is alive when it happens will not experience death. Our bodies will be instantly transformed from imperfect and mortal to perfect and immortal. I want to know what that transformation will feel like, or if we'll even feel anything, and how surprising and exciting it will be to one minute be at work and the next to be in the clouds with Jesus. I don't want to miss this event, even if it means enduring this messed up world for a while longer.
How to Help a Suicidal Christian
I believe that sometimes Christians might not have the best advice for people who are suicidal. Many will probably drag out the "Joy of the Lord" lines - claiming that if the suicidal person was 'really' a Christian then they shouldn't be dealing with these issues because they would automatically have the "Joy of the Lord". This is completely not true. Christians can certainly be sad, angry, disappointed, and even depressed. A very good article I saw on what it feels like to be depressed and suicidal is here . I would recommend any person who wants to help someone who is suicidal read this article to know what it feels like. Don't treat the suicidal person's feelings as trivial or say "oh you'll get over it" or "life's not that bad - just be happy". In that moment the suicidal person's feelings are very strong and it does not seem like it will ever get any better. Instead, try to just be there for them and let them talk it out. Don't judge them. You can remind them of the things the Bible says about death and struggles in life which I have pointed out in this article.
There may be a physiological reason for the feelings which may lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. If you are consistently suicidal, perhaps it would be best as a first try to go see a doctor and tell them about it. Maybe there's a simple medical solution to help you feel better. After all, it can't hurt if your other option is wanting to die. Also, try to find a good counsellor or friend or pastor to talk to about it. It can't hurt to at least try to get some other opinions or advice first.
One of the interesting things I once read is about people who are "jumpers" - people who tried to kill themselves by jumping off a high object, but still lived to tell about it. The second after they make the choice to jump, they often get a new perspective on life: "Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day of 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home until later. 'I wanted to disappear,' he said. 'So the Golden Gate was the spot. I'd heard that the water just sweeps you under.' On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. 'I still see my hands coming off the railing,' he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, "I instantly realized that everything in my life that I'd thought was unfixable was totally fixable - except for having just jumped."
There is another piece of encouraging information: "A study by Dr. Richard Seiden of 515 people who were prevented from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge to a near-certain death found that 26 years later, 94% of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes. The study, Where Are They Now? (1978) 'confirmed previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature. It concluded that if a suicidal person can be helped through his/her crises, one at a time, chances are extremely good that he/she wont die by suicide later.'". So if you are contemplating suicide, trust this statistic that the feeling of wanting to die will pass if you can just resist for a little longer. When I needed to pass the feeling of suicide, I found that going to sleep until I could find someone to talk to was a good option. It prevents you from doing anything bad right then, and you might feel a little better after a good nap.
One of the quotes I read which helps me is: "You're going to die soon enough anyway; even if it's a hundred years from now, that's still the blink of a cosmic eye. In the meantime, live like a scientist - even a controversial one with only an ally or two in all the world - and treat life as a grand experiment, blood, sweat, tears and all. Bear in mind that there's no such thing as a failed experiment - only data.". Don't expect that you have to succeed in life - just take it as it comes and learn from everything whether it is good or bad. Then when it's over you will have succeeded knowing that you have learned everything God wanted you to learn and you are now ready for eternity. Scientific American - "Being Suicidal: What it feels like to want to kill yourself" by Jesse Bering
 New York State Office of Mental Health - "Means Restriction" by Gary L. Spielmann