As is often the case, I start study projects not knowing where my study of scripture will lead to.
This study project is possibly the most surprising.
(Just a warning. Please take a minute to collect yourself before commenting.)
Last week I heard that Rick Warren’s son Matthew Warren had died and I was admittedly surprised but also saddened by the news. Not only had he died, but he had committed suicide and had apparently made plans to do so for at least a short time (purchasing an unregistered gun online means it had been on his mind for days, if not more). I don’t state these things to revel in them or mock Warren’s pain, but only to point out that Matthew was a troubled man who had suffered from depression and had entertained suicidal thoughts for a long time (at least 10 years according to Rick).
I don’t delight in anyone’s pain and I’m definitely not going to try to pin the blame for Matthew’s death on Rick Warren (as some are doing). Christians who verbally revel in anyone’s grief and suffering are unquestionably sinning (Eph. 4:29-32) and possibly even giving those around them good evidence to doubt the authenticity of their claims to Christ (1 John 4:20-21). That being said, the issue of suicide is a thorny one for Christians, comes up fairly frequently, and is quite awkward when it comes up. I’ve heard many people attempt to give a “biblical” presentation on suicide but the pressure to give a favorable answer to the “do people who commit suicide go to heaven?” is incredibly strong; most say that Christians who commit suicide go straight to heaven and “Murder is sin and Christians have their sins forgiven so Christians who commit suicide are okay” or “Even a Christian can commit a grievous sin and be forgiven“, though everyone agrees that suicide is horrible and lamentable.
I don’t want to be arrogant or unloving, but the Bible talks plainly about suicide and is sufficient to give us an answer for this and all other questions.
***When I’m talking about suicide, I’m also talking about something along the lines of the general type of suicide addressed in reports like this. Generally speaking, I’m talking about people taking their lives as a (self-professed) last ditch effort to escape whatever situation/pain they’re facing and not people dying in some sort of self-inflicted way in war/by accident/against their will.***
The Bible mentions seven specific people who committed suicide: Abimelech (Jud. 9:54), Samson (Jud. 16:26-31), Saul (1 Sam. 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Sam. 31:4-6), Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23), Zimri (1 Kin. 16:18), and Judas (Matt. 27:5).
Now, right off the bat I’m basically going to dismiss Sampson as a relevant suicide simply because of 2 facts:
(a) His death was simply necessary for the slaughter of thousands of Philistines (Jud. 16:30). I’m sure if Sampson would have had another way to slaughter Philistines without it costing him his life, he would have.
(b) His death came about as the answer to prayer; God is the one who strengthened Sampson to collapse the temple of Dagon (Judges 16:28) and without God granting him his supernatural strength, he never would have died in the way he did.
Now again, not all actions resulting in one’s own death would be properly considered suicide. The death of Sampson was akin to a soldier going on a mission that he knows he will never return from; a “suicide mission” isn’t a soldier committing suicide but rather laying down his own life for the sake of the mission. It’s an honorable sacrifice and there’s nothing shameful about it (i.e. like Christ dying on the cross…). Sampson died honorably in war.
Let’s examine the other six suicides in order and make some observations:
1. Abimelech – Abimelech was the son of Gideon, judge of Israel. Abimelech murdered all 70 of his half-brothers (he was the son of a slave girl – Jud. 9:18) in order to be crowned king of Shechem. Only one of his brothers escaped: Jotham (9:4-5), who cursed both the men of Shechem and Abimelech (9:16-21). God then turned the leaders of Shechem against Abimelech (9:23) and did so because God intended to kill Abimelech for the murder of his brothers, as well as kill the leaders of Shechem (9:24). Abimelech then fought with the Shechemites and their new leader Gaal, son of Ebed (9:26-44), sacked Shechem (9:45), burned the tower of Shechem and killed everyone in it (9:46-49), and then moved on to lay siege against Thebez and the tower of Thebez in the same manner that he did Shechem and the tower of Shechem (9:50-52), but got a millstone upside the head that put him at death’s door (9:53). Out of trying to save his reputation, Abimelech got his armor bearer to run him through because it was better for a child to kill him than a woman (9:54). Judges 9:56 then closes off the story with “God repaid Abimelech for the evil he did to his father by murdering his seventy half-brothers.”
So Abimelech committed assisted suicide, but there are 2 things to note: (a) he was already mortally wounded in battle, and (b) God orchestrated the whole scenario to give him a shameful death. Abimelech was an evil man who did evil and was repaid for his evil by the Lord giving him a shameful death and I have serious fears about the eternal destiny of someone when God almighty puts out a hit on them.
2. Saul and his armor-bearer – Saul was in battle with the Philistines and his 3 sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-Shua fell (1 Sam. 31:2). Saul was then wounded by an archer (31:3) and asked his armor-bearer to kill him lest the Philistines would torture him but his armor bearer would not, so Saul fell on his own sword (31:4). His armor bearer then did likewise once he saw that Saul was dead (31:5).
This is a short death tale that closes the final chapter in the downward spiral of Saul. Saul is rejected by the Lord for his continual disobedience (1 Sam. 15) and his life then quickly spirals downward: the Lord sent a demon to torment him (16:14) and Saul was consumed by jealousy of David (18:8) that quickly turned into a murderous rage (18:10-11, 19:9). Saul had an irrational fear of David (18:12, 18:28-29) that led to Saul not wanting David around (18:3), setting up traps that he hoped would lead to David’s death (18:24-26) and outright commanding his soldiers to murder David when his traps didn’t work (19:1, 19:11). Saul hated David so much that he attempted to kill his own son when he thought they were in league (20:30-34), and Saul’s conspiracy theories consumed him so much that he even slaughtered 85 priests of the Lord and the entire city of Nob (22:11-19). Saul then pursued David for years, during which David spared his life twice and had to hide out among the Philistines (1 Sam. 23-30). By this time in his life, the Lord was no longer directing Saul and wouldn’t speak to him through any of the prescribed means (28:4-6) so Saul turned to a medium (28:7-8) who successfully contacted the dead prophet Samuel and delivered the Lord’s last message to Saul:
“Why are you asking me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy? The Lord has done exactly as I prophesied! The Lord has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David! Since you did not obey the Lord and did not carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this thing to you today. The Lord will hand you and Israel over to the Philistines! Tomorrow both you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand the army of Israel over to the Philistines!” (1 Sam. 28:16-19)
So at the end of his life, God said that he had turned away from Saul and called Saul his enemy. As for Samuel saying “tomorrow both you and your sons will be with me“, I would suggest that is talk of being with Samuel in death, not in Heaven (The Lord’s enemies aren’t in Heaven). Again, not a great way to go. God handed Israel over into the hands of the Philistines so that Saul would be killed.
3. Ahithophel – Ahithophel was the chief (military) adviser of Absalom; he gave Absalom counsel and Absalom rejected it in favor of the counsel of Hushai the Arkite (2 Sam. 17:1-14). Husahi passed the king’s plans on to the priests (1 Sam. 17:15-16) who passed them on to their sons, and their sons were seen but evaded capture and delivered Absalom’s plans to David (17:17-21) who successfully escaped Absalom’s army (17:22). 2 Samuel 17:23 reads “When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and returned to his house in his hometown. After setting his household in order, he hanged himself. So he died and was buried in the grave of his father.”
Again, this story has some interesting and negative details. Ahithophel has betrayed David’s rule and sided with Absalom, so David asked God to curse Ahithophel’s counsel ( 2 Sam 15:31). God fulfilled that curse when David left Hushai the Arkite behind in Jerusalem to confound the counsel of Ahithophel and report Absalom’s plans to David through Ahimaaz and Jonathan, the sons of the priests Zadok and Abiathar (2 Sam. 15:32-36). Ahithophel was the one who advised Absalom to defile David’s concubines on the roof of the palace for all to see (2 Sam. 16:20-22) and Absalom listened to this mad idea because Ahithophel’s counsel was spoken of as highly as that of the prophets of the Lord (2 Sam. 16:23). Ahithophel’s further counsel to Absalom was ignored because the Lord was against Absalom (2 Sam. 17:14).
Ahithophel was a man who was only as good as his last counsel, and once his counsel was not heeded, he had no reason to live (in his own mind). Ahithophel’s death was a sad end to a shallow man who was cursed by God. It seems like we’re seeing a pattern here, and it’s not a good one.
4. Zimri – This one is fairly straightforward. Zimri got the throne (for only seven days) by leading a revolt against Asa while the army was away (1 Kin. 16:15), but when the army found out about the coup, they made their commander (Omri) king instead of Zimri and returned to kill Zimri (16:16-17). When Zimri saw that the city was captured, he fortified himself in the palace and lit it on fire, killing himself (16:18). 1 Kings 16:19 gives divine commentary on the whole story of Zimri, saying “This happened because of the sins he committed. He did evil in the sight of the Lord and followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps and encouraged Israel to continue sinning.”
Again, not any sort of good or hopeful example. Zimri was an idolater in the same manner of Jeroboam, and he usurped the throne through a cowardly coup. He died in the manner he did due to his sins, and the Lord remembers him as an evil man. Not something you want on your tombstone, especially if the Lord has the chisel.
5. Judas – This one is also fairly straightforward. Judas is called the one “who had betrayed him” (Matt. 27:3) and when he realized what he had done, he unsuccessfully attempted to return the money he had been paid to betray Jesus (27:4). Judas tossed the coins into the temple, left and went out and hanged himself (27:5).
If there’s anyone in the scripture who is a bad test case of suicide, it’s Judas. Judas Iscariot, the one who plotted with Jesus’ enemies against him (Matt. 26:14-16). The one of whom it was said that it would have been better that he had never been born (26:24). The one who is known for all history as “the betrayer” (26:48). The one who was indwelt by Satan himself (Luke 22:3). The one who was a thief who ripped off Jesus’ money throughout his ministry (John 12:6). The one who’s betrayal had been foretold by David (Acts 1:16). Does anyone think that Judas, the Satan-possessed career thief is in Heaven?
It’s not something humorous or trivial, but every single instance of suicide in the Bible is an example of someone who is an enemy of God being punished for their sin. Let’s put it another way; nobody in the Bible really committed suicide. Everyone who dies at all dies at the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s circumstances, and in all the above examples the Lord put wicked men to death by their own hand.
Well, like if or not, that’s the consistent Biblical pattern and it’s not pretty. Every single example fully fits the pattern.
I’d even go further and suggest that God is in full control of every aspect of your life, including the end. The circumstances and deaths of wicked men in the Bible are always shameful and tragic (Ex. 14:27-29; Lev. 10:1-2; 1 Sam. 4:18; 1 Kin. 14:6-16; 1 Kin. 22:29-40; Acts 12:22-23, etc.), but the righteous seem to consistently die old and having lived a full life (i.e. Gen. 25:8, 35:29, 50:22; Num. 33:39; Deut. 34:7; Jud. 8:32; 1 Chron. 29:28; Job 42:17, etc.). The way a person exits this world isn’t any sort of infallible “report card” on their lives, but yet there is a fairly consistent pattern in scripture that is established by hundreds of examples and one would be foolish to ignore.
So what about martyrs? Well, I’d argue that their deaths, and all deaths for the sake of righteousness, are honorable (i.e. Rev. 20:4, Matt. 5:10-12).
What about people who die from illness? Accidents? War? Well, those things all occur and are not a consistent and direct result of personal sin; they’re part of living in a post-Genesis 3 world (1 Tim. 5:23; Luke 13:4).
What about people who chose suicide as opposed to another form of inevitable and imminent death? Well, that’s exactly what Saul and his armor-bearer did and the scripture paints him in a frightening light. Yet, the Bible has many other examples of the Lord saving people from what appeared to be inevitable and imminent death and portrays them all as examples of faith (i.e. David and Goliath, Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion’s den, etc.). It’s not like God is unable to save people in unfathomable and dire circumstances; his business card has the word Saviour on it in bold print (1 Sam. 10:19, 17:46-47; Ps. 7:10, 20:6, 37:40, 106:21; Is. 45:15; Hos. 13:4; Jude 1:25).
So am I saying that all people who commit suicide go to Hell without question?
I cannot say that because the Bible doesn’t explicitly spell that out (that decision is ultimately always up to God), and yet the scripture weighs fairly heavy against my efforts in trying to find all sorts of hopeful loopholes through which anyone and everyone can sneak into Heaven. The scriptures force me towards the following:
1. The Bible consistently paints a totally consistent picture of people who commit suicide dying outside of a right relationship with God and dying due to personal sin (as demonstrated above).
2. People who commit suicide often do so out of impulse (though not always), sure, but those murderous impulses are the tip of an iceberg of preceding sins that reveal a life characterized by continual sin (i.e. the life of Saul). Suicide is never the first sin but it’s always the last on long list.
3. Anyone who lives a life characterized by sin and claims to know God is a liar (1 John 3:6-10).
Generally speaking I would say that, it seems that as far as I see and understand scripture, Believers can’t commit suicide.
This isn’t to say that Christians are physically incapable of it, but rather that the action of suicide reveals an unbelieving heart.
Well, suicide is the exclamation point at the end of the statement “God cannot help”.
Suicide is hearing Paul say “And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19) and responding “not this need”.
Suicide is hearing Christ say “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29) and responding “Sorry Jesus. You’re wrong. Your yoke is heavier than this and and you cannot teach me to deal with this. You cannot offer my troubled soul rest.”
Suicide is hearing God say “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life” (Rev. 2:7) and responding “well, I don’t want to conquer this!”
Suicide is hearing the Spirit say “all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11) and responding “I will not be trained by this! I don’t want righteousness!”
Suicide is being overcome by fear like Elijah (1 Kin. 19:3), fleeing your problems like Elijah (1 Kin. 19:3), longing to die like Elijah (1 Kin. 19:4) and then running off and diving off a cliff instead of running to the Lord in the place where you can find him (For Elijah, it was at Horeb – 1 Kin. 19:8-18, but for Christians, it’s in the word of God incarnate and inscripturated – John 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3).
There is no possible sin or scenario that is beyond the power and grace of Christ to redeem you from if you call out to him for salvation and wisdom with a willingness to trust and obey.
As always, I welcome disagreement and correction. I’m sure many will have disagreement with me here.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger