A few years ago a friend asked me to preside at the funeral of his son, who had committed suicide after a long battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
I had known the family for a long time and watched his son grow up. He was funny, talented and most amiable. He and his dad worked together, shared the love of stock car racing, forming a father/son late model short track team. They were close, best buddies.
Along the way, sometime in his early adult years, the son went from alcohol to pills. He was unable to sleep, and as time went on, life just became unmanageable.
As the son entered his twenties, I didn’t see much of them, other than an occasional meeting at a store or restaurant. I wasn’t aware of the son’s troubles. When I met with the family after his death, I was shocked to hear the story.
His sister asked me, “Is suicide a mortal sin. Will my brother go to hell?”
Suicide is murder
Suicide is a sin, yes. It is an act of murder of one’s self. One can be forgiven for murder through confession, repentance and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Obviously, dead people don’t go through that process, but what was their spiritual state before the suicide? I don’t mean to be legalistic here, but I can truly tell you I don’t know what’s in a person’s heart.
The Bible tells us we are saved by the grace of God, through faith in Christ. That’s the simple truth of it. But who’s to say what a person believes? God knows this. I am no one to judge. The family had attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. They had a beloved pastor, so I am confident the love of God was shared with the family hundreds of times.
Only God knows a person’s heart
I spent several years working in behavioral health, first as a visiting pastor to a hospital specializing in mental health issues of all varieties, and later in several medical centers.
One important lesson that I learned early on was that I had no clue what a person’s mental state was in the moments leading up to their suicide. I cannot begin to imagine the torment and the utter feeling of hopelessness.
The factors that go into a person taking their own life are in too many cases, never fully explored or shared with family, friends or medical professionals. That is the most heartbreaking aspect of suicide. Nobody could help, or nobody was allowed to help.
Only God should judge
Our relationship with God is personal. People will pass judgment on suicide, rather than grieve with the family. They will talk like they know, but they don’t. It’s best just to shut up.
Take for example the disciples, who did not fully understand what Jesus was all about, and often showed their lack of knowledge by making brash statements or asking questions that proved to show their lack of understanding.
The Bible does not come right out an condemn suicide. Take the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Judas killing himself after betraying Jesus. Judas, full of remorse, commits suicide. Is that a “noble death?”
No way out!
When so many questions remain unanswered, or at least the answer seems ambiguous, that leaves plenty or room for study and debate.
I chose to view suicide, first as a tragedy, and secondly as a person’s mental and spiritual breakdown, leading them to a place where they truly believe there is no other way.