Suicide, Christians and the Church: A Reflection

I can remember driving down the highway in Virginia in a state of depression. I’ve slipped into depression – probably a milder form than many have experienced – two or three times in my life. One was during my first pastorate, back in the late 80s. Every Saturday I’d get a copy of the Richmond newspaper and peruse the help wanted ads to see if there was a way for me to provide for my family if I threw in the towel on ministry. Honestly, if I’d had a fall-back option then I’d probably not be in the ministry today. As I drove down the rural highway in Southside Virginia my mind was walking through the valley of deep darkness that David spoke of in Psalm 23.

I looked at trees in the median and thought I could just swerve the wheel into one of those and the pain would stop.

I never seriously considered turning the wheel, but I had a deep longing for death that was evidence of the hopelessness and despair in my heart.

It was a lie, a lie I was believing, one that insulted the God of heaven and gave glee to the accuser of the brethren. My life was not hopeless, not as long as God was there with me. My feelings deceived me. The situations that I felt were beyond repair have all worked out – some took a short time, some long, but God resolved them. God worked to restore my heart, my joy and my passion for Christ. It is always too early to despair when the Living God of heaven is your Father. By believing the enemy’s lie, I teetered on the edge of spiritual self-destruction. I thank God that he led me through the valley of deepest darkness and back to his light!

I’ve had too many friends and family fall over the precipice and leave the earth by their own hands. My wife’s brother took his own life 30 years ago and the family still grieves today. The toughest funeral I ever did was for one of my deacons, a close friend and pillar of the church, who took this path out of his problems. Just recently, a fellow Iowa pastor ended his own life, leaving a grieving family, a devastated church and a stunned and sorrowful convention. There have been many others through the years. Of course, the Southern Baptist family was rocked yesterday with another such tragedy.

Suicide is the most devastating form of death because of the scars it leaves in the souls of those who are left behind. Could I have done something? Why did I say what I said? Is this my fault? We are left wondering what was going on, obsessing on why this person we loved felt that this was their best option, engaging in self-recrimination and examination of every word, deed and conversation, and feeling guilty – not just a little guilt, but massive, soul-stealing, gut-wrenching, keep-you-up-at-night guilt! Suicide may be an act of physical violence committed against oneself, but it is the most horrendous act of spiritual violence imaginable against family and friends. It leaves hearts bleeding, spirits broken and souls wounded.

And the worst part of it is that there is little that anyone but the Savior can do to salve these wounds. We can be there to hold up the family. We can express our grief. We can offer what help we can give. But the wounds of suicide are such that we can do little except express unending, indefatigable love and support – for the next decade or two!

A family touched by suicide will never be the same. In 1979 I was in a skiing accident in Eldora, Colorado that left me with permanent injuries. I recovered and have completed marathons, played softball, basketball, soccer and a host of other sports. But the limitations and effects of that injury are always there. If I move or sit a certain way, I can get shudders of pain throughout my body. It’s been 35 years and I’ve lived my life, but the accident on the ski slope left injuries that never fully heal. That is what it is like for a family that has been touched by suicide. Perhaps, in time, they learn to go on with life, to walk and even run. But the pain is always there. Certain triggers will bring a stab of pain regardless of how many years go by. Sweet memories now soured by grief, shame and pain. A sudden burst of guilt and self-condemnation. Questions without answers. The limp of a battered soul.

The victims of suicide (family, friends, etc) will carry those scars as long as they live.

So, what can we do? What can we as Christians, as the church of Jesus Christ, do to help our grieving brothers and sisters, to alleviate their pain? I would make several suggestions. In general, I think the advice given in Todd Benkert’s excellent post on dealing with cancer victims applies here – both the positive and the negative. I would give the following as suggestions for helping people who are going through this kind of tragedy.

Thoughts on Helping Victims of Suicide

1) Pray. Then pray again. Then some more. Don’t just say, “I’m praying for you.” Actually do it. Keep praying for about 25 years. 

The promise of prayer is too often trite and empty, or even a lie. But prayer is our greatest resource in the moment of grief. I cannot heal the hurting but my God can. He is the Great Physician, the Balm of Gilead, the God of all comfort. We can go to him on behalf of a family member or friend and the fervent, faithful prayers of the Body of Christ help. We can pray comfort for the grieving; pray that God’s presence will surround them and sustain them.

2) Be present. 

If you call someone “Job’s friend” it is not a compliment. The friends of Job tried to make sense of his suffering and did so in a petty, theologically shallow and ineffective way. But what we often forget is that before they were horrible friends they were the best friends ever. They sat in silence with Job on the ash heap for 7 days. They were there. They were present. It was when they opened their mouths that they lost their place as the greatest comforters ever.

The greatest gift you can give is your continued friendship, your presence in the wounded life. It is a blessing to sit with a person the day of the death or to be there for the funeral. But in the days and weeks thereafter – that is when true friendship is needed. You become God’s physical therapist to help the hurting work through the healing process. Through your love, patience, fellowship and consistent friendship, God’s healing takes place.

Be there, not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

3) Cierra la Boca. 

Keep your mouth shut!  Job’s friends blew it by talking.

Of course, I’m not advocating actual silence. I’m just saying that you needn’t say anything witty, insightful, or life-changing in these situations. When you try to communicate something profound, it often comes out as a cliche, or trite, or condescending  – it is generally not helpful.

Unless you are the mentor or spiritual authority of the grieving person (and even then, tread lightly) it is not your job to sort all this out and explain the inexplicable. That was Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s mistake. They tried to tell Job exactly why this tragedy came upon him (they were wrong) and how he could make things right (again, they missed the mark). They didn’t understand God’s sovereign plan and were therefore wholly incapable of explaining it to anyone else. They spoke out of ignorance and made Job’s suffering worse.

It is NOT your job to explain the activity, purposes and plans of God in a specific situation. This is not the time for you to test drive your theology on a fragile soul.

When I visit a family that has suffered a tragedy, I generally warn them that they need to be prepared for people who want to help to say incredibly foolish things. There are only three things we need to communicate to a person in grief.

  • God loves you and I am praying he will sustain you through this. We do need to hold on to God’s sovereignty and love, but we do not have to understand all its intricacies. No one ever explained all the reasons for God’s actions to Job. He was just called to trust God. The solution is TRUST, not understanding everything. We must trust God even in the darkness when we can’t see where we are going or why he is leading us on this particular path. When you try to be God’s trail guide you do more harm than good. Point them to trust in God, not in your understanding of God’s workings.
  • I love you. While I don’t understand all you are going through, I care deeply about you.
  • I will be here for you every step of the way. As long as it takes.

Of course, then you have to follow through. Pray and be there. It is your actions, not primarily your words, that will help the suffering.

4) Be patient. 

This is going to be a long (lifelong) process. When someone has a sniffle, they snap out of it in a few days. When I had West Nile, it took a few weeks. But this is going to take years to heal, and even then there will still be the spiritual limp. You just have to be patient and faithful as a friend or as a church.

Along the way, don’t be surprised if you hear or see some things that both you. Grieving people can become so overwhelmed they evidence emotional instability and even bizarre behavior. Unless it is extreme (you never take a threat of self-harm lightly) you just weather the storm. People will sometimes even lash out at God. Job did. God can handle it. You don’t need to be the theology police to correct every little thing they say. Just assure them that God is good and faithful. Encourage them to trust God even if they do not understand his works.

When someone you love becomes the victim of suicide, you have a long task in front of you. You cannot cure the wound, but you can be an agent of God’s healing, if you point people to the goodness of God, show your constant and faithful love and endure in this grace.

 

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    There can be no doubt of the tragic event that provoked this post in my heart. But that was only the trigger. This post is not about any particular circumstance, but is intended more generally as a discussion of the devastating effects of suicide and how we as Christians can respond.

    This will NOT become a discussion of a particular individual or situation. I will monitor this discussion closely, as I can, will delete comments that are inappropriate and will shut down comments if needed.

    My heart sinks when I hear of suicide, having seen the devastation in wreaks on human hearts. I pray that we as believers and as churches will respond the right way, as agents of God’s healing, whenever such things happen.

    • margarita landry says

      I too cringe whenever I hear that word. Even now tears fill my eyes as I think about my adopted son who committed suicide this past March and I didn’t even give birth to him. I hate that word, but I know that at times I, too have wanted the pain to stop.

  2. Dale Pugh says

    Your words ring true, Dave. The first funeral I ever performed was for a man to whom I had ministered for several months. He left a portion of his suicide note to me, thanking me for the time I spent with him. The entire experience was soul-shaking to a 24 year old church staff member.

    Some years later, my brother-in-law took his own life. The problems he faced were temporary and conquerable, but he had no hope. It was a tragedy that still impacts our family 13 years later.

    No form of dying leaves so many questions unanswered, so many things unsaid, and so many people broken in its wake. Your post is true and good. Thank you.

  3. Emily Stubblefield says

    Tradgedy comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, suicide perhaps seems the most unthinkable in light of all the feel good, God is good messages that come from misguided beliefs of who God truly is. Maybe that is why it hurts so much, but the Bible never promised a perfect life this side of heaven, but rather our trials only make us long for heaven all the more. I spent years trying to seek the answers to why was my brother paralyzed for life 38 years ago, why did my sunday school teacher commit suicide, and others, why were other church members murdered, etc. We live in a fallen world, one we cannot fix, but that one day God will make all things right when Satan is forever cast into hell. In the mean time, our job is to love God and love others, simple it seems, yet we can really make it complicated. I’m learning that when I focus on my relationship with Christ then somehow I survive and God will turn it to something used for my own good or for someones elses, but He is always faithful, no tragedy will separate us from His love. But we truly need to pay attention to how we treat others because we bear the name of Jesus. We must be completely God focused, leaving the results to him. Thanks again for those reminders of how to appropriately respond in such dark times of pain and suffering.

  4. Greg Harvey says

    Thanks, Dave. It takes a combination of experience and wisdom–short of direction from God via directly revealed wisdom–to be able to offer these kinds of specific suggestions. In the case of Job one wonders exactly how long the difficulties lasted, but Job ascertained early that the difficulties were too closely linked to not have a supernatural explanation. And while God visited with Job “face-to-face”, scripture doesn’t record how much explanation or understanding Job received during this lifetime.

    The “why” question is our first effort to come to grips with that sense of divinely appointed (or at least permitted if not also incited) difficulty. If the righteous man Job–mentioned by God to Satan–couldn’t comprehend, one has to wonder where all of the rest of us go mining for pyrite nuggets of “golden advice”…

  5. Jess says

    Dave,

    This is an outstanding post it is needful and applies to any form of death, especially suicide, and the depression that can lead up to it.

    I have a lot more to say about suicide and depression, but not at this time.
    I’m not an expert on these subjects but I know enough to say you are spot on. Experience has taught me what deep depression is like and what it can lead to.

    Family members who have lost someone to suicide so desperately need our love and compassion.

  6. says

    As someone who once was actively cutting myself, and very likely days away from committing suicide before two friends invited me to their church, this issue always touches home for me. And I struggle with it because my personal views of suicide make it hard for me to open up to others as may would view my words as unkind. I wonder how I will be able to be a minister, and minister to families who have lost loved ones in this way, if everything I believe theologically tells me they would not like what I have to say. Because in praying for, and ministering to that family, the issue is going to come up. Obviously there are times to talk about some subjects and a time not to talk about them, and talking about such a thing with a grieving family is a no-no, but again, the subject will come up. I honestly don’t know how I would deal with this situation.

    • Dave Miller says

      Are you one who believes suicides are excluded from heaven? That is a common view – one with which I disagree but common nonetheless.

        • says

          To put one who sacrifices themselves for the sake of others in the same category of someone who takes their own life in a fit of depression is frankly revolting. But given the tone of this thread, and the fact that if I spoke my mind, I likely would be told to shut up (or indeed have my posts moderated), I will refrain from saying anything further.

          • volfan007 says

            Suicide doesn’t send anyone to Hell, no more than a Christian, who had a moment of weakness, and got drunk and hit a tree and died, will go to Hell…..we are saved by grace. And, NOTHING….absolutely nothing….can separate us from God… not even suicide.

            David

          • John Wylie says

            SVM,

            No one told you to shut up or took a negative tone with you. All anyone did was disagree with you. It is possible to disagree without taking it personally. I’m sorry that you found my comment revolting but Samson did commit suicide.

          • Jess says

            svmuschany,

            Sir, with all respect you have no idea of what deep depression is and can do to the human mind. One loses touch with reality and doesn’t even realize what they are doing. Often they don’t even realize they are depressed until it’s too late.

            God created the mind, and he also knows how frail it is, Sometimes the mind goes before we do. Chemical imbalance causes depression, it hits some even though they haven’t went through anything that would cause it.

            Mentally ill people are like children, they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. God understands this. Depression is mental illness.

            If you are a Christian before depression, you are a Christian during depression with whatever it may bring.

            People don’t have fits of depression.

          • says

            First I ask clarification. Was your comment Dale directed to my general view of suicide and salvation? Or to my comment about comparing a sacrificial act to a suicide? The former I could understand, the latter I find repulsive.

            As for the general discussion, I have found that no matter how in-depth of a biblical based exegesis I give on the topic of suicide and salvation, inevitably it boils down to a person reacting very forcefully against me, getting very angry, because I am saying their loved one is in hell. For these people, there is no discussion, there is no rational debate on the topic, there would never be enough bible verses to show them. They have closed their minds because they cannot tolerate the idea. I find this is very similar to dealing with people who believe there are multiple roads to salvation. Ultimately, they will resort to saying “So my (fill in the blank) is in hell!!!” and promptly reject anything I was saying.

            But allow me to briefly put forth my views.

            Exodus 20:13 speaks to murder. The Hebrew word used means to take a life unjustly. It is not simply to kill, or to take a life, but rather to do so with out just cause. Thus why a soldier or a police officer, or indeed a person defending their family against an armed robber is not a sin in Gods eyes. So then we must ask, is taking ones own life, in a fit of depression, just or unjust? I would argue that suicide is never a just taking of ones live, suicides never have a “valid” reason. (This takes me back to my strong opposition to grooping suicides with those who sacrifice themselves for others. The one who jumps in front of a speeding bus to kill himself is no where close to the same moral standing as the one who jumps in front of a speeding bus to push another person out of the way, even knowing they will die in doing so. Those two people have NOTHING uncommon, and to compare the suicide to the one who sacrifices themselves is just repugnant).

            I also point to 1st Corinthians 6:19-20. Our bodies are not our own. They belong to God for His glorification. Taking that life, with out just cause, is thus destroying God’s temple, God’s possession. It therefore becomes an act not just against oneself, but against God. It is the intentional and willful destruction of someone else’s property.

            I point to the change that happens in the life of a Christian (Ephesians 4, 2 Corinthians 5, Colossians 3, ect), that is the old flesh is done away with, and the new life is born. This of course does not mean that Christians will refrain from sinning (1st John 1 is quite clear that they will sin), but it does mean that a Christian will walk in a way that is different than before. They now have someone to lean on when things get tough. I do openly question how a true believer can be so depressed that they commit suicide. If Christ is in their lives, then how would He let them do that?

            Again I speak from experience. In a very depressed state, I was actively cutting myself. It was only God, by His Sprit, through my two friends, that I am alive today. He brought me to salvation. Now, since that point, I have had times of depression that are even greater (real problems as apposed to teenage made up problems) and yet no thoughts of suicide. Why? Because when I am in my greatest periods of despair, I fall on my knees and pray. Are my problems quickly solved? No! But I have Jesus in my life as my savior. That is what the “new life” is all about. We have something greater that dwells in us as believers.

          • says

            Jess…you do not know my life at all. Yes I do know what depression is. This is the second time you have accused me of something (the first time accusing me of being a liberal). I will ask you to stop trying to tell me who I am or what I have experienced.

          • says

            BTW, John, Jess’s comment is exactly what I was afraid was going to happen. People saying I don’t know what I am talking about, all but telling me to shut up, and ending the conversation before it could ever begin. I have gone through this before, and this is exactly why I was hesitant to even start this to begin with.

          • John Wylie says

            SVM,

            I really have to be honest with you brother I have been reading your comments for years, and you almost always resort to forceful language as soon as someone expresses disagreement. When you take that tone with people they usually reciprocate.

          • says

            I agree John that at times I do have a problem with controlling the tone of what I am saying. I am earnestly doing my best to bring that under control, and removing myself from some comment streams is one way in which I am trying to do so. Case in point, my initial post in this very topic. I was questioned on it, and responded to someone else’s commong (i.e. Samson equated to someone committing suicide, something that I strongly don’t agree with), and from there we have snowballed.

          • John Wylie says

            SVM,

            I appreciate your comment and the truth is that we could all work on our tone from time to time. It’s not just you, I definitely get sharp tongued too often.

          • Adam G. in NC says

            SVM, regardless of diversions about tone, you made some clear points in stating your case. I tend to agree…but that doesnt mean my flesh doesnt wish the opposite were true.

          • Dale Pugh says

            My comment was directed toward your general view of suicide and salvation. Sorry that I wasn’t clear. I should have simply asked what scriptural support you find for such a view.

          • Bill Mac says

            SV: To boil it down, I think you are saying that there are just some sins that a true Christian cannot commit, and that murder (of self or someone else) is one of them. Am I reading you right?

            William Cowper is considered a great Christian hymn writer. It is my understanding that he attempted suicide 3 times.

            This is not an attempt to be disrespectful of your beliefs or your struggles, but I think your views are more in line with certain Holiness type denominations. I do not really believe that all sins are equal, but there is a danger in the categorization of sins and the belief that the “old man” cannot surface and make us commit some of them. Your view also discounts the effects of true mental illness on the behavior of a person, regardless of their religious convictions. I would ask you to consider this.

          • John Wylie says

            And Adam it was SVM who first mentioned tone whether or not you regard them as “diversions”. And if murder is unforgivable King David won’t make heaven.

          • says

            I chime in to simply say this statement is in error if it is making reference to Samson,

            “To put one who sacrifices themselves for the sake of others…”

            This year I preached through the book of Judges and spent months on Samson. It is difficult to find any reason why Samson attacked the Philistines except for personal revenge. The Bible is clear the motive for him taking his life and in the process killing a large number of Philistines was his own revenge. Judges 17:28, “O Lord God remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

            He was not fighting for God or Israel but for revenge for his eyes being poked out. There is honor in his last action but to attribute it as sacrificing himself for the sake of others, in my opinion, is mishandling the passage.

          • Adam G. in NC says

            John W, for what its worth, King David repented. So did Moses. I dont think svmuschany is talking about “perfection” here. He has put forth a good argument based on regeneration and perseverance.

            I’m really not dogmatic about this, but I my conscience wont let me freely confirm that a suicide is in heaven.

          • John Wylie says

            Was David a lost man until he repented of the murder? If one has to repent of every individual sin before death no one is going to make it.

          • says

            Wasn’t that one of Luther’s problems, until Romans 1 and the power of the Gospel finally clicked?

            I seem to recall that he kept trying to make sure he confessed everything, and felt despair that he would die having missed something.

            Thing about that whole concept: God’s memory is much better than ours ever will be, and yet He chooses to allow the blood of Jesus to pay for all our sins. Even the ones we can’t remember or confess.

          • says

            David’s repentance was evidence that he was not lost. If the sin was revealed and he continued in rebellion the story could possibly be different.

            Yes, God’s memory is better and not all of our sins (that are covered by the blood) ever come to our own knowledge, but the one’s that the Holy Spirit does bring to light…we repent and prove our salvation is real.

            “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
            Martin Luther – Theses#1

  7. D.L. Payton says

    Dave
    IMO your best work in the year or so that i have been involved with “voices”. This has touched our family and to be sure there are tears still shed 40 years later. Our family has seen its share of death and untimely death. However, some closure came with these. Closure regarding suicide seldom seems to come.
    As a pastor, when I preached a funeral because of suicide I never felt that i ever said much worth hearing.

  8. Nick Horton says

    I lost my father to suicide. There is no deeper wound on my soul nor any thinner scar than that. I will carry that pain and its effects for my whole life.

    Thanks, Dave.

  9. Kay Rucker says

    Dave,
    As one who is going through the devastation caused by suicide, I must share that knowing prayers are being said for me and my family is so comforting, so you are right when you say to pray. I would also agree with just being there for someone who is going through this tragedy. Just today, I was going through a rough moment. I called a friend who offered to meet me and just listen to me and allow me to cry. Nothing major had to be said or done, she was just there for me. I would also encourage people to let those grieving know you are indeed praying for them and that you haven’t forgotten them. When I’m having a rough day, just a text, call or card reminding me I’m not forgotten can lift my spirits. Thanks for your post and your insights.

    • Dave Miller says

      Kay, your willingness to talk publicly about the struggles you’ve gone through has helped others to help you, I think.

  10. Jess says

    Dave,

    I want to say again that your post is excellent, people need to take heed to it and understand it clearly in order to help people that has lost someone to suicide.

    During my depression I had a church member ask me what am I depressed about? He told me when he feels down he just prays it away.
    When one is in deep depression they don’t feel like praying, at least I didn’t. I knew I was saved and on my way to Heaven even though God seemed so far away. Depression makes one feel alone, and there is no one to help. Many people do a good job of trying to hide depression before it get’s the best of them. I don’t know if prayer helps during a time of depression. I do know a doctor can.

    I look back on it and say God had to have carried me through it even though I didn’t know it. I often ask why did God let me go through depression? Why didn’t God put a stop to it before it got started. I may never know the answer.

  11. Michael Dropps says

    Svmuschany – by cutting yourself you damaged God’s property. Are you going to hell as well? If you’re thinking of going into ministry, for the sake of those who are lost or hurting due to the suicide of a loved one, please don’t. Your basic interpretation of the scriptures will likely lead to more tragedies of this nature if it hasn’t already. Are you 100% sure your interpretation is the correct one? You show here that you do not know the heart of God. If you’re not 100% sure, and quite frankly there’s no way you can be, you’re doing much more harm than good to people who are already grieving and likely on the verge of suicide themselves. You should strongly reflect on that before continuing to speak.

  12. William Thornton says

    SV gets credit for candor and for asking how, in view of his beliefs on the subject, he would be able to minister in such situations. One of the questions a pastor gets is about suicides, can a saved person commit this act? Does the act reveal the lostness in that person’s heart sufficient that a firm determination of their destiny, hell, may be made?

    Those who answer “no” (a true Christian will not) and “yes” (they are in hell) are not long for the pastoral ministry, I’d guess. The position is a deal breaker for most. SV seems to rely more on his experience than any biblical basis.

    If that line of thinking is true then we have to also conclude that Christians cannot get seriously depressed or that God always rescues them if they do.

    Dave sez keep your mouth shut. Good advice.

    • says

      Just for disclosure: I logged in and edited one word in your comment… Pretty sure in that last line you meant “shut”, but that wasn’t quite what the word said…

    • says

      William, thank you for being more tactful than Mr Dropps. But I did want to highlight something that you said and challenge you on it. You are saying that the position I currently hold in regards to the salvation of those who commit suicide, is a deal breaker for most, and I may not find many places in the ministry that would allow me to hold that view. Ok, I accept that, and maybe even agree. But, I also would point out that there are many places and many churches that would hold the same dim view of the position that the only way to heaven is through Christ, and those who do not know Christ, no matter how “good” they are, are in hell. Many churches and faith groups hold to the view that as long as you are “good” enough, you are going to heaven and get very outraged that you would suggest otherwise. Now of course, I am sure you would disagree, and that you have very good (and I would personally say correct) biblical positions that refute that argument. But, that said, that other side would very likely say that you would rely more on experience and feelings, rather than any biblical basis. It is a very interesting parallel. And I hope, even if you disregard where I draw my biblical positions from you can at least recognize the potential error of simply brushing anything someone says as being based on experience and not on the bible. If the only people who really study and use the bible correctly are people who argue positions you agree with, then you may end up being alone in studying the bible correctly.

      • William Thornton says

        SV, you offer a false choice in this. Perhaps you just aren’t clear. Is a suicide ipso factor lost?

    • William Thornton says

      …autocomplete error. Don’t think Dave’s vocabulary is quite that scatological.

  13. says

    We need more posts like this one to remind Christians to “weep with those who weep” and care for hurting people around us. There is no quick-fix for trauma. We need to commit to sustained care, fellowship and friendship as we bear one another’s burdens.

  14. cb scott says

    If suicide is unforgivable, what is the fate of a Christian who has taken the life/lives of other people? Is it not true that only blasphemy of he Holy Spirit is unforgivable?

    • Terry Collier says

      You are right, CB. I lost an employee to suicide a year ago this month. Jeff was a Believer and played guitar with the praise team at his church. I may have been the last person to speak to him as he left my office that evening. The Devil may have won that battle here. Jeff could have accomplished so much more in this life. But, I have no doubt that he went to heaven and will witness the final defeat of the darkness that drove him to do what he did.

  15. says

    The people whom I’ve met who believe that suicide sends one to hell automatically were either a) Catholic – based on their false theological system, and b) Arminians (mostly charismatics/pentecostals) who believe that since there is no opportunity to repent and because the act is so horrific, that the person dies outside a state of grace.

    If a person CAN lose their salvation, then it seems reasonable to say that suicide would be such an instance. If I remember, David Wilkerson argued this view strongly.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Calvinist articulate such an opinion. Not in my memory anyway.

    If salvation is by grace and not by works, if it rests on the righteousness of Christ, then an act of unrighteousness, even one as heinous as suicide, does not cost the person their salvation.

    To argue that suicide is evidence that the person was never really saved is founded on a faulty view of sanctification. It is one of my quarrels with some branches of Calvinism – their view of sanctification – who say that Christians cannot backslide or fall into sin. If we couldn’t, why would we so often be admonished not to sin, not to walk in the flesh, not to love the world, etc.

    A Christian – one truly born again, blood-bought, bound for heaven, indwelled by the Holy Spirit – can backslide into sin. Adultery. Dishonesty. Materialism. And even suicide.

    So, SVM, I appreciate your willingness to come on here and share your views. But I think they are without biblical basis and I hope you will reexamine them in the light of the Word of God and put them aside. Suicide is a terrible thing. But it is not an act that costs one the salvation they have in Christ, nor is it something that is impossible for a Christian to do.

    • says

      In regards to Arminian views of the eternal destiny of those who commit suicide, I think the official position paper of the Assemblies of God is both informative and helpful:

      “…questions that deal with eternal destiny cannot be decided by the survivors. They must be left in the hands of God who is all knowing, all loving, and forever merciful and just. Recognizing the limits of human knowledge and the gracious nature of the Lord, the church can minister effectively in the midst of brokenness and pain.”

      and elsewhere…

      “Family members should be counseled to leave the matter of eternal destiny in the hands of the Lord. He alone knows the thoughts and intent of the heart as well as the mental condition of the victim at the time of the suicide.”

      • Dave Miller says

        In one sense, this is always true. It is not my job as a pastor to determine whose relationship with Christ was real and whose was not.

        However, If a person made a profession and gave evidence of his (or her) faith prior to wandering into sin, despair, depression, or whatever it was that led to suicide, then I would not, certainly, rule out heaven.

        The other side of this is that many who kill themselves are evidencing forms of mental illness. Bipolar. Severe depression. Schizophrenia. Whatever. The illness takes away their reasoning ability and they kill themselves not as a true choice but because of the effects of the illness.

        To say that someone in extreme bipolar depressive episode can’t go to heaven if they commit suicide seems both cold and beyond scripture.

    • Adam Blosser says

      It’s interesting to note that while we are called to be fruit inspectors in a sense, we are never instructed to inspect the fruit of those who have died. The only righteous judge will take care of that. Suicide might be the fruit of an unregenerate heart, or it might be evidence of remaining sin in a genuine believer. We live in a fallen world and the effects of this fallen world will not be completely undone until Christ returns.

      It is best to focus on weeping with those who weep and pointing them to the God of all comfort. Thanks for this post, Dave.

  16. says

    Dave – very good article.
    The sin of suicide is one sin that wounds others for the remainder of their time on earth. Every time I hear of a suicide my heart hurts because of what that person must have been feeling, and because of what a family and circle of friends are now feeling. I have dealt with many suicide situations in the ministry, and there is nothing to say or do that aids the family . . . outside of the fact that we know this is separation is a temporary arrangement; if the person was saved.

    I have found, and found out personally, that the only salve, the only reality that provides a modicum of emotional stability is the fact of the security of the believer.

    The security of the believer knows no exceptions . . . if there were, there would be no security at all. That being said, while we do not always feel what we know, at the very minimum, we do have something TO know.

    Death regardless of how it comes, is a temporary arrangement for the child of God. Like our Lord, we are placed in a borrowed piece of ground, for a finite amount of time. Knowing that this is the unchangeable future for twice born people is the only thing I have ever found in scripture to provide stability for those left behind in such a tragedy.

    • Jess says

      Jeff,

      Sir, you used the term “sin of suicide”, would you elaborate on that statement a little more? Are you referring to all suicides? How can one be guilty of taking ones own life if they have mental illness as far as not knowing any better because of their condition. I’m referring to Christians in particular.

      With this line of reasoning when infants die there is no hope for them, because they don’t know the difference between right and wrong either. Infants cannot accept Christ as savior.

      I do agree with your basic line of thought, but I think we should be careful with the term “sin of suicide”. If it will not be held against a Christian that has come down with mental illness, why should we hold it against them when God is the only righteous judge.

      • says

        Jess –

        I think you would need to define for me a little more clearly your term of “mental illness.”
        All mental illness is not necessarily equal to an infant prior to the age of accountability. I do understand your point, however ignorance of right and wrong does not always shield someone from being guilty of sin.

        I think your issue is different.

        There is no doubt that suicide is a sin. It is a sin against the body, a sin against the Lord; self murder is murder.
        I think your issue has to do with imputation of guilt. Does depression render someone incapable of knowing right from wrong? Does all depression constitute “mental illness?” Does all “mental illness” expunge someone from moral responsibility?
        I think your question is along the lines of those questions.

        I will however contend that in “laboratory terms” that suicide is self-murder, which is a sin. Your question, in my opinion, is a different question. (but thanks for the dialogue)

  17. says

    Some of your responses to what I believe are thought provoking and I will think, pray, and study scripture on them. Believe it or not, despite my occasional “tone” I am very open to have my views changed if they need to be changed (I use to be a hard core Word of Faith styled Arminian for goodness sakes…THAT was a change!). To you who offered genuine opposition, critique, and rebuke I thank you.

    But, to people like Michael Dropps…I say, perhaps you should look in the mirror. Your comments were not helpful. If that is how you council all young men seeking the ministry, perhaps it is you who should stop. Constructive criticism is one thing, which many here have done, but your comments were not constructive. Are you really suggesting that holding a particular view of suicide is disqualifying to the ministry? What other theological positions would you say you cannot hold if you want to be in the ministry? Clearly you are an expert so let us know.

    • D.L. Payton says

      SMV
      I disagree with you on this point. However, my brother, I sense that you are a man of God who takes scripture seriously and one who is determined to walk with the Lord in obedience. You are my brother in Christ. As far as a “tone” goes we all have that issue at times, at least I do. I think a man who is serious about scripture, as you are will be passionate about what he believes. There is a very thin line between passion and “tone”. It is easy to cross.

      • Kate Roll says

        Christians follow the great Shepard for they know his voice. They follow out of love, not fear. Encouraged that he will never leave nor forsake them. Seriously serious with joy, love for all by the grace that I have received. Tone is equivalent to a velvet sledge hammer. Love has it’s own harmony that even the rocks respond to.

  18. Cindy VanWienen says

    Dave-
    Thanks for a timely response on suicide of a loved one. After reading Todd’s
    wonderful post on dealing with cancer, I too applied that to our situation now. We lost our son (my stepson) a little over a month ago to suicide. It has been the worst thing that’s ever happened in our lives since we’ve been married. Nevertheless, the outpouring of love in family, church family, friends, and knowing that people are genuinely praying for us keeps us going. While the questions will not be answered, along with well meaning people’s answers, I personally believe that the most important thing is to keep praying! When asked what can we do for you, I say pray please. We draw strength from God through the prayers of His people. Some days are hard to pray, so you all pray on our behalf when we can’t, when we weep and cry out in pain. When we pray for others we draw close to Him, He sustains us to go on. I praise Him for His goodness, even through the pain.
    Thanks again, I am grateful for for all of your posts in SBC Voices.

  19. Paula Cook says

    Mr. Miller,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I don’t usually post on discussions, such as this but can’t move on without sharing some thoughts after reading some of the comments. The definition of suicide “is the act of killing yourself because you do not want to continue living.” http://www.m-w.com. Although I believe suicide is a forgiveable sin, the eternal penalty of the act is not mentioned in the Scriptures. After someone passes on, the point is moot and it is of no value to try to determine.

    But I do have to ask how many millions of people are committing a slow suicide when they don’t take care of their bodies? How many sodas are you consuming? How many fried foods are being ingested? How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating each day? Do you smoke and/or drink?This may sound trite compared to all the theological babble being spewed on this board but this is practical every day living. This is where the rubber meets the road. When you go to the MD and are told that you will live longer if you eat better and exercise, are you doing so? If not, you are committing a slow suicide. Now let’s talk about how God views the upkeep of the holy temple He entrusted in your care. And yes, God does plainly talk in Scriptures about how your body is His temple. I Corinthians 6:19.

    Thank you.
    Paula

  20. John says

    I am a graduate of the school where Dr. Caner is president. I admit, I was amazed at the trustees decision to choose him. I also live not far from where his young son’s funeral will take place. And I too have been at the point of contemplating ending my own life. After 27 years of marriage, my spouse left me and vehemently denied the Christian faith, after having been the wife of a minister for 26 years. I don’t feel that way anymore, but I did. And even when I didn’t, I prayed to die. I’ve seen many people come to Christ, but the one whose soul I felt the most responsibility for turned away from me, God, and the church in dramatic fashion. If Gilead ever produced a balm, they don’t sell it at Walgreen’s anymore.

    But every day gets better. There will be joy again. Some day. My Christian friends shake their heads in pity. There is nothing helpful to say. And that is how I feel about this family today. Nothing useful is forthcoming. Debates and discussions about eternal destinies will not be of any use to them today. They didn’t help me either. Friends want to help. They want to remove your grief or take up your offense. They want to be present. And they should be. But on days such as this, they are invisible. They will only re-materialize or make sense in retrospect. I don’t know who is in heaven. The matter is less and less interesting to me every day. I only know who is here, living out the Kingdom for my sake. And for this families’ sake. That is all I know. Everything else is pure speculation. This is a matter you will never tease out of the biblical text in any way that is self-evident. There may be some implied meaning, but there is not something on which you can base a foundational doctrine of suicide. Tragedy happens. God is present. At least that is what keeps me on this side of sanity.

    • William Thornton says

      If you were anywhere near, I’d buy you lunch. Would love to meet you.

      • John says

        Thank you, my friend. And I would eat it with relish.

        I am still in ministry, albeit not a pastorate. Those people are crazy. In fact, probably more visible, so I don’t give my last name here. People who know me would figure it out anyway.

        I have come to appreciate this quote from Max Lucado:

        “If pride goes before a fall, shame keeps you from getting up after one. God loves us even in our pride and shame.”

        Sometimes we fall even without pride. Nevertheless. God.

        I am neither a critic nor a fan of Dr. Caner. I respect the role he is in. He is not in my congregation, so I feel no need to say anything about his past, present, or future. Except I see a father. And I am one as well. And right now, I just feel sadness. Deep, deep sadness.

  21. says

    Dave’s article is great advice for ministering to victims of suicide. We all should mark the post and keep it for future reference.

    Matthew Warren’s suicide forced evangelicals, especially Southern Baptist, to consider mental health issues more seriously than we had before. Some pastors’ greatest strength is the ability to know their weaknesses and some pastors’ greatest weakness is failure to recognize their deficiencies. Some issues most pastors are not equipped to deal with. I encourage pastors to refer matters of depression, bipolar, anxiety and the such to Christian counselors. If the prince of preachers, Spurgeon, was not able to discover the key to victory over depression most of us will never locate it as well. We shouldn’t shun our responsibilities to give Biblical counsel and pray for our flock but inviting a trained Christian counselor to join us at our side may be the most pastoral thing we could ever do for the suffering.

  22. justin says

    Great thoughts. Wish I had read this before I took my first pastorate. My first funeral service was the suicide of a deacons daughter on her sisters grave…while I was in the Parsonage next door. I still look back and wish that I could minister over to that family. Praying your words will help another young pastor handle things with more grace and mercy.

    • D.L. Payton says

      Justin
      That situation would have been difficult regardless of how many books one has read. WoW my brother, that must have been tough. I have done 6 funerals of folks who committed suicide in my 50 years of ministry, and I never really felt I said much worth hearing.

  23. says

    Dave, you’ve nailed it. I have ministered in such circumstances. Your words are right on. God bless you for sharing your heart and for giving a God-centered and biblically based perspective. Thanks again.

  24. says

    To Everyone:

    Since this post came out, a pastor in our association has also committed suicide. Please be praying for Tony Colburn’s family & church, Winnwood BC here in Kansas City. His service is Monday morning.

  25. says

    Great article. It is as important to know how to minister to a family who has suffered the loss of someone who committed suicide as it is to know how to minister to someone who suffers from clinical depression and try to prevent suicide. Unfortunately, that kind of knowledge is in short supply. Thanks for contributing to resolving that shortcoming, Dave.

  26. says

    Dear Dave, when you were going through depression in the late 80s, so was I. The only difference would be that in my case, the church I was pastoring would eventually fire me. From that date on, I never could get another church or a full time job. Did get some temp jobs and one interim. It was really hard, difficult and down right depressing for one who had been raised to believe and be guided by the principle of earning your own living. In the years since that firing, depression has been a frequent problem. However, the worst form of depression came nearly 50 years ago, after the disruption of my first marriage. That brought me to seriously consider the act of suicide. I even got a gun out one Sunday after church (I was not pastoring then and do not blame the preacher or his sermon) and put it to my head. The only reason I did not go all the way is to be ascribed to God. He had other plans. More than a half year later, friends introduced me to the lady who became my wife. She would raise my daughter from the first marriage and bear me a son who is our pastor. I realize now what I would have missed, and it has been one of the reasons that I have not given away to utter despair in the face of the situation that happened after my last church fired me nearly 18 years ago. God has His purposes in these terrible events.

    I think of my childhood and being deprived of both parents for 11 years and then of losing my mother and two half-sisters and step-father in a murder-suicide tragedy. Some two years later I shared some of that even with my fellow students in a Doctor of Ministry Colloquium, the majority of whom were offended by what I had to say about believing God was in control of that tragedy to make it turn out for good. They even said so. The person who saved the day that day was Dr. Edward Pruden who had been President Harry Truman’s pastor. He spoke up and said, “I don’t know but what I agree with what Mr. Willingham has said. Years ago our son was attending Campbell College and living in off-campus housing. One night a space heater leaked gas, and he was asphyxiated. If I did not believe God was in control of that loss to make it turn out for good, I do not know what I would do.” His words ended the criticisms. Let me say here that while I believe God controls such evils to make them turn our for good, as witness our Lord’s crucifixion, yet I am bound by the fact that He does not tempt any man to sin. His tests are to help us see where we are on the road of life. Perhaps. In any case, the real explanations will come to us in the next life.

    I would like to add that I had the experience in a dream of hearing the Lord explain why these things happened. My wife and I were standing in a semicircle around a young Jesus (sort of like the picture of Him answering the scribes in the temple). We were telling Him about these tragedies, and He was us how He saw them and we were laughing. It was not a sick laughter; it has a happy laughter like we had heard the only thing that could answer such issues. Then the thought came to me: “This is the Lord. What am I doing standing here talking to Him.” with that I dove at His feet and woke up.” Definitely an unwelcome happening. However, what is remarkable is that I heard our Lord commenting on and explaining such sad events, but I do not know what He said, not one word of it. After all, the many tragedies in my life, and I had a friend whose tragedies far exceeded my own in number and severity, I am willing to wait for our Lord’s explanation in the next life, if He thinks such is necessary. One does not know what God accomplishes in such cases, but the cases of Joseph, Job, and our Lord Jesus are suggestive, pointing in the direction of a solution and resolution. Praise His Holy Name.

      • D.L. Payton says

        He has, and that is one reason i am proud to have him as my brother-in-law. I married his sister. In the midst of his grief in the family tragedy, he was a great positive influence on my wife as they walk through that situation.

        • says

          Well, Dear Brother, it was a two way influence. You and my sister were also a great positive influence on me and my wife as walked through that situation with both of you. I could not have asked for a better family in such misery. Dave needs to meet our pastors (ours and yours), Craig and Greg, one a toddler and the other a baby in arms at that time. Seems like God often blesses richly in what follows such griefs. Try me again, Dave, on that email link. I lose it cause I ain’t brightest kid on the block when it comes to computers. Sandy wants his story told, too. I can still hear his last mournful howl as he died.

          • D.L. Payton says

            The reason sandy died is because you sister used to “spank”him with a ruler for barking/talking in class, when she played teacher and sandy was the student.

          • says

            D.L., That is bad, bad about Sandy. I never suspected that he died of a broken heart due to a teacher whacking him with a ruler. After all, he was a tender hearted dog in the live stock and life saving business, while amusing others. (I thought I would die laughing, when I read that).

          • says

            No doubt about his spelling problem, but it never hindered him from getting his message across. Grandpa once tried to rub a salve on a wound on his hip. Grandpa came in crying and holding his bleeding hand which Sandy had laid open and saying, “He bit me. For the first time in his life, he bit me.” Like I said he could get his message across. In such cases, spelling doesn’t matter worth a flip.

  27. Kate Roll says

    The greatest commandment is Love. I went to bible college and came out thinking love is the answer. Love and compassion are usually learned through hard times, gut wrenching pain that makes breathing a chore. I understand suicide. I know those who have died as a result. Some work through and some don’t. However, like Billy Grahm, who so eloquently states. There are many things that I do not have an answer for. Surround the survivors on their terms and love them and when necessary use words.

    • Peter says

      I Love what you said, Kate Roll. All we can truly do is to show Love and
      Compassion for the suffering families. Pray for their peace of mind. All we can do is Do our best, and let God, in His wisdom, do the rest.
      You’re a wise person, Kate.

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