100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#93: Will I go to hell if I commit suicide?

I remember, as a child, my parents explaining to me the Christian faith; about heaven and hell, and that there is a better life after death in heaven for those who believe in Christ. Well, even my innocent child-mind thought what most of us probably have... that surely this is some kind of loop-hole in the whole scheme. Surely if life after death is better, then we should all commit suicide now and go to that better place. In fact, some might even argue that because Christians don't all commit suicide, it shows that they don't genuinely believe what they profess to. But to answer my questions, someone (I'm not sure who; I don't think it was my parents) told me that if you commit suicide you will go to hell, regardless of whether you believe in Christ or not. Well, this is what my child-mind would be satisfied with while it was still a child-mind. But actually, this answer isn't quite Biblical.

The problem with the statement that “If you commit suicide you will go to hell, regardless of whether you believe in Christ or not” is that it denies fundamental Biblical teaching. If you have faith in Christ (that is, a belief that causes you to completely trust Christ for salvation), you will be saved and you will go to heaven. You cannot say that suicide makes that promise null and void. You can say, however, that suicide might demonstrate a lack of genuine faith. Let's consider an example of suicide from the movie Shawshank Redemption, where the warden had been embezzling money and the police have come to arrest him. Knowing that there's no escaping the consequences, he shoots himself. In this case, we could probably assume that this man was not a believer in Christ at all, even though he had touted the Bible a few times throughout the movie. A person who embezzles money is not likely to be a genuine Christian. It is probably very unlikely indeed. In fact, anyone who is apt to commit suicide itself is probably not likely to be a genuine Christian. But while it’s not likely, I don’t believe we can be absolutely certain.

Probably the most common reason for suicide is depression. But even for such a person as this, some will say it's not likely that they are genuine Christians because Christ said “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). And we read in the Bible how we are renewed in mind, and how the Spirit of God is a Spirit of love, joy and peace (Galatians 5:22). For someone to become depressed, it may demonstrate that the Spirit of God is not active in their lives, as it would be if they were genuinely saved. So the naive child who thinks “Why don't we all commit suicide so that we can go to heaven?” is missing the crucial factor; that as Christians our very nature is changed so that we don't desire death. It's similar to the question “If God forgives us, why don't we just sin all we like and keep asking for forgiveness?” Again, we can't miss the crucial detail that as Christians we are given a new nature; a nature that doesn't want to sin. Rather, we’re given a new nature which enables us to love others because of the fact that God loves them; but also to properly love ourselves for the same reason. We don’t murder others because we have a genuine love for them, and similarly we wouldn’t murder ourselves for the same reason.

So the desire to commit suicide ought not to be there for a genuine Christian. That is, the depression or the heavy weight of sin which might drive us to it should not be there. Nevertheless, all of Creation is corrupted by the fall. Part of the mechanics of our bodies is that it uses chemicals to pass messages between organs, including our brains. Drugs affect our minds because that's how we work, and drugs will affect our minds whether we're Christians or not. Sometimes, “chemical imbalances” occur through drug abuse, but they can also occur naturally. These imbalances can often account for depression, and it's not as though such imbalances will not affect Christians. This is the fallen world we live in; the world we long for Christ to repair. All of our imperfections are really no different; we are all potentially susceptible to all manner of problems, from dandruff to some debilitating disease like multiple sclerosis. Likewise, our minds are susceptible to all manner of problems, whether the cause is chemical or otherwise.

Now, if a genuine Christian were to commit suicide (and I have heard of at least one case where this appears to be true), then I do not believe that they would go to hell. But does this give the suicidal Christian the “go ahead”? It ought not to. We need to recognize that we are suffering from something, or through something, that we need to ask God to deliver us from, rather than trying to escape it in our own way. Years ago I did some counselling for a Christian telephone counselling service. A large proportion of the people who called were sufferers of some mental disorder. One lad suffered depression to the point that he would attempt suicide at least once a week. Obviously, with so many failed attempts, he seemed to be able to control the behaviour somewhat. But whenever he would call, he was in anguish; and typically all he wanted to talk about was how he has been coping, or ought to be coping, as a Christian. His faith was always central to dealing with his condition. Why does God allow us to suffer these things? There is no simple answer to that question; we just don't know the mind of God in such detail. But perhaps it is precisely so that we can live by faith. So that a teenager like this particular lad can show the world that despite what he's going through, God is his hope and his strength and his refuge. Many would like to say that his suffering is evidence that there is no loving God caring for him, but as a Christian he sees quite the opposite; that without God he should have been dead long ago.

Until tomorrow...

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

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