Suicide can be a heavy, challenging topic. If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, or if you have lost a friend or family member to suicide, you might feel wounded or scarred by the experience. You might feel restless when the topic is raised in conversation.
If someone you love has committed suicide, you might also feel ashamed that he couldn’t face his problems, hurt that she left you behind, confounded that death could possibly have seemed like the best option, or angry that she didn’t reach out to you for help. With so many questions that haunt us about death, suicide seems to yell its questions even louder:
“Why did he do this?”
“What could I have done to stop her?”
“Do I still consider him a good person?”
“What happens to someone who chooses to take their life?”
“Will I see her in some afterlife or is she punished forever for this?”
The motives for suicide are so intertwined with depression and mental illness, that it is difficult to understand what can lead a person to follow through with such a final act. We know that depression and mental illness affect our inner thoughts. Mental illness causes a person to suffer with twisted thoughts which can lead to beliefs that he or she is not good enough and does not deserve to live. When these thoughts become too overwhelming, a person may feel forced to take his or her own life.
Another motive for suicide can be to escape pain. Some people suffer from so much physical or mental pain that suicide seems like the only way to end it. Ultimately the pain takes over to the point that they lose all hope in living.
This level of despair and pain may be unimaginable to those who aren’t going through it, but it is a true experience that happens to some people and can lead to a life-terminating decision. When suicide is threatening to rear its ugly head, or even if it already has, Jesus and Christianity can cut through the pain and confusion to offer a measure of clarity and hope.
Life is good. Death is bad.
If you don’t believe in an afterlife, or if you assume it’s something vaguely pleasant and peaceful, it’s plausible to see death as a solution to overwhelming, relentless life problems.
Christianity turns that idea on its head. When God originally created humans, we were never supposed to die. God is a God of life (Mark 12:27). Death is the ultimate sign that there is something wrong with the world.
For the most part, society reflects this. We see people cry at funerals and mourn the people from whom they are separated. Similarly, we see people rejoice at the birth of a baby and celebrate each new year of life. In general, the belief that life is good and death is bad seems to be part of the fabric of humanity. Death separates us from people and hurts us. Life is meant to be lived, and lived fully.
God also desires that we live. He is the one who has given us life, and he does not want us to end it before he, the Author of life, determines the time is right (Job 1:21)—not because he is a cosmic dictator with an unhealthy desire for control, but because it is proper for the one who begins and sustains life to also be the one who ends it. If we “take our lives into our own hands,” as it were, we are effectively like toddlers playing with fire. We are messing with something that wasn’t meant for us.
Is Suicide a “Sin”?
Yes, Christians believe that suicide is a sin (an offense against God). God calls us not to murder (Exodus 20:13), and that includes murdering ourselves. He has entrusted life to us and desires that we honor all life, even our own.
God also offers forgiveness freely to everyone who believes in Him. This free forgiveness covers all our wrongs, even suicide. There is a standing belief among some that suicide cannot be forgiven because we do not have the chance to ask for forgiveness before we die. This belief is based on the assumption that we have to ask forgiveness for every wrong thing we do…which is simply impossible!
Forgiveness from God is not based on what we do or even what we ask for. For those who believe in Jesus, he offers forgiveness for all sins, even the ones for which we never have the chance to say “I’m sorry.” This free forgiveness comes with the gift of life forever under God’s loving reign, as perfect beings in a perfect community. This not only includes what is traditionally known as heaven, but in fact starts among Christians right now—it just won’t be fully expressed or realized until after we die.
If you’re contemplating suicide: God loves you. Really.
God’s love for all people is more than we are able to put into words. If you are feeling lost, alone, and separated from love, know that God loves you more than you can imagine. There is nothing you can do that will separate you from the love that God has for you (Romans 8:38-39). This is more than just words—God really sent his son Jesus to really die a gruesome, horrible death to satisfy the just punishment for your sin, so that your relationship with God could be restored. On top of this, God continues to pour out his good gifts and promises on his people every day.
It’s true that God’s love is difficult to fully experience—both because it’s greater than any human love, and because it comes from a being who, while we’re on earth, can feel intangible to us. And people overwhelmed by pain may find it extra difficult to live with a sense that God’s love is real, because their pain gets in the way.
The most central place God tells us to go to receive his love is his Word, the Bible. Again, even though this may feel intangible, God’s promise is that spending time chewing on and digesting his Word will change us, and his love for us can become an experience, rather than just a statement. Christians also come to understand that God’s love for them is real even when they aren’t “feeling it,” and it becomes comforting that God’s love is bigger than our feelings. When we face our darkest times, learning of God’s love and reassuring presence can send us on a path toward a lifted mood and begin to transform our destructive thinking.
People, People, People
God also sends his love to us—along with many other kinds of help—through the people around us. Friends, neighbors, and family members can all be helpful if you’re thinking about suicide. There are people who care about you, even if your mind will not let you understand that right now (that is how easily our thoughts can be manipulated by mental illness!). Call on these people in your life…share with them your fears and thoughts so that they can help you.
If you are not able to reach out to those you know, then seek out a pastor or a counselor; they are ready and willing to help. Furthermore, all Christians are called to help people who are hurting, and they desire life for everyone. Their help and response to you won’t be perfect, but you are very likely to find caring people among them.
Jesus and Suicide
Jesus understands emotional pain…he suffered his own emotional pain as he was awaiting his death. In the Garden of Gethsemene, we see Jesus struggle with the understanding that he was going to have to suffer (Matthew 26:36-46). The Bible states that he was overwhelmed, troubled and sorrowful. Is this something you have experienced?
In Jesus’ darkest moments, he was willing let his friends, his disciples, know that he was suffering. He asked them to stay with him, to be around, while He talked to God about what he was feeling. There were times that the disciples fell asleep and seemed to not be as supportive as they could be—all humans let each other down sometimes. But Jesus knew to call on His friends when he was hurting, and it is obvious from other parts of Jesus’ story that his friends cared about him very much. He knew that he needed their support and their presence.
When we are facing dark times, we often feel too weak to fight off the thoughts our minds send our way. Jesus was no stranger to weakness (Hebrews 4:15). We see that he addressed his weakness by calling out to God, his Father, on multiple occasions—asking for strength, another option, and ultimately God’s will. Jesus understood that life is difficult and comes with pain as well as suffering. We are not promised a pain-free life, but we are offered strength from God and support from community when we suffer. And God has the all-surpassing power to fill us with hopeful and uplifting thoughts when it seems that our own minds are attacking us.
Jesus’ friends also suffered with their own pain. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, betrayed Jesus, which ultimately led to Jesus’ death. Judas’ overwhelming guilt over this wrong against his friend ultimately led him to take his own life. Other disciples reached out for help, boldly repaired relationships that were broken, and were able to break free from what was troubling them.
We always have two options. These options may be difficult to see if you’re in the midst of suffering, but they are always there:
- We can choose to reach out and seek help.
- We can choose to give up.
…And everybody is rooting for you to choose the first option.
How to respond to a person who is hurting
Be there. Simply be present and available to people who are suffering. You may not always have to right words to say, but don’t dwell on that too much—human words don’t fix things. Being available to sit, check in, and lend a shoulder or an ear is simply the best gift you can give to people who are hurting. Your presence allows people to know they are not alone (which, if they’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, their minds are likely manipulating them to believe).
Take suicide seriously. If someone shares his or her suicidal thoughts, ideas, or plans for self harm, you need to respond. Don’t leave that person alone; stay with him or her. Asking about the plan or idea will not hurt your friend, nor will it push him or her to act on the thoughts. Let your friend know how much you care. Assist him or her in seeking help through counseling or a medical evaluation. Any of these things can be the first step on your friend’s path to recovery.
Follow up. Continue to check in with, and reach out to, any friend who is struggling with suicidal thoughts and depression. You may be the only person that is calling or the only one he or she interacts with at all that day. This interaction can provide structure and helps to form a community for your friend. Remind your friend that he or she is loved and not alone.