for those who may be unaware, feb. 22nd is national suicide awareness day. there are many reasons people of all ages attempt, and sometimes tragically succeed at, taking their own lives. i am not writing about the statistics, or how we can be of help to someone struggling with overwhelming emotional pain (for reflections on that regard see - the wounds that bind us, a God for failures, moments to live by). today i am writing to those who have lost a loved one to suicide, and to clergy and lay pastors.
both those who have lost someone to suicide, and clergy, struggle with the pain and confusion of the act of suicide. we may wonder to ourselves - "is suicide a sin?" "does a person go automatically to hell if he/she commits suicide?" let us honestly look at these related but very different questions. though before we do i want to be clear on one point, i am addressing suicide not euthanasia, we are not exploring issues of end-of-life decisions in this reflection, but suicide as an action taken in response to overwhelming despair and depression.
first, "is suicide a sin?" life is a great gift, more precious than gold or diamonds, and far more fragile than either of them. human life has a value beyond human measurement. to needlessly take a life is indeed a sin against the individual whose life has been cut short, and against the community who share in that life, and against God who gives life. so in that sense suicide is a sin.
now to the more pressing and painful question - "does a person enter eternal damnation if he/she commits suicide?" to begin with, there is nothing in the scriptures which states that God's love or mercy or forgiveness ends at the time of death. God is not bound by time. time, like all things, is a creation of God and God is not subject to creation. therefore, no one can rightly dictate what God will do, and no one can rightly limit when God can do whatever God wills to do. what we do know is that God is merciful and compassionate, and that God's compassion is "from ever-lasting to ever-lasting". we do know that God sees into the human heart, which is why God is the judge and we are not. we know that God is with us every moment, in our joys and sorrows, in our successes and our failures, in all things God is present with us.
do you think that in our times of greatest despair that God forsakes us? some traditions hold the reason suicide is a sin is because it is an act of despair and that despair is a sin. even if despair were a sin, and not a temporary emotional state of being, does that mean God steps out of the picture at that point? if one answers "yes" to that question then everything i wrote above, no matter how biblical it all is, is wrong. it would mean that God's compassion is limited, and that God is not with us always, and that frankly is blasphemy. if God abandoned us everytime we sinned, (and face it we are always sinning in one way or another), then we would be utterly without hope and already living in an unending state of "hell".
consider the words of paul, which he wrote during a time of great suffering in his life - "for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself." paul was so overwhelmed with despair that he felt it a "sentence of death". he goes on to write - "He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on Him we have set our hope that He will rescue us again". if God had abandoned paul because of his great despair then he would have had no hope. but paul did have hope because he knew that God is with us always and in everything, offering to rescue us again and again.
now paul was a man of great faith and insight, but do you suppose God has less or more compassion for those whose faith is weak or sight is poor? do we not proclaim that God sent His Son while we were "still yet sinners"? did not Jesus say that He came for the sick and the poor? did john not write "my little children, i am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."? did not paul also tell us that no thing can separate us from the love of God in Christ?
for a moment really try to imagine yourself in such a state of pain and at such a point of despair that suicide makes sense to you. imagine the intensity of the loneliness, the enclosing darkness, the dizzying sense of hopelessness and contradiction and confusion. imagine yourself so enveloped in such a state, that you become completely out of touch with yourself, with other people, and even with God, so that you can not see any light towards which you can crawl.
now i ask you, would the God who loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us, and not to condemn us, walk out on you at that moment? absolutely not. it is in those moments of great struggle and those times of greatest failure that God is holding us most tenderly, and crying, as only a mother who loves her children unconditionally would do, as only a God whose love is steadfast and whose mercy endures forever can do.
no one can know the fate of another, but we do know that God is compassionate and merciful, and that our hope in Jesus Christ is true and real. We know also that God is not bound by time nor are God's acts of mercy and love.
those entrusted with the duty to proclaim the good news, most particularly clergy and lay pastors, be sure you are proclaiming the good news. for if you are proclaiming judgment then you are claiming for yourself the position of judge. and if you declare condemnation, take care that you are not condemning yourself. for the truth is God is the judge, the only one fit to be judge, for God alone looks into the heart with eyes of infinite wisdom and compassion. if you think that talk of condemnation will keep some one else from committing suicide you are wrong, for such talk denies hope, and to deny hope is to deny Christ.
therefore, ministers of God when you speak to the living about their dead take care not to mistake "your truth" for the truth. be sure to think and pray before you speak, "for truth without compassion is brutality". if ever people need to hear the good news it is at such a time as this - the good news of the real and living hope we have in Jesus, and the truth that no thing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from the love of God.
©2011 halley low