Serving Christians Seeking to Live a Holy Life

SUICIDE

A Prologue

Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.

Another death with which many people have to deal is suicide. I do not have the personal experience of dealing with the suicide of a friend or a family member. I do know several people who have had to deal with this tragic event, and I know of the pain that they have had. I have seen Christians and non-Christians deal with suicide, and the Christians that I know have come through this awful event with the ability to tell of God's great love and comfort to others who face such a death. This death is perhaps one of the hardest with which to deal for the people left behind almost always have to deal with questions of guilt as they think that somehow they should have been able to prevent the suicide. They are also usually angry with the person for selfishly removing themselves from the presence of the people who care about them. Thus their grief is compounded with feelings of guilt and anger. Sometimes the circumstances of the death mean that the family member finds the dead loved one in a shocking manner, which also adds to the horrible nature of the act. Teenage suicide is a major cause of teenage deaths now, and I know several families who have had to recover from the death of a teenage son or daughter.

Death by suicide is another area of life that one needs to develop some philosophy, which will help if such happens to enter his/her sphere of existence. It is probably more difficult to formulate a philosophy about suicide than it is for natural death, for we don't want to consider such a possibility concerning any family members or friends. However it is best for us to consider what the Bible tells us about this death act.

Suicide
A Study in Contrasts

January 18, 1998
Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.

Introduction

First let me say what suicide is not. It is not the unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is the unbeliever rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit in his/her life. If someone will not accept the Holy Spirit's work in their life then God will not transform that person's life, and then he/she will die a sinner before God and their eternal destination will be an existence separated from God. People have made statements such as "Since he committed suicide we know that he was not a Christian and he is in Hell." Such statements are cruel and are not based upon the revealed knowledge of God. Nobody knows the heart of another person and certainly Christians can become mired in depression and the seeming hopelessness of circumstances and end their lives. So do not despair if someone you know committed suicide - he/she may be in Heaven with other saints.

Now let me say what suicide is. Suicide is murder and assisted suicide is murder. One of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shall not kill." The word "kill" here is what we would call first-degree ending of a life or the premeditated, willful ending of the life of a person who was not a person threatening to end your life. Whether this ending of a life is your own or that of someone else, it is still in violation of the sixth commandment. So suicide is against the law of God and thus it is extremely serious.

I believe an extremely useful way to examine what the Bible has to say about suicide is to examine the contrast between two pairs of people as described in the Bible - one of whom committed suicide and one who did not. God reveals details of the lives of people as examples for us, so that we may learn better how to live by studying the Bible's descriptions of those people's lives. In the Old Testament we will compare the lives of Saul and Elijah. In the New Testament we will compare the lives of Judas and Paul. These will be brief with only enough detail to understand how a different world view leads to a totally different end.

I. Saul

Saul was anointed King of the united kingdom of Israel (ruled by Saul, then by David, and finally by Solomon before the land was divided into Israel and Judah), but he never seemed fully committed to a life submitted to God. In studying his life in the Old Testament we see that sometimes he followed the leading of God and other times he followed the leading of false gods. The mark of a "God-fearer" is that his/her life is submitted to God. Sometimes the person may fail as David did, but when failure comes the true "God-fearer" will repent as David did. There is no Biblical revelation that Saul repented. He was sorry that he was caught sometimes, but it seems that he never repented. There are many awful revelations of what Saul did in I Samuel. In I Sam 15:12-23 Samuel rebuked Saul for some of his activities. We see Saul's response in I Sam 15:24-25, which was just his statement of being sorry that he was caught (attrition). We see Samuel's response to that pitiful reply in I Sam 15:26-29 with the Lord rejecting Saul as king as Samuel also stated in I Sam 15:23. Saul returned to a worship of the Lord (I Sam 15:31) but it did not last. In I Sam 16:14 we are told that the Spirit left Saul and came to David (16:13) and an evil spirit terrorized Saul from then on. We also read of the story of Goliath and how Saul became jealous of David, and many events later David had to flee to the land of the Philistines where he lived for one year and four months.

Saul also violated commandments of God by seeking the advice of a spirit medium. Previously Saul had ordered all such people to leave his kingdom, but now he is consulting with one (I Sam 23). Later we see in I Sam 31:1-6 the awful end of Saul. He took his own life. What a great start, and what an awful end.

Now let us contrast the life of Saul with the life of Elijah.

II. Elijah

Elijah was a great prophet. Among the many accomplishments of his life with God was the prediction of a great drought (I Kings 17:l). He also was involved in the raising of the widow's son from death ( I Kings 17:21-22) - the Lord heard the prayer of a righteous man and gave the life back to the widow's son. Then Elijah had the great shoot-out with the Baal worshipers (I Kings 18:21-40) in which the people see that there is only one God. Then Elijah killed all of the prophets of Baal and prophesied the return of the rain (I Kings 18:45). However Jezebel was not happy with Elijah having killed all of the prophets of Baal and said that she was going to do the same to Elijah (I Kings 19:1-2). Elijah fled into the wilderness and asked God to let him die (I Kings 19:3-4).

At this point, what is the main difference between these two people, Elijah and Saul? At the point of his greatest need, Elijah went to the Lord in prayer and Saul did not*. We see in I Kings 19:5-8 God answered Elijah with a visible angel to serve him food and drink. [I say a "visible" angel for there are angels all around us who minister to us in our need (Heb. 1:14).] God answered Elijah's prayer by meeting his physical needs first. We see in I Kings 19:10, 14 that Elijah thought that he was the only God-fearer left in the world. In I Kings 19:18 we see that God answered Elijah's psychological need by telling him that there were 7,000 other people who had not bowed to Baal - so Elijah was not alone. Elijah had a great start and a great end for his life as he was taken up to be with God and did not die.

III. Summary I

The main difference between Saul and Elijah is that Elijah was in total submission to God and Saul wanted to be self sufficient. Saul remained focused on his circumstances and his abilities to solve his own problems and Elijah trusted God for the answers. God is the One who controls life. We read in Psa 139:15-16 that God knows us before we are formed and that our first day starts upon conception and that all of the days of our life are written in His Book. Then in Jer. 10:23 we read that we cannot direct our steps because we do not have the knowledge of our way. Only God has the Plan and only He knows what is coming at us, so only He can direct our lives to be ready for handling it with His help. We have to trust Him and ask Him for help, for in asking we are ready to receive.

Now let us contrast the lives of two other Biblical people.

IV. Judas

In retrospect we can say that Judas was a very pitiful person who triggered the culmination of the earthly work of Jesus. However, as we look over his life we see that it had a great start. He was the treasurer of the discipleship group of Jesus and saw Jesus do many wonderful acts. He heard Jesus teach and traveled with the group of disciples during the ministry of Jesus in this time. But after a woman poured perfume on the head of Jesus as an anointing unto burial (Matt 26:6-13), Judas decided that it was time for him to take matters into his own hands and force the hand of Jesus. I believe that Judas thought that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but in the manner that most Jews were expecting. Most, perhaps all, Jews were looking for a political, military leader who was going to fight off the oppression of the Romans as David had liberated the people from their enemies in his day. So Judas seems to have decided that he was going to force Jesus to reveal who He is to everyone in great power. Judas then went to the chief priests and took 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus (Mat 26:14-16). At the last Passover, Jesus revealed that He knew about the betrayal and who the betrayer was (Mat 26:20-25). Matt 26:47-50 tells us about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.

However, after the betrayal, Judas is deeply grieved to see that Jesus is condemned to death (Matt 17:1-4). His plan did not work and he tried to tell the chief priests that Jesus is innocent. However, the priests were not sympathetic to the plight of Judas and told him to handle his own problems. So Judas handled his own problem in the only way that he knew how; he took his own life. What a great start and what an awful end.

V. Paul

Paul was a Jew of Jews while he had the name Saul. He was a great persecutor of the early disciples of Jesus Christ. Saul was involved with the stoning to death of Stephen (Acts 8:1-3). We read in Acts 9:1-6 more about the persecution of the church by Saul and we read there about Saul's spiritual resurrection from the dead by Jesus. An important point in Acts 8 is verse 5 where we read that Jesus said that Paul was persecuting Him. Anybody who persecutes the church in any way is persecuting Jesus. Saul then became Paul. When anyone accepts Jesus Christ as Lord of his life, he also becomes a new person. Each changed person ultimately has a new name (Rev 2:17) as required of a new person. Paul then went on to become the Apostle Paul through whom God gave us many riches in the Holy Bible.

However, Paul's life was not without great physical and psychological pain. Think now again of all the ways that Paul persecuted Jesus Christ as recorded in the above verses. Then read 2Cor 12:7-10 where Paul was given a messenger from Satan to buffet him. This was not arthritis or bad eyes or any such thing, but it was a demon from the great accuser. Imagine all of the accusations that this accuser could hurl at Paul about his helping stone Stephen and many other persecutions of Christians. The accuser could have said things like "You killed people. You put people in terrible prisons. You destroyed families. You will never be forgiven by God for all you have done." The purpose of this messenger from Satan was to keep Paul humble so that he would not get carried away by his self importance and knowledge because of all that God was revealing to him. Paul prayed three times for this messenger to be removed, but God said no. God said that His grace was sufficient for Paul, and that power is perfected in weakness. And then Paul's answer (note the "therefore" in ICor 12:10) was that he was well content with the effects in his life of the messenger from Satan: weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecution, and difficulties; all for Christ's sake.

Paul could have become very depressed and felt like ending his life if he constantly focused on all that was coming from the messenger from Satan and from other aspects of his material life here. But Paul said that he was well content with his circumstances. Paul's life started as an extremely religious life, but not following the truth. Jesus then intervened in Paul's life, he became devoted to Jesus, and he had a great ending (from eternity's reference).

VI. Summary 2

Again, as in the case of King Saul and Elijah, the primary difference between Judas and Paul is total submission to the true person of Jesus Christ. Our focus in life determines our direction in life. We can choose to focus on circumstances and our own abilities to solve problems, and such a choice will inevitable lead one to the situation of no remaining resources and many remaining problems. To some, such a situation will lead to an end like Judas. However, if we choose to keep our focus on Jesus Christ then we still may end up in not-so-wonderful earthly circumstances (look at the circumstances Paul had: prison, stoning, no earthly home, etc.), but we can rest in the grace, mercy, and love of God in those circumstances. The choice is always ours.

Conclusion

The first question is "Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Master?" If your answer is anything other than "yes" then what follows is not applicable. For the Christian there are some great comforts in Scripture as well as other great examples for the living of our lives.

In James 5:10-11 we read of other examples including Job and that those who endure are blessed. The Baptists often speak of the endurance of the saints and we saints are indeed called to endure. In Rom 5:1-5 are some extremely encouraging words for the Christian where Paul ends up telling us that the hope that is based upon the promises of God does not disappoint. With that hope in our heart, we can endure all circumstances. A quote from Psa 94 verses 17-19 is also appropriate for the Christian:

"If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say "My foot has slipped," Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul."

If you have a friend or a loved one who has committed suicide, then certainly you should not despair that such a person is lost from Heaven. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master, God has then forgiven us for all of our sins that we have ever committed, or ever will commit and certainly that includes the sin of suicide. So if he/she has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and then become overwhelmed by the circumstances, then all sins are still forgiven. There is also no losing of salvation, for such would require that Jesus has to die again for our sins. Jesus died once on the cross for all of our sins. However, do remember Rom 6:1,2: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we how died to sin still live in it?"

If you suspect that someone you know is depressed then take such a suspicion very seriously and try to point the person to God's grace and healing through Jesus Christ. People considering suicide need professional help, and Christian counselors are available upon reference from your pastor. Never take for granted that the person is saved, but lovingly ask if the person has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord. If the answer is no, then lead the person to the Cross and show how much God loves him/her. If the answer is yes, then use Scripture such as some of the above to lead the person back to a focus on Jesus Christ (Heb 12:1,2). I also recommend an excellent book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones published by Eerdman's Publishing Company entitled "Spiritual Depression."

God's grace is sufficient for all of our needs.


* There could be some confusion about Saul not praying to God for we see in
1Sam 28:6 "When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.
1Sam 28:7 Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her."And his servants said to him, "Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.""
and it seems that Saul did inquire of the Lord. However, we read in
1Chron 10:13 "So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it,
1Chron 10:14 and did not inquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse."
that Saul explicitly did not inquire of the Lord. There are no contridictions in the Bible so how do we deal with this "seeming" contradiction?

Most interpreters say that the 1 Chronicles verse just confirms the contention in 1Sam 28 that Saul's final source of guidance was not Yahweh. I believe that the answer also is that Saul was never capable of inquiring of the Lord directly, but only through a prophet. The 1Sam 28:6 verse just tells us what Saul did in the world and the 1 Chron 10:13-14 clarifies what happened spiritually.

That Saul was not a "God-fearer" (The Old Testament word for true believers) seems quite obvious from the total study of the life of Saul (note the writing above about Saul). Also God had removed the Holy Spirit from him and replaced him with an evil spirit (a discussion of the very different role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament times is appropriate here, but too far off course of this discussion):

1Sam 16:14 "Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him."

We then see a clarifying verse in the following:

John 9:31 "We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing, and does His will, He hears him."



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