In light of the very recent and tragic passing of Robin Williams, I have decided to finally state my position on the issue of suicide. Let me first say that I along with millions of you around the world, was saddened by the sudden death of a movie sensation as Robin Williams. The first and most lasting impression in my mind of Robin Williams is the character he played as “Mrs. Doubtfire”, which was also the name of the movie itself. Consequently, it didn’t matter what role he played since then, I have always referred to him as such. He will forever be remembered and will go down in history as one of the better comedians to ever grace the big screens. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his surviving immediate family and those who knew him intimately. His death is a testament of the fact you never know what a person may be going through. Having said that, I will now address the subject at the center of this tragedy, which is how the media has reported the death of Mr. Williams. As a preacher of the Gospel, I cannot count how many times I have been asked questions about suicide. Questions such as, “What does the Bible say about suicide?” or “Is suicide right or wrong?” Does God forgive suicide?, or the most popular, “If a Christian commits suicide, will he/she go to heaven or hell?” And the list goes on. In this article I will only attempt to answer the question of “What does the Bible say about suicide?” Following this article, I will publish another, that will answer the other two questions.
What does the Bible say about suicide?
If you are looking for a verse of scripture that speaks directly to issue of suicide, search no more, because you won’t find any. However, we can find a bit of context from a few suicides committed by men in the Bible. The Bible speaks of six specific people who committed suicide. They are; Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Of the six of them, five of these men were noted for their wickedness, except Saul’s armor-bearer, who nothing is said about character. Abimelech took his life because of an apparent lack of personal identity. Saul ended his because he didn’t want the approaching enemy to have the satisfaction of killing him. Saul’s armor-bearer simply wanted to die with his king, so he followed Saul and killed himself. Ahithophel tragically committed suicide because he was bitter because his advice was not followed. Zimri did so because of Rebellion; he had a serious problem with authority. Perhaps the most commonly known suicide account in the Bible is that of Judas Iscariot. Depression got the better of Judas, and he obviously felt trapped by materialism and guilt, and decided to take his own life. Because of the fact he was a righteous man, most people I’ve talked to about suicide, used Samson as the subject of our discussions. Most people consider Samson’s death an occurrence of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31). However, I argued that Samson’s intention was not to kill himself, but to destroy Philistines. What he did, he did as an act of war. He was acting in the capacity of a Judge of God’s people whose duty it was to fight the pagans. Samson’s final act is an example of martyrdom, which allowed him to fulfill his mandate to deliver God’s people from the hand of the philistines. Other than what I have just referenced, they are no clear-cut answers in the Bible
In Jewish teaching, the prohibition of suicide is not contained in the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20: 13 and Deuteronomy 5: 17). In the Talmud (Bava Kama 91b), however, the prohibition is arrived at by a process of exegesis on the verse: “and surely your blood of your lives will I require” (Genesis 9: 5), interpreted as: “I will require your blood if you yourselves shed it.” It is possible that there is no direct prohibition because very few people of sound mind would be inclined to commit suicide in any event. It follows from this that suicide and murder are two separate offenses in the Jewish tradition, as they are in most cultures. Suicide is not homicide and is not covered in the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments]. In the usual rabbinic classification of duties, homicide would be considered an offense both “between man and God” and “between man and man,” whereas suicide would fall only under the former heading.
Maimonides’ statement (Rotzeah, 2.2-3) that there is no “death at the hand of the court” for the crime of suicide, only “death by the hands of Heaven,” is puzzling, since how could a suicide, no longer alive, be punished for the crime by the court? Suicide is considered to be a grave sin both because it is a denial that human life is a divine gift and because it constitutes a total defiance of God’s will for the individual to live the life-span allotted to him. The suicide, more than any other offender, literally takes his life into his own hands. As it is put in Ethics of the Fathers (4. 21):”Despite yourself you were fashioned, and despite yourself you were born, and despite yourself you live, and despite yourself you die, and despite yourself you will hereafter have account and reckoning before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”
Nonetheless, it must be known that suicide is sinful because it is the unlawful taking of life. The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the giver of life and therefore should be the only one to decide when and how a person should die. It is David who said, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). In other words, he meant his lifespan is in the hand of God and not anyone else or himself. God is the giver of life and the taker of it. According to our friend Job, he gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift and sanctity of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.
Some people in Scripture felt deep despair in life and wanted to die. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Job wished he wasn’t even born many times, and wished he could have died. Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and was given a new commission. Job found his faith and declared “I know my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
As believers we must remind ourselves of the word of God. Paul encouraged us when he said, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). By that he meant that nothing we face in this life is too much for us to bear, because God may not always remove the trial, but He will surely give you the strength to cope. It was Paul himself who said “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). “May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). And may each of us take hope in the promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Look out for a subsequent article on the eternal fate of Christians that commits suicide.