One February morning in 2009, my grandfather walked into his sawdust-covered woodshop. There, forgetting the thousands of people who cherished his master woodworking skills, the 15 grandchildren who loved him, and the years he still had left to serve God, he took his own life.
Several years earlier, he had suffered a stroke and struggled with depression and imbalance ever since. I’m sorry to say that my family wasn’t as supportive as they probably should have been through those years. We could have talked to him more about his issues, could have discussed the effects of his medication with the doctors, could have been there for support. I know that I, at least, could have called more often to affirm my love for him and to encourage him.
The night before he died, I called my grandparents to thank them for a Valentine’s Day card. My grandmother told me that my grandfather’s depression had worsened, and, for whatever reason, I felt a prodding to talk to him and tell him that I loved him. I knew I should have said something to him. Instead I told my grandmother goodbye and hung up the phone.
Suicide—A Significant Problem
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, 42,773 Americans die by suicide with 117 suicides per day. And for every suicide, there are 25 attempts.
These numbers—which are actually low estimates—reveal that suicide is a significant issue in the world, prompting September to be designated the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and September 10 to be World Suicide Prevention Day, set aside “to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services.”1
Suicide from a Biblical Perspective
Just as with every other issue of life, we need to understand what God’s Word says about suicide. God created man in his image with an eternal soul. As such, we have a special distinction from animals in our consciousness, our relationship with God, and our purpose to reflect God’s glory (Genesis 1:26–27). Being created in his image means that we are to reflect God’s attributes, such as his holiness and righteousness (Ephesians 4:24).
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3), they chose to disobey God—they chose death and suffering, but they retained their inherent value as being created in his image. Because their sin tainted their standing before God, they needed to be spiritually transformed by the redemption of Christ—for only through Christ can we bear the true likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24).
Only an eternity of torment without God waits beyond this life for those who do not trust in Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.
Sadly, because of suffering, people still choose death every day, thinking their lives have no value. Though there is no single cause, at the root of many cases of suicide is a person’s inability to handle suffering—be it physical pain, disability, mental anguish, loneliness, failure, social abuse, or other factors. Hoping to get relief from their burdens, thousands of people make the tragic decision to terminate their life. But only an eternity of torment without God waits beyond this life for those who do not trust in Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.
Because we don’t find the term suicide in Scripture, it may seem that the Bible is silent on directives regarding self-inflicted death. But when God commanded, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), there is no reason to believe he wasn’t speaking of suicide as well as murder.
In Ecclesiastes, God asks, “Why should you die before your time?” (7:17). Only God knows the end of our time on earth, and until that end he has grace to help us through. Our heavenly Father thinks thoughts of peace toward us and has a plan for our existence (Jeremiah 29:11). Surely that plan is not an early death at our own hand.
Scripture also tells believers that our bodies are not our own but a temple for the Holy Spirit; we have no right to destroy that temple by ending our lives (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).2 Over and over we see that God is a God of life—not death.
Though the Bible never explicitly commands, “Thou shalt not commit suicide,” it talks repeatedly about life and how we can best live it. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He wanted to offer us the chance not only to live, but to live more fully than we ever could on our own. In fact, Jesus emphasized that he is life (John 14:6). Apart from Christ, we are dead in our sin; in a way, we are choosing suicide if we reject the gift of salvation, choosing rather to march toward eternal death and suffering in hell. We could say that Jesus raised the ultimate suicide awareness by giving his life so that all who receive him can have eternal life.
The Christian’s Response to Suicide
We, then, like Jesus, should keep in mind those around us who are facing not only physical suicide but also spiritual suicide. Acts 16 tells the account of Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison. After an earthquake opened the doors of the prison, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself, thinking that all the prisoners had escaped on his watch. But Paul cried out, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). Then Paul and Silas shared the gospel, and, as a result, the jailor’s whole family received Christ.
We must be alert to those around us—in our family, at school, work, and even in church—who might be entertaining suicidal thoughts, showing signs of depression or anxiety, isolating themselves, or exhibiting other suicidal tendencies. We should talk to them about their struggles and share Christ’s offer to bear their burdens (1 Peter 5:7) and transform their minds (Romans 12:2). We should also direct them to a health professional3 or to a Bible-based counselor who can help them address their issues by sharing biblical truth and answers of hope.
As Christians, our relationship with Christ should be a witness to those who believe that their life is not worth living.
As Christians, our relationship with Christ should be a witness to those who believe that their life is not worth living. As Christ transforms us into his image, we should pray for his goodness to shine through us and draw others to himself. Through our own growth in Christ, they may come to understand that they were created in God’s image and can be conformed to the image of his Son after salvation (Romans 8:29).4
When Intervention Doesn’t Help
Because Christ calls us to care for our neighbors, it is our responsibility to be aware of those who need help (Mark 12:31). But there is no guarantee that our support or intervention will change a person’s mind about taking his own life. In the end, that person alone is held accountable for his destructive choice. I know that even if I had told my grandfather that I loved him one last time, he still might have taken his life the next morning.
Even with this knowledge, it was easy to feel responsible for his death. In wanting to escape my feelings of guilt, it was easy to blame everything and everyone else—my grandfather, his illness, my family, the doctors, and medicine. But that is just what Satan wants—to steal the precious memories I have of my grandfather’s life, to destroy family relationships through blame, to burden me with guilt. He is an enemy who delights in instigating blame, division, and defeat (John 10:10).
In contrast, Christ offers hope (Psalm 42 and Psalm 71) and the assurance that I’ll see my grandfather again in heaven, because even after death Jesus has promised life for those who trust in him.
If you know someone who committed suicide and you carry the guilt of not intervening or not being able to intervene, understand that God can work through this tragedy to make you more like himself—more compassionate and aware of those around you who need to hear about Christ’s gift of salvation and healing. May we lead joyful lives that encourage suicidal individuals to cease their pursuit of death, realize the value and purpose they have in Christ, and seek his abundant life.