The living God wants life for his creatures. But many people seek death by suicide rather than a life lived in difficult and distressing circumstances. This article surveys biblical instances of suicide as well as examples of people who wished for death but continued to live. We find that our gracious heavenly Father is the source and sustainer of life, and we may have help and hope in this life and in the life to come.
Each year in the United States alone, tens of thousands of individuals take their own lives, and a million more attempt suicide.1 Beyond these who actively seek death, millions of Americans have suicidal thoughts resulting from a variety of difficult life issues. What help and hope can we offer to our family members and friends? Why and how must we promote life to those who seek death? We turn to the Bible for answers.
God is a God of life, and he wants life for his creatures. The living God gives life to all his creation, as Job said, “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). Life is a gift from God and a stewardship entrusted to us for a time. Therefore we have a moral obligation to live and to promote life in others. While righteous people care for the lives of animals (Proverbs 12:10), how much more so must we care for human life, which God created in his image (Genesis 1:26–27). Life is not a cosmic accident that came about by chance, random processes; it is the supernatural work of God. Each human therefore has inherent value and dignity.
Matters of life and death are areas of his special sovereignty which are not to be shared with any other.2 The psalmist David rests in the knowledge that “my times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15). And Jesus comforted those who are worried about life when he asked, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27). The Lord Jesus also said, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18), indicating his authority both in death and eternal judgment.
Unlike the animals God created, humans can have the fellowship with him that he desires. Men and women, boys and girls exist to bring glory to the Creator God.
Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Revelation 15:3–4)
Despite this sanctity of human life, some people—even children—choose suicide.3 The word suicide comes from the Latin sui (“of oneself”) and caedere (“to kill”). Thus the term refers to “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.”4 One who dies in this way does so because he has willfully decided to die, contrives the means by which his death comes, and then carries out the fatal deed.
The Bible records just a few examples of those who either took their own lives or who were killed at their own request.5
These men do not exemplify a godly attitude toward life and death issues.
These men do not exemplify a godly attitude toward life and death issues. None of these deaths are presented in a laudatory manner, and each man’s death followed his transgression against God or his fellow man. Three of the men (Abimelech, Saul, and Zimri) died as a direct punishment from God because of their wickedness. All the deaths (except Judas Iscariot’s) occur given the expectation of imminent death by military defeat.
The Bible also records several men who wished for death but were not granted their momentary yearning. In each case the Lord provided help and a greater mercy for them to continue living.
In each case the Lord provided help and a greater mercy for them to continue living.
In each case God demonstrated his care for people, his compassion, his abundant blessing, and his salvation. These men found God to be their “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). From these examples we see that God not only creates life but also sustains life. He heaps blessings upon us by giving us food, clothing, and shelter. He confronts wrong thinking. He shows himself to be a God who gives life, as Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
God commanded us to respect life and not to murder (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Our Lord summarized the whole law in simple terms: “as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). While we must protect physical life, Jesus commanded that we also show love and seek peace with others (John 13:34–35; Matthew 5:21–22). These loving human relationships help us to appreciate and enjoy life, serving and meeting needs as we are able.
God meant for our lives to proceed primarily from our relationship with him. While we might seek to center our lives on people, things, or events, God alone is the source of true life, as again David says,
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
We should live in gratitude and wonder that the infinite God would desire to have a relationship with finite humanity. As the psalmist David says,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3–4)
The faithful God appealed to his chosen people Israel to “choose life” by “loving the Lord your God:”
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)
God invites all people—especially those in desperate circumstances—to love, obey, and hold fast to him and thereby find life, for “the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Every person can become a child of Abraham by believing God’s Word (Galatians 3:6–9)—particularly the gospel of Jesus Christ. Death came into the world as a punishment for Adam’s sin of disobedience (Genesis 2:16–17; Romans 5:12), and the appropriate penalty of sin against God is death (Romans 6:23). But Jesus, the perfect Son of God, died in the place of sinners and rose again to prove that he had conquered death for all who believe in him (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:14–15). We are saved not by what we do or don’t do, but by what Jesus Christ has done for us. Those who have trusted Christ have new reason to live in the present age and in eternity, as David said,
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life. (Psalm 56:13)
We should not conclude that a true Christian could never commit suicide, or that someone who committed suicide could never have been a believer. Despairing of life is a general human problem, and each of us must draw near to God in faith and hope that he will help us through the difficulties of life. Our God is faithful. Let us trust him and live for his glory not only in the present age but also in the age to come.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.