Damned Suicide


suicide-pictureRecently in Bulgaria a man died.

His death is interesting because it was a political statement.  His death has achieved what the man set out to do when he set himself on fire.  He wanted to draw attention primarily to the plight of the Bulgarian masses that are suffering under corrupt and incompetent governance.

This act of self-immolation was an anti-government protest.

Interestingly, the government and the Orthodox church (though I cannot confirm this) have paid tribute to this man.  The state has even sanctioned a national day of mourning for the man.

He is a hero!

This event has led to a number of interesting discussions around the traps, some of which have demonstrated a lack of clarity on the issues by confusing the denunciation of such political maneuvers with the topic of suicide and its consequences. As communicators of biblical truth, pastors need to be careful with their influence.

Hell-maze-mapRegarding the topic of suicide, a number of pastors here in Bulgaria have told me that suicide is a sin that condemns one to hell.  I find this interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the Bible is obviously the source for their perspective.

However, when we look at the Bible regarding suicide we find that the Bible is conspicuously quiet on the subject.  Where then does this thinking come from?

It seems to me to be a response to dealing with murder, more specifically, self-murder.  But this does not explain how one can conclude that suicide is a sin that warrants eternal damnation.

Who committed suicide in the Bible.  There are a few, but let’s mention only 4:

1.  The most famous is probably Judas, who, after betraying Jesus for some silver coins went and hung himself.  Matthew 27:5 states:  ‘So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.’

2.  We might mention Sampson.  In judges 16:30 ‘Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.’

999-2543. Then there was Saul and his armour-bearer.  1 Samuel 31:3-5 is pretty clear:  ‘Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”   But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.’

4.  Have you heard of Abimelech.  In Judges 9:54 we read: ‘Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armor and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” So the young man thrust him through, and he died.’

So there certainly is suicide in the Bible, but the question is this: how does the Bible view suicide?

quWell, we don’t know to be frank.  However, in each of these instances the suicide reflects the disgrace and defeat that they find themselves in, except Sampson’s, which might be construed as martyrdom rather than suicide (there is room for debate here!).

We can say that suicide is deemed as a sin and unfavourable because life is not for humanity to take (even if it is our own).  One pastor was keen to point out the clear commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13.

With this pastor we must agree that suicide is sin.  But this is hardly ever the point of contention.

The question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Will they go to heaven?’

And to this question we respond as the Bible does.  Quietly!

There are no grounds to claim that suicide leads to eternal separation from God, unless ones believes that one is saved not by God’s mercy and grace but by virtue of one’s deeds.

The reasoning goes something like this.  If I commit suicide then my last act was rebellion against God; a total abandonment of God as saviour and healer; and a demonstration of my poverty of faith.  Suicide shows that I have no faith.

loveFor the protestant evangelical Christian this thinking is incongruous with our tradition (and the Bible of course).  One is saved not by virtue of one’s own deeds, whether good or bad, but by virtue of God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s deed – his obedient death.

To say that one is condemned on the basis of one’s final deed relegates salvation to a work of the flesh.  God help us all if this were the case.

No, we contend that we are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift from God, so that we have nothing to boast about.  Suicide as a sin does not fall beyond the scope of God’s love and mercy.

His death is enough.  This is the good news that gives us all hope.

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To be sure, to be sure (said with the appropriate accent)


Doubt rules, and why shouldn’t it?

We live in an age that is characterised by skepticism, scientism (oddly) and relativism.  Confusion reigns in the realm of relationship and gender.  Wars are fought based upon spurious evidence.  Quagmire would aptly describe the political and economic hole that we find ourselves in.  Pluralism characterises the  Christian church.  Are chocolate and wine carcinogenic or not?  Well, that depends on which article you read.

What can we be sure of?

I was reading a church website the other day and I came across a quote that was retrieved from John Wesley’s journal, dated May 24th 1738.  The excerpt was used as a defence of this church’s held doctrine of one’s assurance of salvation.

 About a quarter before nine, while he [the preacher] was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation. And an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

In the doctrinal outline beneath the quote the church stated how one’s assurance was not based upon one’s feelings but on the faithfulness of God.  But does this quotable quote say as much?

There are two questions that need answering, which the church website got a little confused when linking the doctrine with Wesley’s words.  The first question is, what does Wesley have assurance of?  The second question is, what tells Wesley that he is assured?   We should not confuse the two.  The church stance was that one’s faith rests on God’s faithfulness to his promises and not one’s feelings, but look closely at Wesley’s words.

Yes, the content of his assurance is Christ and his work, however the place from where this assurance comes is his feelings.  Firstly, he felt his heart warmed, and secondly, he felt that he really did trust in Christ for salvation.  The real assurance clincher, it appears, is from his feelings towards Christ’s work.

This quote and my interpretation of it corresponds with Wesley’s view that Romans 8 outlines why one would call God ‘Father’.  If Christ is in me then so is the Spirit (vv9-11).  For this reason Paul can say, ‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children‘ (v16).  My confidence in the efficaciousness of the truth that, ‘…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (v1), is based upon the idea that the Spirit’s call or yearning for the Father inside of me (v15), is mine, as our spirits testify together.  This is what Wesley claimed he experienced at Aldersgate that night.

From this perspective, assurance is bound to one’s feeling of confidence in truth.

What then do we make of the individual at the centre of Psalm 73.  He knows the truth that God is good to those who are pure in heart (v1), but his experience does not line up with the truth.  Indeed, his ‘foot nearly slipped’ (v2)!  As he looked around he saw the wicked prospering and living the healthy and good life (vv4-16).  His experience of God and the truth of God do not measure up.

So what’s the story?  He believes in the God of his fathers, and he believes in God’s method of operation.  He knows the truth, but it appears his senses have got the better of him.  He is doubting whether God is good to those who are pure in heart.  His senses are driving what is true about God, and driving his response to him.

The Psalmist makes some telling self-observations when he finally clears his head and regains his perspective.  The one of note that I want to pick up on is in verses 21-22:

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

He realised that his senses had failed him, and with his senses went his capacity to see what was true.  He heart was in such a state that he could not see clearly, until, of course, he entered the sanctuary where God dwelled (v17).  Once in the sanctuary he realises that God was with him all along (v23).  God had been and will be his portion forever, in spite of the fact that he doubted and found himself in a place where he could not see the wood through the trees.

The truth of the gospel is similarly not dependent on a feeling, just as it is not dependent upon our works.  The gospel is salvific regardless of our ebbing feelings or lack thereof towards it.

I find it to be no coincidence that Wesley found assurance as he heard and dwelt upon the Gospel that is received by faith.  What we learn from Wesley’s testimony of that night in Aldersgate is not so much about what that ‘feeling’ is, but rather that one’s faith is strengthened when they hear the Gospel proclaimed.

This was the testimony of the Psalmist, right?  When he heard the truth afresh, which took the form of entering the sanctuary, his faith in the truth was strengthened.  He found perspective, and was realigned with the truth and God, who indeed is good to those who are pure in heart.

If we want to be assured of our salvation, let’s not look for a feeling that ebbs and flows, but let’s return to the Gospel.  The Gospel brings life.  This is why Paul can say in Romans 1:18:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

Oh Lord, more gospel.