Recently 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.
Regarding 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.’
3. 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?
Well, 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.
For 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.