Suicide, Scripture, and Salvation
Q: Dear pastor, a couple of years ago a local pastor preached on suicide. In the Bible was a verse that stated something about people of not sound mind are not held accountable for their actions. Do you know where I can find that verse? I would greatly appreciate it: My mother committed suicide 5 1/2 years ago and my father and brothers would like to read it!
A: Dear friend, I imagine that pain and doubt still cloud memories of your mother. I ask God to continue bringing healing to all of you. Since I didn’t hear him, I don’t know just what passage the pastor may have used. No Scriptural references to competence or sanity offer absolute excuses for our actions. However, it seems that lack of adult reason tends to place a person under divine judgment as a child.
Still, we need not absolutely reject the idea of salvation. God knows that we are weak and that we often and easily succumb to temptation. Historically, some Christians judged suicides harshly, while others argued that momentary despair did not automatically damn a person. In other words, temporary surrender to incredible stress may not reflect total rejection of God and His grace.
The so-called Sin Against the Holy Spirit is the only guaranteed way to damn oneself — and this happens only when a person intentionally rejects the Spirit’s work of creating and sustaining faith in Christ Jesus. A fairly substantial part of Christendom says that anyone who commits suicide rejects the Spirit. I disagree, siding with those who say that a suicide truly “grieve[s] the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)” only if the person denies or renounces Christ’s sacrificial atonement.
Martin Luther, a fabulous Bible scholar who struggled with depression and despair for much of his life, offers these words of hope: “I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned.... They do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber.... Such persons do not die by free choice or by law.... They are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 54)”
Suicide is an evil deed committed by sinners. But then we can say the same about all other wrong behavior. In Romans 7:7-25, Paul lamented his inability to avoid sin no matter how hard he tried to do good but he also confessed faith that none of his sins could exceed God’s grace in Christ. John also acknowledged that while God wants us to walk in the light, He also forgives our deeds of darkness (1 John 1:5-10). He beautifully summed this up, saying that his writings were intended to lead us away from sin but that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)”
For more on the state of mind that might lead to suicide, please see Mental Health Help and the previous columns to which it links.
Luther quoted from Luther’s Works Vol. 54: Table Talk, © 1967 by Fortress Press.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Newspaper column #587:3