Suicide and heaven
(Recent reports of increased child/youth suicides prompt this information again.)
“Pastor, can a person who commits suicide go to heaven? Or is this an unforgivable sin?” The inquiring voice of the teen on the phone needed the answer.
And not just the sweet, “Now, now, there, there, don’t worry your little head, everything will be alright,” answer.
What he needed was the truth. The truth with power and conviction. His friend had just committed suicide, and he was worried and confused. And so were many others. Here’s what I said. Here’s what I believe is the truth. The truth with power and conviction.
We believe that life is God’s good and precious gift to us. It is God’s divine intention that we care for our lives. But, unfortunately, we live in a “fallen world” tainted by sin and stained with the results of the broken relationship with God that we as humans have brought upon ourselves.
Part of the reality of our “fallen-ness,” our “brokenness,” is that under certain specific circumstances, life for some appears not to be God’s precious gift, but only a living hell, a never-ending torment without hope.
That’s when the trouble starts. That’s when the danger begins. That’s when the tragedy of suicide comes near. That’s when for some the last desperate response is taking one’s life. It’s wrong. It’s horrible. It’s cruel. It’s regrettable. It’s not the answer. It’s not God’s will. It is never an acceptable solution. It’s an atrocious wounding of all those who love the one making this decision, especially the family.
So, what’s the answer? Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven? Some would say that this is “the only unforgivable sin.” The reasoning is that this is the only sin that cannot be repented. After having killed one’s self, there is no mortal time to say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. Seeing God as an angry judge, the conclusion is made by some that the person committing suicide cannot go to heaven, because this one sin remains unrepented and unforgiven.
But I believe there is more to committing suicide than just making one bad and damnable decision for all time.
Here is what I have come to understand. Or at least here’s what I am coming to understand: Clinical depression is a disease, just as a heart attack is a disease, and cancer is a disease, and diabetes is a disease. And, unfortunately, clinical depression can be just as deadly as these other lethal enemies of human life.
Clinical depression changes brain chemistry, which can have frightening consequences. It is one of the most common diseases, and can happen to people who have no apparent reason “to be depressed.” Clinical depression can be treated, but clinically depressed people cannot treat themselves. They must be helped by professionals through medication or therapy, or a combination of the two.
Please note, health care professionals remind us that suicide is not an inevitable or acceptable outcome of depression. None of us “accepts” suicide as a result of depression, but in hindsight we can see the disease at its most destructive when we see suicide. Death by disease? Unfortunately yes.
Unforgivable sin? Fortunately no! God declares in His Word through Scripture that He loves His creation, especially His human creation despite the “fallen-ness” and “brokenness” of human sin. God is Holy and has the “right” to demand perfection from us. He has the “right” to command, “You shall not kill.” But His love for us goes far beyond His “judicial right” and we find ourselves totally secure in the hands of our Loving Heavenly Father. And that’s the “Gospel,” the Good News.
The Christian faith clings to the Good News that God even went so far as to “pay our penalty for sin” through His own Son, Jesus. That is why Jesus gave his life — as the payment for sin. That is why Jesus was raised from death — to conquer death. And that is why God now gives forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe this wonderful message of salvation.
Therefore, God can disagree totally with the decision of one of His dear children, who commits suicide. But at the same time, He keeps His promise to grant salvation and receive sinners into eternal life. Ultimately, we all get into heaven the exact same way. Not earning it. Not deserving it. But by trusting in and believing in the sheer grace of God.
Wow! “Grace!” It is God’s love we do not deserve. It is God’s love we cannot even make Him quit giving us. It is amazing! Can someone who commits suicide go to heaven? Simply, yes. By the grace of God.
Our hearts continue to go out to you who have been hurt so deeply by suicide. We offer you the hope that God Himself only can give! Remember that Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. But to fill it with His love and presence.
Kollmeyer is senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, www.princeofpeacefayette.com.