Suicide has always been a hot topic, in society and in religious and philosophical discussion. You might have heard from some Christians that committing suicide is the unforgivable sin, because you can’t repent afterwards. I don’t think this logic holds up. There are plenty of sins that you and I have committed that we don’t even remember and while repentance is a sign of a changed heart, I do not think a person truly saved by the grace of God is completely free from sin(not yet anyway) and it is entirely possible for an elect person to die committing some other sin, say driving while drunk or being murdered by an angry husband because you just slept with his wife.
There are two specific instances in the Bible where suicide doesn’t always mean something bad. Let me define my terms. This is the Merriam-Webster definition of Suicide
: the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally.
Now, I know the word Suicide has a connotation in our society, but I’m arguing about suicide’s denotive meaning.
Before I continue, I would like to share a quote from the great G.K. Chesterton who wished to make a distinction between what he called martyrdom and suicide. Chesterton writes:
Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end.[i]
Now, while I mostly agree with the above Chesterton quote, I think he tries to separate these two concepts too much. Because the only difference seems to be intent. So, is suicide really based on the intent of your actions or the act of voluntarily laying down your life?
I do not question the fact that intention matters. However, it is not as if someone who is suicidal is not trying to cope with something they simply can’t. Usually this is due to mental health issues, bullying, abuse and a variety of other issues. Our unsympathetic culture makes memes and laughs at suicide and tweets constantly about how they want to die. Whether that’s true or they just want to be edgy, the lines are currently blurred today.
As someone who has written a suicide note before, I really appreciated Logic’s song about suicide. It had a profound impact on our culture, so much so that when Logic performed the song on the Grammy’s, the calls to the suicide hotline tripled.[ii] It seems that Jonathan Edwards was right when he said
The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other, is by music. When I would form in my mind an idea of a society in the highest degree happy, I think of them as expressing their love, their joy, and the inward concord and harmony and spiritual beauty of their souls by sweetly singing to each other.[iii]
In my own life, I have had suicidal friends. In fact, my very first tattoo was in support of her, as well as myself.
You will notice a theme with the tattoos on my left arm. The second tattoo I got on my left arm was Pandora’s box. In the God of War Video game series, *spoiler alert* Kratos becomes overly attached to Pandora and doesn’t want her to sacrifice herself in the fires of Mount Olympus in order to make defeating Zeus possible. Kratos holds her hand and tries to prevent her from doing it but she does it anyway. In this instance, Pandora willingly chose to end her own life to save not only Kratos, but the future of the world under Zeus.
The final tattoo on my left arm regarding the same issue is one that I got just yesterday. It is from a horror short story that I adore. It’s about a Pig created by God to deal with people who commit suicide. I don’t want to spoil the story too much but essentially the Pig decides if you go to hell or if you get a second chance on earth and live and truly cherish life. The overall message, at least interpreted by me has many Christian themes, whether intentional or not, and teaches that life is not something we should throw away, that life has suffering but life isn’t just suffering. This is illustrated very well in the author making the black farm, a dark purgatory type of place into a constant life of suffering and what that would look like.
Biblical Instances of Self-Sacrificing Life
There are two instances in the Bible where we can find two people giving up their lives in a way that could be defined as suicide by the Merriam Webster dictionary. The first is Samson.
And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Judges 16:29-30 (NASB)
Samson willingly ended his life to accomplish a certain purpose. If Samson did this by himself with no one in the room, I don’t think anyone would question it was a suicide. Some Christian websites however, seeking to eliminate any nuance when it comes to suicide, seek to make a distinction that suicide is inherently selfish, while martyrdom is not. While I disagree that suicide is always selfish, I think even with this dichotomy, you could still categorize these two terms together. If you’re afraid of using the word “suicide”, perhaps you could use “Martyr for selfishness” or we could say that not all suicide is of ill intent when properly understood. The solider that jumps on a grenade to save his squad is willingly dying, thus killing himself, but his intention is to save. Without this intention, it would be frowned upon. The only difference between the act of martyrdom and suicide seems to be the intention of the acting moral agent.
The most important case in this discussion is that of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself says
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18 ESV)
Jesus states that no one could take his life from him without him voluntarily doing so.
One of the most beautiful statements in the Bible is John 15:13 which states:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (KJV)
The Bible supports well-intentioned martyrdom; therefore, we celebrate and call heroes those who sacrifice themselves for other people even today. We hear of heroic people using their body as a shield to defend other people from a shooter or pushing people out of the way of danger just to get into danger themselves.
We as a church have failed suicidal people, we treat suicide as if it’s purely demonic. While I do not deny the impact/possibility of impact of the supernatural on the human psyche, we need to stop pretending these people aren’t savable. We need to help these people, when I was suicidal I was 16, Jesus saved me two years later. Jesus could save any of them. Let’s not treat people who struggle as outcasts of our happy little Christian community.
Jesus willingly giving up his life for us is the only reason why we have an eternal hope.
I want to make it clear that God is there, call out to him. The Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Your life has value, even if you don’t see it yet.
[i] http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Gilbert_K_Chesterton/Orthodoxy/The_Flag_of_the_World_p6.html Accessed March 17, 2018
[ii] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/suicide-prevention-logic-grammys_us_5a772d87e4b06ee97af3bf08 Accessed March 17, 2018.