Posting this here, as I have no other medium through which I can share it. I wrote this as a response to a friend who asked me what the Bible tells us about suicide (in light of Robin William’s tragic death). This is what I wrote:
You’ve asked a question that I’m not thoroughly educated about, and will likely not be able to give you a fully comprehensive answer. I will give you the best answer that I can.
Part of the issue is that it’s not something that’s directly addressed in the bible in the same way that things like lust, money, or anger are. So aside from what’s directly said within the bible about it, there are some other verses that will help us understand the overall value that God places on life in general, and use that to logically infer additional information about the biblical and Christian perspective on suicide.
For example, when I opened up my go-to bible website (www.biblegateway.com), this was the verse of the day that displayed:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Setting aside the timeliness of the particular verse, you can logically infer a couple things from this two verse snippet – first is that, as a believer, your body becomes a home to the Holy Spirit. Second, your body is highly valued by God. Third, as it states directly, your body and your spirit are no longer your own – you were bought at a price – Christ’s death on a cross – and so by becoming a believer and becoming a child of God’s, you are no longer “your own,” you are now “His.” (see also Malachi 2:15 – 15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.)
Before this upsets you about lacking free-will or being “owned property,” please know that there are plenty of verses that outline our free will and capacity to live our lives freely. For example, Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Also, John 8:32 & 36: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. … So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And so on.
Similar to the sentiment above is the ever familiar John 3:16-18:
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
The message here is pretty clear – God loves us so much that He sent his only son to die for our salvation – so that way those who believe in Him (Jesus) and accept his death for our salvation can spend eternity in relationship with God. Similar idea, basically – God loves us deeply and values us enough to create a relatively easy method for us to find eternal life with Him. (see also Matthew 6:25-26 – 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?)
Along a different track is the idea that God has a plan for our entire lives from day one, and thus finds great value in us and in our lives:
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)
5 As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
10 Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese,
11 clothe me with skin and flesh
and knit me together with bones and sinews?
12 You gave me life and showed me kindness,
and in your providence watched over my spirit. (Job 10:10-12)
15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. (Galatians 1:14-15)
There is also a long string of verses in 1 Corinthians 12 that compares the community of believers to a human body, essentially stating that each and every member of the community is a valuable part, and that each has a valuable role to play. If one part of the community (or body) is gone, then the community will not function as effectively without it as it had with it – this is just another example of the Bible placing great value on human life.
So that you do not think that I am attempting to circumvent or avoid the issue completely, I’ll turn towards how the Bible specifically addresses suicide. This isn’t particularly easy, because as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t directly addressed in some “thou shalt not commit suicide” type manner in the same way that lust, murder, theft, etc are addressed. While this indicates that suicide is not viewed as a sin on par with the sins listed above, I’m not completely certain of that and have not come across a verse that sheds light on this directly.
One of the first mentions in the bible of suicide is in a story about a man named Ahithophel. He was an advisor, first to King David, then to Absalom, David’s son who plotted against him and attempted to overthrow him. Eventually, God sets people’s hearts against Ahithophel and Absalom because David is the intended & rightful king, and when Ahithophel realizes what’s going on, he kills himself: “23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.” 2nd Samuel 17:23
The full story can be read in 2 Samuel 14-18 if you are interested. This particular story does not give us much insight on what the Biblical perspective of suicide is; rather, it is almost more of a side note in a story about something. The biggest thing on suicide that we can glean from this is that suicide is essentially the shameful end to a shame-filled life (Ahithophel had originally been an advisor to the rightful king, but turned his back on him to support his usurper).
There is another similar shameful end to a shame-filled life story in the bible; one that is far more well-known than that of Ahithophel – Judas. You can read Judas’ suicide story in the first couple verses of Matthew 27, but in reality, it’s not all that different from Ahithophel’s: Judas is at first a disciple of Jesus’s, but turns against Him and conspires in a plot that gets Him killed. Judas sees the wickedness of what he’s done, and is so distraught over it that he kills himself.
Again, neither of these situations addresses whether or not suicide is considered a sin; they put suicide in the perspective that it’s the choice that people in historical biblical stories make to end their life as a result of the shame they feel over conspiring against God’s anointed one.
Seems fucked up, right? But look at it this way – these are men who consciously and selfishly stood up against a person who they were close to and knew intimately. In particular, they were intimately aware these were men chosen by God to fulfill His mission on Earth. Judas and Ahithophel were not weak or depressed men; rather, they were strong, stubborn, and selfish to the point of depravity – they chose to put one of their closest friends’ life at stake in order to advance their own success. When they see the outcome of their selfish deeds, they are A) so overcome by shame and B) so overwhelmed by fear (you got the Son of God condemned to death – wouldn’t you be shitting your pants a little bit?) that they saw no alternative but to end their life.
There are a couple other instances of suicide in the Bible – Samson kills himself by causing a Philistine temple to cave in, killing himself and all the other Philistines in the temple with him (Judges 16); Saul and his armor bearer kill themselves toward the end of a lost battle so that they would not be killed by their enemies (1 Samuel 31); and Zimri, who actually has a story not unlike Ahithophel – he was a top official of the king, who he plotted against and overthrew. Zimri is different, though, because he actually reigned as king for a very short time, until the Israelites rose up against him and he burned himself (and the palace) alive rather than face the consequences of his betrayal (1 Kings 16). These suicides are again more logical conclusions to a story than they are life lessons to be learned.
Then there is the book of Job, within which there are quite a few times that the book’s main character (Job) desires to be dead rather than continue to suffer all the physical and emotional pain he’s experiencing. Long story short, Job suffers the loss of his entire family, his business, prosperity, and farm, and finally his physical well-being as a result of a “bet” between the Lord and Satan in an attempt to prove whether or not Job would turn against God. It’s kind of an insane premise, and it’s a topic to consider at length at a different time if you’re interested. But the point is, Job suffers through a shit ton of physical and emotional pain, and at several points throughout the story, he basically wishes that he were dead. He doesn’t actually kill himself, nor does he directly express a desire to do so, but he is very clear about his wish that he were no longer alive so he would no longer have to suffer.
The book of Job is actually one of the more fascinating books of the bible, really, as it addresses a number of still-relevant topics – death & dying, pain and turmoil, advice and friendship, and more. It, along with the book of Ecclesiastes, addresses the very real truth of the fickle and temporary nature of material things – even other people (including spouses & children). The basic premise is that God, not people nor wealth nor things, is the ultimate source of goodness and joy and that we should look to and ultimately rely upon Him and Him alone as our source of peace and satisfaction in life. This is certainly not to say that we cannot deeply love and profoundly enjoy the things and people we have in this world. Instead we are to understand the source who provides these people & things for us and more importantly, what our main priority in life should be.
I digress – Job does shed some additional light onto the topic of suicide. Though Job is deeply distressed and ready to die, he remains steadfast in his faith that A) he has not sinned and thus brought this punishment upon himself, and B) God will provide and be just towards him. Eventually, after a confrontation with God Himself, Job is restored and renewed with double what he had before. Basically, he chooses not to kill himself, or to allow himself to die, and is ultimately rewarded.
While not every person who is contemplating death will be rewarded to the same degree as Job, I think this does tell us that God does not want any of us to lose faith, in Him or in our own lives, no matter how dark things seem. No matter how bad it gets, and no matter how painful life becomes, there is no depth so low that we cannot be redeemed and brought back up from darkness into light.
In summary, while the bible does not clearly condemn suicide as sin, it does encourage us to view and value our own lives as deeply as God Himself values us. He created us with great intentions and purpose in mind, He gave His own son over to death so that we may have eternal life, and He values and loves us very deeply.