I know this is likely to be a touchy topic.
Soon after the tragic death of Matthew Warren I found a list of ‘helpful links’ which included an article from the ministry of John MacArthur, Grace to You. The article is titled: Can someone who commits suicide be saved? and frankly caused my hackles to rise.
Suicide is murder of the self
As such it is clearly sinful to commit murder. God has stated unequivocally that murder is sin (Exodus 20:13), very cut and dried – perhaps we can leave the topic there?
There can be many motives for murder, summed up by author John Lescroart as: love, lust, lucre, and loathing. To kill another person is something most of us recoil from as being utterly abhorrent and we struggle to comprehend how someone could do such an act. What then can be the motive for the violence of annihilating self?
Again, there can be many motives: financial troubles, pain/illness, shame, romance problems, substance abuse, mental illness.
All sin can be forgiven in Christ
Suicide is a grave sin equivalent to murder (Exodus 20:13; 21:23), but it can be forgiven like any other sin. And Scripture says clearly that those redeemed by God have been forgiven for all their sins–past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14). Paul says in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So if a true Christian would commit suicide in a time of extreme weakness, he or she would be received into heaven (Jude 24). But we question the faith of those who take their lives or even consider it seriously–it may well be that they have never been truly saved.
That’s because God’s children are defined repeatedly in Scripture as those who have hope (Acts 24:15; Romans 5:2-5, 8:24; 2 Corinthians 1:10, etc.) and purpose in life (Luke 9:23-25; Romans 8:28; Colossians 1:29). And those who think of committing suicide do so because they have neither hope nor purpose in their lives.
Is considering suicide sin?
The ‘Grace to You’ article claims that a person who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in their heart based on Proverbs 23:7 in the NASB translation. However, in other translations, such as the ESV and NLT, the idea of “as he thinks in his heart, so he is” does not come across so clearly. I do get the point though – a suicidal person is constantly thinking of committing a sinful act of self murder so surely they are wilfully playing with sin.
The issue here is not so much about suicide per se, but a question of whether repeatedly considering any sinful act is a sin in it’s own right (i.e., is the thought of the sin a sinful act?)
Furthermore, one who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in his heart (Proverbs 23:7), and 1 John 3:9says that “no one who is born of God practices sin.” And finally, suicide is often the ultimate evidence of a heart that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ, because it is an act where the sinner is taking his life into his own hands completely rather than submitting to God’s will for it. Surely many of those who have taken their lives will hear those horrifying words from the Lord Jesus at the judgment–”I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
So though it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide, we believe that is an unusual occurrence. Someone considering suicide should be challenged above all to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
(I am choosing to publish this draft that I started in 2013 as it stands despite it being very incomplete. My rationale is that it maps some of my thinking at the time which I want to keep a record of [14 February 2018])