The Bible’s Viewpoint
THE tragic news of a suicide does not close a chapter in the lives of relatives and friends; it opens one—a chapter of mixed feelings of pity and anger, sorrow and guilt. And it raises the question: May we entertain any hope for our friend who took his or her life?*
Although self-inflicted death is never justified, never righteous, the apostle Paul did hold out a beautiful hope for even some unrighteous ones. As he told a Roman court of law: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Acts 24:15.
Nevertheless, many theologians have long dismissed any suggestion that the resurrection of the unrighteous might offer hope for those who commit suicide. Why?
Theologians Contradict Resurrection Hope
William Tyndale identified part of the problem in the foreword of his 16th-century Bible: “In putting departed souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory you destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection.” Yes, centuries ago, churchmen introduced a non-Biblical concept: immortal souls that leave the body at death and go straight to heaven, purgatory, Limbo, or hell. That concept clashed with the Bible’s clear teaching of a future resurrection. As Baptist minister Charles Andrews asked: “If the soul is already blissfully in heaven (or is already justifiably roasting in hell), what need is there for anything further?” He added: “This inner contradiction has remained to plague Christians throughout the centuries.”
One result of such errant theology was that “since Augustine’s time [354-430 C.E.], the church has condemned suicide as a sin,” says Arthur Droge in the Bible Review, December 1989, “a sin beyond redemption, just like apostasy and adultery.”
The harsh verdict of being “beyond redemption,” or hopelessly consigned to hellfire, carried the judgment-at-death argument to its shaky extreme. Admits the National Catholic Reporter: “Two of the church’s greatest doctors railed against suicide—Augustine branding it ‘detestable and damnable wickedness’ and Aquinas indicating it was a mortal [unforgivable] sin against God and the community—but not all churchmen have agreed.”
Happily, we can avoid such “inner contradiction” by accepting two compatible Bible truths. First, “the soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Second, the real hope for dead souls (people) is to live again through “a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) What, then, may we reasonably expect for people who commit suicide?
An Unrighteous One to Be Resurrected
Jesus told a criminal sentenced to death: “You will be with me in Paradise.” The man was unrighteous—a lawbreaker rather than a distraught suicide victim—guilty by his own frank admission. (Luke 23:39-43) He had no hope of going to heaven to rule with Jesus. So the Paradise in which this thief could hope to come back to life would be the beautiful earth under the rule of Jehovah God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:1-4.
For what purpose will God awaken this criminal? So that He mercilessly can hold his past sins against him? Hardly, for Romans 6:7, 23 says: “He who has died has been acquitted from his sin,” and “the wages sin pays is death.” Although his past sins will not be accounted to him, he will still need the ransom to lift him to perfection.
Therefore, theologian Albert Barnes was wrong and misleading when he asserted: “Those who have done evil shall be raised up to be condemned, or damned. This shall be the object in raising them up; this the sole design.” How beneath a God of justice and love! Rather, a resurrection to life on a paradise earth will furnish this former criminal (and other unrighteous ones) a golden opportunity to be judged by what they do after their resurrection.—1 John 4:8-10.
A Merciful Opportunity
Stunned friends of a suicide victim may thus take comfort in knowing that “Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:10-14) Only God can fully understand the role of mental sickness, extreme stress, even genetic defects, in a “suicidal crisis,” which, the National Observer noted, “is not a lifetime characteristic [but] often a matter only of minutes or of hours.”—See Ecclesiastes 7:7.
Granted, one who takes his own life deprives himself of the opportunity to repent of his self-murder. But who can say whether one driven to suicide might have had a change of heart had his fatal attempt failed? Some notorious murderers have, in fact, changed and earned God’s forgiveness during their lifetime.—2 Kings 21:16; 2 Chronicles 33:12, 13.
Thus, Jehovah, having paid “a ransom in exchange for many,” is within his right to extend mercy, even to some self-murderers, by resurrecting them and giving them the precious opportunity to “repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.”—Matthew 20:28; Acts 26:20.
The Responsible, Scriptural View of Life
Life is a gift from God, not something to be abused or to end at one’s own hand. (James 1:17) Hence, the Scriptures encourage us to see ourselves, not as immortal souls, but as valuable creations of the God who loves us, who treasures our being alive, and who looks forward with joy to the time of the resurrection.—Job 14:14, 15.
Love strengthens our recognition that suicide—though evading one’s own burdens—only heaps more problems on loved ones left behind. As far as the one who rashly took his own life is concerned, we humans cannot judge as to whether he will get a resurrection or not. How reprehensible was he? God alone searches ‘all hearts and every inclination of the thoughts.’ (1 Chronicles 28:9) But we may be confident that ‘the Judge of all the earth is going to do what is loving, just, and right!’—Genesis 18:25.
This article is intended for the survivors of suicide victims. For a fuller discussion of the subject of suicide, see The Watchtower, August 1, 1983, pages 3-11 and Awake!, August 8, 1981, pages 5-12.
[Picture Credit Line on page 22]
Kollektie Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo