Questions From Readers
If someone commits suicide, would it be advisable for a Christian minister to give the funeral talk?
Each Christian minister would have to decide for himself whether he in good conscience could conduct a funeral for someone who seems to have committed suicide. When making the decision, he should consider the following questions: How does Jehovah view suicide? Was the death really a self-inflicted murder? Did a mental or emotional disorder trigger the suicide? How is suicide viewed in the locality?
As Christians, we are interested in how Jehovah views suicide. To Jehovah human life is precious and sacred. (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 36:9) The intentional killing of oneself is self-murder, and it is therefore displeasing in God’s eyes. (Exodus 20:13; 1 John 3:15) Does that fact preclude the giving of a funeral talk for a suicide victim?
Consider the case of King Saul of Israel. When he realized that he would not survive his final battle against the Philistines, rather than letting his enemy treat him abusively, “Saul took the sword and fell upon it.” When the Philistines found his corpse, they fastened it on the wall of the city of Beth-shan. Upon finding out what the Philistines had done, the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead removed the corpse and burned it. Then they took his bones and buried them. They even fasted for seven days, a traditional mourning rite among the Israelites. (1 Samuel 31:4, 8-13; Genesis 50:10) When David, the anointed of Jehovah, found out what the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead had done, he said: “Blessed may you be of Jehovah, because you exercised this loving-kindness toward your lord, toward Saul, in that you buried him. And now may Jehovah exercise toward you loving-kindness and trustworthiness.” (2 Samuel 2:5, 6) The divine record does not indicate that the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were condemned for performing what may be considered a funeral rite for King Saul. Compare that with the case of those who were deprived of burial because of their wrongdoing. (Jeremiah 25:32, 33) A Christian minister may consider the account about Saul in deciding whether he can give a funeral talk for a suicide victim.
The minister may also want to consider the purpose of a funeral service. Unlike people who believe in the immortality of the soul, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not perform funerals with the erroneous idea of sending the deceased off to another world. Rather than to benefit the deceased, the main purpose of having a memorial service is to comfort the bereaved and to give a witness concerning the condition of the dead to those who attend. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-5) Another important reason for having a funeral is to help all in attendance to reflect on the transitoriness of life. (Ecclesiastes 7:2) Will these purposes be served by performing the memorial service for the suicide victim?
Granted, some may feel that the person took his life intentionally, fully aware that he was sinning against Jehovah. But is there always a way to substantiate such a feeling? Could it have been a spur-of-the-moment act? Some who attempt suicide feel regret and do not go through with it. A person cannot after death repent for what he has done.
Another important factor is that of mental and emotional disorders that are involved in many suicides. These can really be called suicide victims. According to some statistics, 90 percent of those who commit suicide have some kind of mental, emotional, or addictive problem. Will Jehovah forgive the self-murder committed by people in such a mental state? We are not in a position to judge whether the deceased committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Jehovah. A Christian minister may take into account the circumstances and medical history of the deceased when he considers whether to perform a funeral service for the suicide victim.
There is one more aspect to consider: How do people in the community view suicide and the death of the person? This is especially of concern to the elders, who are interested in the reputation of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Depending on the general attitude toward suicide in the locality, and particularly toward the case involved, the elders may prefer not to sponsor such a funeral publicly or to have it in the Kingdom Hall.
Still, if a Christian minister is asked to preside at the funeral, he may feel that on a private basis, he can do so. If he decides to do so, he should be discreet in not making any firm statements about whether a resurrection might be possible. Any future prospect for the dead is in the hands of Jehovah, and no one is in a position to say whether the deceased will be resurrected or not. The minister can concentrate on the Bible truths about death and offer comfort for the bereaved.