(When One Takes His Own Life)

By Elder Hoyt B. Simms, Atlanta Primitive Baptist Church

Since the event of the first murder when Cain took the life of his brother Abel, men have been taking the lives of others. As the years go by to some it seems as though human life becomes cheaper and there is less regard for the divine gift of life than ever before. The practice of euthanasia (the ending of the life of someone suffering a terminal or unending illness) is closer than one can imagine if we take seriously the many indications that present themselves, not the least of which is the murder of nearly-born children. How long will it be before those in authority decide who lives and who dies among other age groups as well as infants?

Not only are men taking the lives of others, but there has also been in recent years a rapid increase of people taking their own lives. It is now the leading cause of death within age group of 15 to 24.

Doctor-assisted suicides are making the headlines of our newspapers. The medical and legal professions are faced with ethical and moral problems today which would have been unheard of just a quarter of a century ago. Of course, this is of great concern to many, even as it should be a major concern of the Church of Jesus Christ.

As we read of automobile accidents and dread sickness, none of us believes that it will happen to us. If the truth were known, the majority of those who have taken their own lives would have asserted strongly at one time that they would take such an action. Perhaps if we were to realize that we, too, could make this choice in some time to come, we would be better prepared if this temptation were to confront us.

There are few families who have not felt the pain a suicide brings. It never entered my mind that it could happen to anyone in my family, yet my older sister died by her own hand. It is difficult to express the grief and distress, the feeling of utter helplessness that comes over you when one you love has terminated the divine gift of life by her own hand.

Immediately the thought comes that perhaps you could have done something if you had only known that your loved one was so tortured and was considering this action. The truth is, in many cases the one who takes his own life has not been planning it; his action is the result of that which is immediate, because of the pressures of the moment, and no one can know nor help. The weakest word in the Bible and in human speech is the word if. To use this word on the occasion of a loved one's taking his own life is an exercise in utter futility.

The fact remains that when a loved one has taken his own life, those who remain are faced with anxiety of soul and many questions. What could have been done to prevent this tragedy? Why did it happen? What was the motivation? Did he realize how it would affect family and friends? For many comes the persistent question, "Is my loved one with the Lord, or did his sin in taking his own life banish him from the presence of God forever?"

For the answer to any question that arises on such an occasion, we must turn to the Word of God. Concerning any aspect of life, His truth is the only consolation with lasting value.

Self-murder is not an agreeable subject upon which to reflect, but it should enter our meditations in a day when the incidents of this sin has risen higher than in any other day. We are told that the suicide rate has tripled in the last ten years, and that for every person who succeeds, at least ten try and fail.

Many people do put an end to their lives, and, undoubtedly, many others have at one time or another thought about it. Perhaps if we would meditate upon what God's Divine Word proclaims concerning this subject, more would be helped when this temptation enters the mind, or when loved ones have succumbed to it.

We could never be exhaustive in examining the causes, but first, mention must be make of mental derangement and great emotional stress. Perhaps these causes are not as common as we might think for those of us who remain desire to be charitable to the departed, thereby ascribing their actions to one or the other of them. We may want to think that mental illness is always the cause for such reasoning would automatically absolve us of any blame. Regardless, it is one of the causes and would be the same as saying that suicide took place because of some malfunction of the brain.

Mental illness is often hereditary, sometimes induced by a chemical imbalance in the body, or can be induced by overwork, mental stress and the pressure of undue anxieties. The burden of the dread of trouble is often the cause, as are intense pain, great misfortune, disgrace (or the dread of it), and fear of destitution. The record of Saul and his armour bearer in I Samuel 31, would be an example of such a condition. Such was also the case of Zimri (I Kings 16:18).

The same was true of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:27). Although he did not commit suicide, that was his intention. Disgrace and failure motivated Ahithophel as he "saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father" (II Samuel 17:23). Ahithophel was at one time regarded as an oracle of God (II Samuel 16:23).

Is suicide a sin? Someone might say that it certainly is sin because it is self-murder. This is true but those contemplating suicide do not think of it as self-murder, rather, a way of escape from futility, real or imagined. Assuredly it is a sin, and not only a sin, but folly. It is sin because "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). It is sin because "sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). It is contrary to nature. Love of life is one of the strongest desires implanted within us by our Creator. Men may be willing to expose their lives to peril, as in the case of Paul for the sake of the Lord, but we must not ever terminate our lives and thus cut short our years of service to the Lord. This alone would make suicide a sin. It is a sin against God for it removes us from the service of the Lord and is an act of rebellion against Him. To him belong the issues of life, meaning it is not ours to decide when it will begin and when it will end.

It is also a sin against our loved ones and friends for it removes us from those who love us and desire our welfare. To abandon them is to rob them of our presence and our example. Even under the worst circumstances one can still set an example of patient suffering and submission to the will of God. If one becomes a burden to others, it may be God's way of making him a blessing for those to whom he becomes a burden, strengthening them and making them more meet for the Master's use.

Suicide is in direct opposition to the revealed will of God. There is not a verse of Scripture which states that one shall not take his own life, unless we would quote the commandment, "Thou shalt do no murder" (Matthew 19:18). It is entirely opposed to all precepts of Scripture which exhort us to be patient, enduring the trials of this life, enduring even unto the end.

At one moment in king Saul's life he told the truth concerning himself for he said, "behold, I have played the fool" (I Samuel 26:21). Not only in life, but also in his death he "played the fool."

Of all who commit the sin of suicide, it can be said, "They played the fool." But many times they are not the only ones who play the fool. Ordinarily, those of us who are left assume the same role, from the nearest loved ones, even to the minister who conducts the funeral. When the servant of God tries to minister to the bereaved in a time such as this, what does he say? When he tries to bring a message of consolation at the memorial service, what comfort does he offer? He is neither to promote the man to heaven nor condemn him to hell - this is not his duty or prerogative, rather God's alone. The minister stands before the people, the family is in great bereavement and sorrow, the friends of the family can offer almost no comfort; and everyone is wondering, "What will the preacher say? Will he be able to give some comfort to the family that perhaps the deceased is with the Lord? Will he try to preach the deceased in hell?" Then the congregation waits, and waits some more for more often than not the he reads some scriptures, makes a few general remarks about the grace of God, and never once mentions the fact that the deceased took his own life. Everyone leaves still wondering, perhaps more perplexed than when they entered the chapel or the sanctuary. They came wanting answers to questions. We know this is the case for have you ever noticed how many more people attend the funeral of a suicide than the funeral of those who die of natural causes?

Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). We need to know the truth about any and every situation in which we find ourselves. What is the state of people after death who have taken their lives? Why do so many ministers of the Gospel completely ignore the question in these circumstances? Again, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Perhaps there is no mention of the eternal state of the deceased because so many ministers believe that a person gains heaven on the basis of his works, or his good life and lack of sinfulness. When one commits suicide, that indeed is a sin and there is no room for repentance. Others think that suicide is an unpardonable sin; they believe that one can be saved, later sin, and be lost forever. Some seemingly have never heard of the eternal security of the saints. No wonder those left when one takes his life are in such a state of confusion. They have heard the preacher say hundreds of times that if one will make his decision for Christ and be baptized, he will be saved. Then one who has made his decision for Christ commits suicide, and the preacher has no word of comfort for he believes that the person cannot be saved, having committed an unpardonable sin.

I once knew a dear Christian lady who believed that salvation was gained by good works and the life lived by the individual; but that you could be saved, yet finally lost after certain sins. She believed also that suicide is an unpardonable sin. We worked together in the same office and one day she received the sad news that her brother-in-law had taken his own life. Some days after the funeral we were in conversation and I asked her if she believed her brother-in-law was in hell. She replied that on the contrary, she believed he was in heaven. I asked her how she could believe this for she thought the sin of suicide was an unpardonable sin. She answered that she knew he was in heaven because he had regained consciousness just before he died and had repented of his sin. If such a belief were not so sad, we could say that at least it was preposterous. She and her church based the eternal salvation of this man on the fact that he had regained consciousness and repented. If he had not regained consciousness, he would (in their opinion) spend eternity in hell.

When we believe the truth of the Bible we do not have to conjure up answers such as this, and we can give the comfort needed at the memorial service by addressing the issue of suicide. We can understand why anyone with these erroneous beliefs would keep quiet concerning the eternal state of the deceased for they truly believe he is in hell That brings comfort to no one. The fact is, his committing suicide or not committing suicide has no bearing whatever on whether he will be in heaven. The type or cause of death cannot determine eternal destiny.

The Bible boldly declares that a man is not saved by his works, or his lack of sin, but by the grace of God through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Not only this, it also declares that God made choice of His people before the foundation of the world. Paul stated in Ephesians 1:4,5, "According as he (God) hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will."

Christ died for all whom God chose: "...thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Christ shed His blood for His people and His blood is effectual: "...and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7). Those for whom Christ died and whom God chose are given the new birth, regenerated, and are quickened by the Holy Spirit: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).

Can one whom God chose, and for whom Christ died and shed His blood and the Holy Spirit has given a new birth, and who has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus, be finally lost, even one who has committed suicide? If one could be lost, Christ would have to come back from heaven, go back into the tomb and never rise again for He was "...declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).

It is also written that "...he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Christ Himself said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and he that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). Could we, or must we add, that all that the Father gave to Christ come to Christ and He will cast out none save those who die by their own hands? Again, Christ said, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:39). Must we add, "with the exception of all those who commit suicide"?

Some conclude that one who has committed murder cannot be saved, and since this is so, when one commits suicide he has, in effect, murdered himself. But to say that one who has committed murder cannot be saved is to say that David is not saved for he committed murder and adultery (II Samuel 11). Samson took his own life (Judges 16:30). Was he lost?

To say that any one sin will cause a child of God to lose salvation is to say that Christ's blood was not sufficient for that sin. The truth is, that if one has not been saved and he commits suicide, he is still unsaved and no amount of preaching or reasoning will save him. Likewise, when one is saved and he commits suicide he is still saved and no amount of preaching or human reasoning will cause him to be unsaved.

When friends and loved ones gather at the chapel for the memorial service of one who has taken his own life, most of them know what kind of life that person has lived. The life that one has lived, be it ever so good, can never be the cause of one's salvation for it is "Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9), but the life of one who has lived a good life is a good indicator that he is saved for Christ said, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). We can be thankful that it is not left to the survivors, the congregation, the minister, or the church to determine the final destiny of the person deceased.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that beliveth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die..." (John 11:25,26.) It is probably true that this scripture is used at more memorial services than any other scripture with the exception of the Twenty-third Psalm, but it is just as true, just as useful and just as pertinent when one dies by his own hand as when one dies of old age.

Paul declared, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38,39). After the word death, Paul did not add the words, except death caused by one's own hand.

Would God choose one before the foundation of the world to be His own, Christ die for that one, the Holy Spirit quicken that one, and the Triune God be with that one in birth, in life, and then desert him in death? Would a mother forsake her child whose thinking had gone wrong? Would God?

"I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his" (II Timothy 2:19).

What are the weapons one can use to win over the temptation of suicide? Much could be said, which would all culminate in the words, Have faith in God; He's on His Throne. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13)

Some might reason that the above scripture is not always true for there have been Christians who have taken their own lives and there was no way of escape for them. Yes, there was a way of escape made for them by God. They just did not avail themselves of it.