Suicide and the Bible
One of my best friends recently committed suicide, leaving us all shocked and very sad. What does the Bible say about suicide?
Suicide is usually defined as the taking of one’s own life. The emotional scars left in family and friends are deep, and produce not only feelings of loneliness, but particularly a sense of guilt and disorientation. In providing an answer, I’ll have to limit my comments to the following brief observations.
Let’s first distinguish between suicide and martyrdom, which is the willingness to surrender our lives for fundamental convictions that we hold to be nonnegotiable, and heroic acts of self-sacrifice that result in the preservation of other lives (for example, a soldier throwing himself or herself on a grenade to save others). While suicide is fundamentally a denial of the value of our present life and the final solution to a life perceived as unbearable, those other cases are expressions of respect and love for life.
I will list the cases of suicide or attempted suicide recorded in the Bible, draw some conclusions, and make some general comments.
1. Cases of suicide in the Bible: Abimelech, mortally wounded by a millstone thrown on him by a woman, asked his armor-bearer to kill him to escape shame (Judges 9:54). Saul, after being seriously wounded in battle, killed himself (1 Samuel 31:4). Seeing what the king did, the armor-bearer “fell on his own sword and died with him” (vs. 5, NIV). These deaths were motivated by fear of what the enemy would do to them. Ahithophel, one of King Absalom’s counselors, hanged himself after realizing that the king had rejected his advice (2 Samuel 17:23). Zimri became king after a coup d’état, but finding that the people did not support him, he went into “the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him,” killing himself (1 Kings 16:18, NIV). Judas was so emotionally disturbed after betraying Jesus that he hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Samson took his own life and that of many prominent enemies by causing the collapse of a building (Judges 16:29, 30). After the earthquake, the Philippian jailer concluded that the prisoners had escaped, and attempted to kill himself out of fear, but Paul persuaded him not to do so (Acts 16:26-28).
2. Comments on the biblical incidents: From the incidents listed above, we notice several things: First, most of the suicides took place in the context of war, in which killing oneself is the result of fear or shame.
Second, other cases are more personal and reflect, in addition to fear, a poor self-image, or low self-esteem. All of them take place when the individual is in a highly emotional state of mind.
Third, suicide is mentioned without passing any judgment on the morality of the action. That doesn’t mean that it is morally right; it indicates that the biblical writer is simply describing what took place.
The moral impact of suicide is addressed through a biblical understanding of human life: God created it, and we are not the owners to use it and dispose of it as we please. The sixth commandment also has something to say about the topic. Therefore, a Christian should not consider suicide a morally valid solution to the predicament of living in a world where there is physical and emotional pain.
3. Comments and suggestions: How then should we relate to the suicide of a loved one?
First, psychology and psychiatry have revealed that suicide is very often the result of profound emotional upheaval or biochemical imbalances associated with a deep state of depression and fear. We shouldn’t pass judgment on the person who has opted for suicide under those circumstances.
Second, God’s perfect justice takes into consideration the intense turmoil occurring in our troubled minds; He understands us better than anyone else. We must place the eternal future of our loved ones into His loving hands.
Third, with God’s assistance, we can face guilt in a constructive way, keeping in mind that often those who commit suicide needed professional help that most of us were unable to provide.
Finally, if you are ever tempted to commit suicide, there is professional help available, medications that can help you overcome depression, friends who love you and would do all they can to help you, and a God who is willing to work with you and through others to sustain you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Never give up hope!
Angel Manuel Rodriguez (Th.D., Andrews University) is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.
For an earlier article on this subject, check Judy Cushman, “Suicide: What you should know” (Dialogue 9:1, 1997), or log unto our website: http://dialogue.adventist.org.