Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Understanding Suicide, Stigma, and Salvation through Two Christian Perspectives
2. Why Christians Believe Suicide Is Wrong
2.1. Humanity Is Made in the Image of God
One of the tragic results of sin is that man no longer properly images God; the remnants of the image have been marred. The relationship with our Creator is broken, and redemptive history bears witness to man’s inability to obey and honor God. But the glorious truth of the New Testament is that restoration is possible through Christ, the perfect image of God (Col. 1:15), whose redeeming work restores the image to repentant sinners and establishes them as co-heirs with Christ.
2.2. Suicide Is Self-Murder
It is immediately apparent from the OT that murder is unspeakably abhorrent for at least two reasons: (1) It is the irremedial and permanent destruction of life, the most precious possession an individual can ever have; (2) It is an assault upon God Himself, for every human being without exception is an image-bearer of his Creator … There is not only inherent value in humanity—there is imputed value as well.(324)
In addition to using the sixth commandment, Augustine marshaled four other arguments against suicide: Christ never recommended it, Christians should live lives of faith and trust in God even in the midst of suffering, death cuts off the possibility of repentance, and suicide (a certain sin according to Augustine) should not be chosen instead of an uncertain sin, a sin which may not happen (like the rape of Pelagia, which is not certain to have occurred), and instead of a sin which is not one’s own (because the rapist, not Pelagia, would own the guilt).(7)
2.3. Our Lives Belong to God
2.4. Suicide Harms Community
2.5. Interpretations of Suicide in the Bible
It is obviously incorrect, then, to claim that there are no suicides in biblical and later Jewish history. Individual suicides have occurred despite the injunctions against them. Nevertheless, suicide is strongly prohibited in biblical and later Jewish thought, and when it has appeared within the culture, it may represent individual idiosyncrasies, impossible external situations, or profound Greco-Roman influences. The basic Jewish preference for life over death as expressed in the Hebrew Bible has never changed, nor has suicide ever been idealized as an end in itself.(71)
3. Suicide and Salvation
3.1. The Roman Catholic Approach
Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.( 1861)
Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.
2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
3.2. The Protestant Approach
4. Christianity and Stigma
4.1. Reducing Suicidal Stigma through Connection
Local churches serve as images of the Trinity, being sites of relational healing and strengthening in the Spirit. As Christians grow in the knowledge and love of God, they become more equipped to love, encourage, comfort, admonish, and support other Christians in the communion they share with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3) and so contribute increasingly and reciprocally to the “growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
4.2. Reducing Suicidal Stigma through Acceptance and Action
This is a critical time where congregations could show love for and be present with someone who does not value his or her own life. Congregations likely have mental health consumers as members or attendees. One in five Americans has a mental health problem (Mason 2014, p. 34). This means “one in five members of your congregation may be at risk of suicide because of a mental health disorder” (Mason 2014, p. 34). Churches could make an effort to conduct in-person visits once a suicidal individual is discharged. As well, congregations should make hospital visits to mental health centers and behavioral health clinics to see members. They could coordinate a visit or send caring contacts like an email or a text message to a person during the first twenty-four hours after being discharged for support and strength (Motto and Bostrom 2001).The transition from inpatient to outpatient behavioral health care is a critical time for patients with a history of suicide risk and for the health care systems and providers who serve them. In the month after patients leave inpatient psychiatric care, their suicide death rate is 300 times higher (in the first week) and 200 times higher (in the first month) than the general population’s (Chung et al. 2019). Their suicide risk remains high for up to three months after discharge (Olfson et al. 2016; Walter et al. 2019) and for some, their elevated risk endures after discharge.
4.3. Reducing Suicidal Stigma through Gatekeeping
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Obviously, there are multiple views among Christians as well as non-Christians regarding the legal and/or moral justifications for taking a life, that is, killing someone. Without going into those views, suffice it to say that the majority view is that people should not die by suicide.
Historical and critical scholarship question the reliability of the Noahic stories, along with all of Genesis 1–11. Even if one questions their reliability, Noah is theologically instructive about canonical teachings in Scripture regarding moral decision making, for example, as related to matters of suicide.
Some interpreters refer to verses like this one in advocating lex talionis (Lat., “law of retaliation”), epitomized by the language of an “eye for an eye” (Exod. 21:24). Jesus challenged this logic, advocating neither retaliating nor fleeing but challenging injustice by non-violent means (Matt. 5:38–42). However, Christians disagree about whether he advocated pacifism or if Jesus (and Scripture) still permits just retaliation, including just war ethics. Regardless of retaliation, the Genesis 9:6 passage emphasizes the importance and value of human life.
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Potter, J. Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Understanding Suicide, Stigma, and Salvation through Two Christian Perspectives. Religions 2021, 12, 987. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110987
Potter J. Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Understanding Suicide, Stigma, and Salvation through Two Christian Perspectives. Religions. 2021; 12(11):987. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110987Chicago/Turabian Style
Potter, John. 2021. "Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin? Understanding Suicide, Stigma, and Salvation through Two Christian Perspectives" Religions 12, no. 11: 987. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12110987