The topic of suicide is not a new one. I want to say up front there are resources if you or a loved one is struggling with suicide: Suicide Prevention Lifeline Website 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a Christian suicide prevention program for teenagers, and why the Church should take suicide seriously. If your church does not have a suicide prevention policy, get this one for free. If you need free training on suicide prevention, check out this free resource from DYMU. And check out these articles to address myths of suicide as well as a bunch of statistics and ways the church could prevent suicide in their ministry.
We are not taking this lightly. But we also have not addressed the theological question, is suicide an unforgivable sin? We won’t answer this question in this article, it needs its own post. Instead, we want to do a precursor discussion on how pastors can talk about suicide and sin.
Who Is Asking This Question?
If you are asking this question because you are one that loves to explore the practicality of theological questions, great. We want to discuss this with you. But many times, this question does not come up because of theological exploration.
Instead, this questions is asked in a set of very sad and risky situations:
- Someone has committed suicide and the parent or friend is grieving. They want to know their son is okay.
- The individual is asking because they themselves are having suicidal thoughts.
- The individual is asking because it is becoming a regular topic among friends. In this case, regular discussion of suicide that idolizes it is an indication of someone in that circle with suicidal ideation.
If your reason for needing an answer this question is any on the bullet point, I’m going to suggest that a rational, practical answer is not the biggest priority right now.
- The grieving person is not thinking straight. We know after researching the brain after someone has a serious loss or crisis event that parts of the reasoning brain actually shut down due to shock and emotional responses. There is a saying that having the write response at the wrong time is still wrong.
- For the individual having suicidal ideation, you need to let your theological debate go. This isn’t the time. Instead, ask them if they are having thoughts of wanting to kill themselves. Comments of “it is a sin to kill yourself” adds shame and we know in clinical counseling actually increases the risk of the person committing suicide, not decreases it. Have a crisis counselor or 911 ready to be contacted.
- For the group that has been discussing it, you will need to follow the steps of the previous bullet point. It’s okay to assume someone is having suicidal thoughts. The worst outcome is you are wrong but if you don’t assume it and are wrong, you risk someone completing suicide. Afterward, look at bringing in a professional counselor or someone with training on suicide prevention to have the individuals and family members discuss
If we can say that we are truly having a conversation for theological debate, let’s continue.
Why This Question Is Not Easy
Next week we will address if suicide is an unforgivable sin, but the difficulty of this question is your own theological basis. Before we jump into the next article with Scripture answering if suicide is an unforgivable sin, let’s consider the following:
- We do not know the person’s heart. Only God does. To make a statement “clearly they did not know Jesus or they wouldn’t do that” is not only inappropriate, but I would also go so far as to say it is sinful and bad shepherding of the pastor. And I wish I could say I am making this up, but I’ve seen it over and over from rigid Christians who were self-centered and Pharasitical.
- We are looking at this from primarily a Protestant tradition. Catholicism has a troublesome history with this that has not been fully resolved. One example of this is in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas denounced suicide as an act against God and as a sin for which one could not repent. Catholicism has a categorization of sins that are not supported in Protestantism of mortal sins that one needs to repent again to come back to grace as opposed to venial sins which they say weaken the soul, but do not lead to damnation.
- We have our biases but will try to speak to Calvinism and Arminianism. By no means do we know all the details of the two types of theological interpretation nor would be able to argue for or against one who is skilled in such a debate. Instead will simply talk about suicide and sin within these two contexts in the next article.
So what do you want to know about within the conversation of if suicide is an unforgivable sin? No stupid questions, this is your time to better understand and support your community.