One of my best friends committed suicide. Since then I have wondered what the Bible says about the topic.
Suicide is usually defined as the taking of one’s own life. The emotional scars left to family and friends are deep and produce not only feelings of loneliness but particularly a sense of guilt and disorientation. In attempting to provide some guidance in answering your question, I must 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 and values that we hold nonnegotiable—and heroic acts of self-sacrifice that result in the preservation of other lives (a soldier throws himself or herself on a grenade to save others). While suicide is fundamentally a denial of the value of our present life, 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 at 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 Sam. 31:4). Seeing what the king did, the armor-bearer “fell on his own sword and died with him” (verse 5, NIV). This was motivated by fear of what the enemy would do to them. Ahithophel, one of the counselors of king Absalom, hanged himself after realizing that the king had rejected his advice (2 Sam. 17:23 ). Zimri became king after a coup d’état, but realizing 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 (Matt. 27:5). Samson took his own life in battle against the enemy (Judges 16:29 , 30). After the earthquake the Philippian jailer concluded that the prisoners had escaped, and out of fear attempted to kill himself, but Paul persuaded him to the contrary (Acts 16:26-28).
2. Comments on the Biblical Materials: From the incidents listed above we notice several things.
First, most of the suicides took place in the context of war, in which self-killing is the result of fear or shame.
Second, other cases are more personal and reflect, besides fear, a low self-image. All of them take place in the context of a highly emotional state of mind.
Third, suicide is mentioned without passing any judgment on the morality of the action. That does not 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 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 of 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 very often suicide is the result of profound emotional upheaval or biochemical imbalances associated with a deep state of depression and fear. We should not pass judgment on the person who, under those circumstances, opted for suicide.
Second, God’s justice takes into consideration the intensity of our troubled minds; He understands us better than anyone else. We must place the future of our loved ones into His loving hands.
Third, with God’s assistance we can face guilt in a constructive way. Keep 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 are medications that can help overcome depression, there are friends who love you and would do all they can to help you, and there is a God who is willing to work with you and through others to sustain you as you walk through the valley of death. Never give up hope!