Does a Christian go to hell for committing suicide?


We plan on discussing this difficult question at our International Christian Evidence Conference June 14-16 in San Diego. There is still plenty of time to register. You will find info at our web site.

I assume you are aware that the Roman Catholic Church has taught for centuries that suicide is a “mortal” sin which cannot be repented of, by definition, and which, therefore, automatically will send the one committing suicide to hell. This doctrine is based on faulty theology. The separation between mortal and venial sin is definitely not biblical. This doctrine is the result of a long history in Western Christianity over the question of what to do with those who sin after they are baptized. By as early as the third century, the church was demanding of those who committed certain sins after baptism that they perform a prescribed “pennance” in order to be restored to the church. The pennance was prescribed by the local bishop. It might include fasting, prayer and a period of time before being accepted back into fellowship. Pennance is not the same as repentance, although the words are connected, at least in Latin. Eventually, the Roman Catholic Church developed a complex system of pennance, including the false doctrine of purgatory. In Catholic teaching, purgatory is a place we work off the results of sins which were not forgiven during this life. Indulgences were sold so that loved ones could be relaeased from time in Purgatory. I am sure if you know the Bible you can see how problematic this teaching is.

Back to your question. I believe that all or nearly all Christians would agree that to give up on God and to take one’s life is sinful. People who do so are usually desparate, in the throes of extremely painful terminal illness or suffer from extreme depression. Does committing such a sin mean the person goes to hell? I will respond to this by asking a rhetorical question. To the Christian who believes that suicide is a sure ticket to hell, I would ask whether you have committed willful sin after baptism. All Christians commit sin. Fortunately for us, we have the blood of Jesus to provide purification for sins–even those committed after we become a Christian. 1 John 1:7-9 says, “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess oursins, He is faithful and righteosus to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” According to John, all of us sin, and all of us can be forgiven if we remain faithful. As far as I know, nowhere in scripture does it say that if we sin right before we die, that sin cannot be cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

Bottom line, if we have been saved–if we have the Holy Spirit living in us–if we do not willfully continue in sin (Hebrews 10:26f), then the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin–even the sin of taking our own life. This is not to justify suicide or to explain it away, but it is applying what God has told us as Christians with regard to sins we commit after we are baptized into Christ.

Possibly you are asking this question because someone you are close to took his or her life. If so, and if the person was a faithful Christian, the he or she will be in heaven. Your job is to show compassion to the family and close friends of those left behind. If the person was not a Christian, then the fact that he or she took his/her life will not change the final destiny, but you still should offer compassion to the family and friends left behind.

John Oakes

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