I have a couple of questions that are somewhat related. A good friend and myself were discussing what happened to Robin Williams. My friend’s dad committed suicide many years ago, under very similar circumstances. He tried for years to get help, but in the end, he decided to do what he did. My friend has often wondered if his dad is in heaven. His dad was a devoted Christian. Would God disregard his mental issues and instead look into his heart and allow him in, or is he condemned for taking his own life? My friend also said that there have been numerous times, then and now, when he asks where is God when all of this was happening. Even myself, when I read about Christians being persecuted/killed in Iraq by ISIS, ask where is God? This isn’t like Christians in China that may find themselves in jail. These people are being murdered. Heads cut off. Children being cut in half. All because they are Christian. Where is God? Where is their Savior? It is hard sometimes, as a Christian, to understand what is God’s will in all of this. How do we cope?
You are really asking at least two questions here. You are asking about the Christian response to the question of the suicide of a Christian. You are also making a broader inquiry about the question of evil. Why, if God is good, loving and powerful, do terrible things happen in this world?
On the first question, we should be careful not to look at the question of suicide through the lens of traditional “Christian” thinking on the subject. Roman Catholicism has traditionally viewed suicide as a “mortal” sin–one for which there is no forgiveness or salvation. The problem with this is that the term “mortal sin” is not found in the Bible. In fact, not only is the term not there, neither is the idea of distinct mortal (unforgivable) and venial (forgivable) sin found in the scriptures. There is no single sin which a believer can commit which automatically results in losing our salvation. This is a deep topic, but Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31 describe the possibility of a Christian losing their salvation for “continued, willful sin.” The way I understand it, blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29) and committing the “unforgivable sin” is to willfully and continually rebel against God and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I see no indication that if a Christian commits suicide, this act would automatically constitute such a willful and continual sin which would cause a person to lose their salvation. In fact, almost by definition, suicide cannot be a continual, repeated sin. Let the Christian who claims that suicide will automatically shut a Christian out of heaven be the one to throw the first stone! Yes, suicide is a final act, which cannot be repented of, obviously, but it is an abuse of the biblical idea of grace to teach that if we commit a particular sin and die before we have a chance to specifically repent of that specific sin, that we go to hell for this. The answer is that Robin Williams is probably not going to heaven because he probably was not a true Christian at the time of his death. However, his suicide probably will have no effect on his final destiny. The same applies to your friend’s dad. For the sake of argument, let us assume that his claim his father was a devoted Christian (the only kind there is, by the way) until the day he died is true. If he was a faithful disciple of Jesus and finished his life with the terrible decision to take his own life, I do not believe that this final act will change his final destiny. Not that I am in a place to judge either way, of course, but that is how I view the biblical evidence on suicide.
The second question, like the first, is a highly emotional one. We need to address these emotional questions, but we need to do our best to not view the question simply through our emotions, which are an unreliable instrument for determining truth. Such emotions are important and certainly should not be ignored, but they are not useful in deciding the correct answer to a biblical question. The answer to this question is that God does not do evil, but he does give us free will. He does not force us to love him or to obey him. The reason that people are murdered and the reason that ISIS is doing unspeakable, despicable things in the name of Islam is that there is evil in the world and the members of ISIS have given themselves over to evil. There is evil in the world, not because it is God’s will for evil to happen, but because God has given human beings the sovereign will in their lives, so that they decide whether or not they will obey God. These ISIS soldiers in Syria and Iraq are doing horrible, despicable things, but God allows them to do these things. It is very upsetting for us to see “innocent” people harmed and even killed in these acts. To be completely honest, I doubt that many of the civilians murdered in this terrible conflict are true, biblical Christians. However, whether they are saved people or not is really irrelevant to the question of why God would allow these things to happen. I would imagine that God is just as disturbed by Yasidis being killed by these militant Islamists as he is about the Chaldeans or the fellow Muslims killed by the senseless violence. In principle, it is worse if a pagan Yasidi is killed than a Christian because they will be lost and will not be in heaven.
Where is God? He is here all the time, working behind the scenes, trying to influence people to do what is right. However, he is not treating us like puppets on a string. If we refuse to do right, he respects our decision. He allows us to do evil because he loves us enough to give us the freedom to choose whether or not we will love him. I am sure that it is God’s will that this senseless violence and genocide stop immediately. However, God’s will is not always done. That is why Jesus, in his model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), asked that God’s will be done. When I am prideful or selfish, this is not God’s will, and I will not blame God for my sin, or for the consequences of my sin. I believe God could intervene to stop ISIS if he wanted to. He could put up a force field around their soldiers so that they can no longer attack innocent people. However, given the biblical evidence and the evidence from history, I do not believe that God will do this. He will allow the horror of sin to play itself out, in the hope that it will drive some of us to him for salvation. Death of the “innocents” is really not the issue. All of us will die. The issue is not that these people die in the violence, but that people, in general die unsaved, even if they die peacefully in their sleep. As terrible as these events in Iraq are, for God, the most terrible thing of all is that anyone die in their sins.