Suicide: An Unpardonable Sin for Christians?

Throughout my professional career as both a college professor and a Christian scholar I have been asked thousands of questions. However, whenever I’m asked about suicide it always strikes an emotional chord deep within me. A close member of my family died by suicide more than 40 years ago when I was just a teenager. My wife also lost a member of her family in the same tragic way.

In this post I’ll make four points about the tragedy of suicide. My central focus will be on the question of whether God forgives this act.

  1. The Serious Nature of Suicide

To intentionally take one’s life is indeed a sin of great magnitude. Why? Because suicide is self-murder. And what makes murder such a horrific act is not just the stealing of innocent life, but also the fact that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, murder constitutes an attack upon God himself (Genesis 9:6). To murder another person or one’s self is a serious sin against both human beings and God.

2. Suicide and Mental Illness

According to mental health professionals, taking one’s life is often connected to some form of mental illness. Because of these challenges, those who die by suicide are often not in complete or balanced control of their mental state. This instability factor brings the degree of volitional responsibility for the suicide into question. Christians are not immune to mental health struggles and are susceptible to thoughts of suicide just like anybody else.

3. Suicide and Youth

There is a serious problem in the Western world when it comes to suicide among teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, for far too many troubled young people, suicide becomes a permanent solution to temporary problems such as substance abuse or untreated depression. “At risk” young people who show signs of suicide risk should receive swift help from parents, doctors, counselors, and pastors.

4. Suicide and Divine Forgiveness

Suicide is unique among the sins of humanity because the person who commits this sin cannot confess it and repent. But does God forgive the sin of suicide?

Nowhere in Scripture does it state or imply that suicide is the unpardonable sin. The only unpardonable sin is committed by those who willfully and permanently reject God’s offer of love in Jesus Christ (John 3:36). Without faith (confident trust and reliance) in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a person will face God’s just wrath in the afterlife (1 Timothy 2:5–6).

I argue, on the basis of Scripture, that God can and does forgive his children who take their lives. This affirmation of forgiveness in no way condones suicide, which is a great sin. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death atones for all the sins of his people—past, present, and future (Romans 3:25). And God will not remove his forgiving love because a mentally ill person in a state of desperation commits a terrible self-destructive deed (Romans 8:38–39). Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ enjoy God’s enduring and complete forgiveness for all their sins (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).

Resources

  • If you are contemplating suicide, someone at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is available to chat with you right now (24/7). 
  • Here’s a helpful article on the topic of suicide especially for Christians, “The Truth about Suicide.”
  • For more about Christianity and mental health, I recommend Mark P. Cosgrove and James D. Mallory Jr., Mental Health: A Christian Approach.

  One thought on “Suicide: An Unpardonable Sin for Christians?

  1. Sheer
    September 24, 2019 at 6:48 am

    What about 1 Corinthians 3:16-17? Which specifically states that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Sp and any who destroys the body God will destroy that person. How do you get around and that verse?

    • September 24, 2019 at 3:00 pm

      Sheer:

      As a Christian theologian and apologist I’m not in the business of trying to “get around” verses. I attempt to understand Scripture within its proper context.

      The biblical commentaries I’ve consulted concerning 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 indicate that the temples of God that the apostle Paul is speaking about are to be understood corporately as the church and not as individual human bodies. Thus God will punish those who damage or fracture the church.

      So these verses seem to have no application to the issue of suicide.

      Sincerely,

      Kenneth Samples

  2. Sheer
    September 24, 2019 at 6:55 am

    I’ve heard recorded testimony from Christians who died and came back to life after they committed suicide and they found themselves in hell but God rescued them and brought them back to earth… so if their testimony is true, which i believe they were telling the truth when i watched their interviews, what about the Christians who are not resuscitated after suicide? You cant know for certain every suicide victim who is a Christian goes to heaven or is rescued from hell after they sin. “You shall not kill” is in the Bible. I know the Blood of Jesus is all powerful so i guess the issue is, is repentance required for the blood of Jesus to cleanse away sin? and would that be possible even after the soul/spirit leave the body and they have not repented?

  3. September 24, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Sheer:

    I don’t know the reliability of the stories you convey concerning people who apparently had something like near-death experiences. Also I don’t build doctrine based on the private religious experiences of people.

    The Hebrew is translated: “You shall not murder.” Suicide is self-murder but it is likely done by people who are psychologically ill and thus not in full control of their mental faculties. I read Scripture as indicating that God forgives all the sins of his people including the tragic cases of suicide in which one cannot repent.

    May I suggest you read my article again and consider carefully the case I’ve made.

    Sincerely,

    Kenneth Samples

  4. September 24, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    This is such a difficult topic Kenneth, and I appreciate your thoughts on it, and your insights and approach on so many other matters of faith, apologetics, and the world and life that God put us in, which almost always align with my own, or even help me to put my conceptions into words. Not today though.
    Your words: “Without faith (confident trust and reliance) in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a person will face God’s just wrath in the afterlife”. To me, the key phrase here is your parenthetic. Does someone with real and actual confident trust and reliance in Christ take their own life? Wouldn’t real confidence in Christ translate into a hope that sustains the will to live, the will to please and serve our Savior, the will to persevere through the valley of the shadow of death? Isn’t the path of sanctification one that climbs higher overall, closer to God, not down and away into rejection of the gift of life? Would the Spirit that dwells within the elect not provide a glimmer of sufficient light in our darkest hours?
    Do any lost souls commit suicide after reading opinions from Christians that God’s forgiveness even extends to the sin of self-destruction?
    Would God even include among the elect some whom He knows will turn their backs on Him and their loved ones in such a selfish, and prideful, manner?
    Maybe we can never know these answers, but we do know that in the end of this Age, and in eternity, all goes to and is for God’s glory, and for that we can be thankful, and full of praise and comfort.

    • September 24, 2019 at 6:16 pm

      MFD:

      You ask the question: “Does someone with real and actual confident trust and reliance in Christ take their own life?”

      My answer is yes. I have known Christians who have committed suicide. Christians are not immune to serious mental health challenges and even to despair. Sometimes the despair overwhelms their faith to the place where they can’t take the pain anymore.

      Sometimes that despair is the result of mental illness and other times it is the result of great trauma or abuse or addiction or a combination thereof.

      The fallenness and brokenness of human beings is deeply profound. Original sin shouldn’t be underestimated. Salvation and sanctification is not a guarantee that believers will not deeply struggle. Try getting into the mind and soul of combat soldier with PTSD and tell them strive harder at their sanctification.

      I’ve talked with people who are in their darkest hour and I have compassion on them and I’m confident God does as well. The difference with God is that he loves even people who commit self-destructive acts and turn their backs on him. It’s called grace (unmerited favor).

      You write: “Do any lost souls commit suicide after reading opinions from Christians that God’s forgiveness even extends to the sin of self-destruction?”

      My answer is I would much rather they read what I’ve written about a God of love and forgiveness than being victims who are nonetheless condemned as selfish and prideful.

      I encourage you to talk with counselors and pastors who work on the frontlines with troubled people because you might recognize a need for greater compassion.

      Sincerely in the Triune God of Love,

      Kenneth Samples

  5. Larry
    September 24, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you for the information provided. It gives me a more clearer understanding. My 19 year old son took his own life in March of this year. He is a Christian but suffered from depression. I pray he is in Heaven where he belongs. Kaston was a great son. Still so hard to believe he is gone.
    Larry Hall
    Larry.ghall@att.net

    • September 24, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      Dear Larry:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Because I have also lost loved ones to suicide I can say I know something of your grief.

      I look forward to the day when you and your son will stand in the presence of our Savior together.

      Be strong, my friend.

      Warm regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  6. September 24, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Apologetics4all and commented:
    In loving memory of my Uncle Larry and Cousin Kristie.
    Thank you Ken.

    • September 24, 2019 at 6:28 pm

      Warm regards, my friend.

      Ken Samples

  7. September 25, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Yes, I recently learned that my niece took her own life. I understand she was in a very dark place. Sadly, so far as I know, she was not a believer. I’ve thought for many years a person has to be in that ‘dark place’ to take their own lives. As you rightly point out Christians aren’t immune from this. Until that great day we live in a world of sadness.

    • September 25, 2019 at 9:35 am

      Mike:

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

      I pray God strengthens you and your family.

      Warm regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

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