Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, is a retired physician who devotes his full time to a Bible teaching and conference ministry in Canada and the U.S.A.
This article is the third in his series dealing with several of today’s controversial issues and problems.
Suicide — the intentional taking of one’s own life — is one of the leading causes of death in North America and of the world. Some years ago, the World Health Organization estimated that there were one thousand deaths by suicide daily. In North America, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers — second only to accidents. In 1984, five thousand Canadian teenagers were reported to have committed suicide: this was three times the number of adolescent suicides reported thirty years previously.
Since many suicides are — for confidentiality — not reported as such, the actual figures may be very much higher than those reported. Additionally, it is conservatively estimated that there are eight attempted suicides for every one that is achieved. Thus the figures for reported suicides are probably only a fraction of the numbers who endeavour to take their lives. It has been stated that probably 90% of the population will consider suicide a possibility at some time in their lives. This problem is obviously a major concern in our society.
It is, of course, by no means a new problem. The Bible records several examples, mostly in the Old Testament.For example: Abimelech (Judges 9:54); Saul (1 Sam. 31:4); Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23); and Zimri (1 Kings 16:18). Samson (Judges 16:30) should probably be included in this list. The most notable example, of course, is in the New Testament: Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:18).
The Scriptures nowhere approve of suicide, which is really self-murder. What should be the Christian’s attitude to it?
1. In view of the sanctity of human life, clearly stated in Genesis 9:6 and throughout the Word of God, the consequent prohibition against the taking of human life applies equally to the taking of one’s own life as to that of others. Suicide is never the will of God for the believer or for anyone else. The giving of one’s life for others, as did our blessed Lord; or the giving of one’s life for Christ and the Gospel — as did Stephen, Paul, and multitudes of other martyrs — is not, of course, to be considered as suicide.
2. Our times are in God’s hands (Ps. 31:15). All the circumstances, situations, trials and problems of life are known fully to Him and are completely under His control. However trying and difficult they may be, they are best left there with the One Who loves us perfectly and Who is working out His good purpose for our lives (Rom. 8:28). To commit suicide is to take ourselves out of His care. Much better it is to commit ourselves unreservedly to Him whatever the circumstances and trust Him to have His way with us, for His way is always the best way. He will give grace for every trial and will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our ability to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).
3. The believer who commits suicide is depriving himself of opportunities for further service for the Lord. He is depriving his Lord of what belongs to Him — his life, which he really holds in trust as a steward. By that act, he also deprives his fellows: his family and friends, of his companionship; the Lord’s people, of fellowship and cooperation in service; and the unsaved, of the opportunity to hear the Gospel from his lips.
4. Suicide must be considered in the light of the Judgment Seat of Christ, where “we must all appear” and where “everyone” will “receive the things done in (by means of) the body” (2 Cor. 5:10), including the taking of that life that belongs to the Lord. “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). How shall we stand before Him in that day if we have cut short our life that He could have used for His glory?
5. It has been stated that no believer can commit suicide, and, therefore, that anyone who has done so cannot have been a believer. This is obviously contrary to the experience of many genuine believers who have taken their lives in a state of mental depression. It is true that no believer should commit suicide or, for that matter, any other known sin. The fact that a believer sins —sometimes grievously — does not indicate that he is not a real believer. Likewise, the suicide of a professed believer does not disprove his profession of faith. Moreover, many commit suicide when their mental state is unstable; in some cases, though by no means all, they may be hardly responsible for their actions. We can be absolutely sure that the Lord will be more gracious to them than many of their fellow believers on earth are!
6. Since the eternal security of every believer is repeatedly assured in the Scriptures, no true believer who commits suicide will ever be lost.
7. For unbelievers, death, whether by suicide or by natural means, deprives the person of further opportunities of salvation. Since death does not end all, as they may have vainly hoped in taking their lives, suicide is certainly not an escape, but rather the doorway to torment infinitely worse, as the rich man of the Lord’s story in Luke 16:22-24 found. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
8. As Christians, we have special responsibilities to those under severe stress and pressure, who may be considering terminating their lives. (Note: it has sometimes been stated that a person who threatens to commit suicide never does. This is, in fact, far from the truth. Indeed, 80% of those who commit suicide have communicated their intention to others beforehand.) By our compassion, help and prayer, we may be the means of delivering them from such a course and thus of saving their lives as well as their souls.