Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Suicide Forgivable?

As I continue the series on Christianity and Suicide, there is one question that looms heavy over many hearts. It is the often unasked question about forgivability. Can a person commit suicide and still be forgiven. This question clearly has eternal implications.

The Christian understanding is that suicide it is indeed a sin. It is most clearly a violation of the sixth commandment, “you shall not murder” [Exodus 20:13]. I will deal more with the Christian perspective on suicide in the next blog, but for now we seek the question of forgivability. 

There are two common myths that affect our view of suicide as Christians: one we will call the “Roman Catholic” myth, and the other being the “Unpardonable Sin” myth. Lets take these in order.

The Roman Catholic Myth
Roman Catholic theology asserts that suicide is a sin for violating the sixth commandment. However, in the Roman Catholic Church atonement is viewed differently than Protestantism. The inclusion of the sacraments in forgiveness are the difference. In Catholic theology the baptized Catholic has the opportunity of sacramental reconciliation (contrition, confession, absolution, and satisfaction or penance). In the case of a suicide, the guilty party never has the opportunity.  

The myth is that suicide leaves the guilty party without the option of receiving any sacramental atonement. 

However, the Catholic catechism states something very different, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #2283] The same catechism seeks for those who are left behind to pray for the deceased. Clearly the Roman Catholic view leaves room for hope, even if there is no assurance of pardon. However, to stay on point, the myth that forgiveness is not possible is false.

The Unpardonable Sin Myth
This myth, regarding the “unpardonable sin”, is about a phrase used twice by Jesus himself.  The two passages are Matthew 12 and Mark 3.

The myth is that suicide is the “unpardonable sin” and is therefore not forgivable according to Jesus.

I would guess that this myth is propagated by those who believe the first myth. In both the passages mentioned above, the authors recount a story where the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being possessed because he has power to cast out demons. The unpardonable sin, as quoted by Jesus in both records, is “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” This topic itself deserves its own blog, but suffice to say that a quick reading of both passages eliminates suicide from being the “unpardonable sin” as it is defined by Jesus.  

However, Jesus says something very relevant to this conversation:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:28-30 ESV

If we can agree that suicide is sin, and that the Bible is authority on God’s forgiveness, we can address the issue quite easily. If you read the above passages on the “unpardonable sin”, and came to the conclusion (as I have) that suicide is not it, than you already have your answer. In Jesus own words he tells us, “all sins will be forgiven the children of man” with the one exception that doesn’t relate here. 

Consider some of the people in Scripture who were guilty of murder. Moses murdered an Egyptian man, David had a man killed to cover up his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and Saul (Paul the Apostle) oversaw the death of at least Stephen, and potentially many more. All of these men were forgiven, and even greatly used by God.

Often those who point to suicide as being not forgivable quote the numerous scriptures about repentance of sin. Though this is a good point, remember that repentance is the call to those who are alive. Each one of us will die guilty of unrepentant sin. Note what John says in his epistle:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 ESV]

We are all sinful and forgiven at the same time. Martin Luther, the great German Reformer coined the phrase simul justus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinful). We will all die with some unconfessed, and unrepentant sin. 

One more thought...
Just because something is potentially forgivable by God, does not make it acceptable with God. To take your own life is to assert your own authority over the life God has given you (this is the topic of the next blog post). 

Clearly any form of murder is sin. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asks a rhetorical question about continuing to sin because we are forgiven. His answer is, “By no means!” [Romans 6:1-2] 

"He [Christ] died for me. He made His righteousness mine and made my sin His own; and if He made my sin His own, then I do not have it, and I am free." 
~ Martin Luther