The term “suicide” derives from Latin roots, sui, “one’s self,” and caedere, “to kill.” It is defined as the killing of one’s self with malice aforethought, while in the possession of a sound mind.
In some societies, both ancient and modern, suicide is seen as an honorable way to terminate one’s earthly existence. The Greeks considered it a part of man’s freedom.
According to psychiatrist Kenshiro Ohara, Japan’s leading authority on the subject, suicide is an evidence of sincerity. When a Japanese mother decides to commit suicide, she usually first kills her children. This deed elicits praise since children are considered parts of their parents, and to leave them motherless would be cruel (The New York Times, April 30, 1973, p. 10).
Suicide is becoming an increasingly popular “escape from life” in America. In 2004, it was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 32,439 deaths. The stigma associated with suicide is rapidly waning and a new vocabulary has arisen to rationalize the practice, e.g., “death with dignity,” and “patient-directed termination.”
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth—ages 15 through 24. Some authorities are reporting a number of suicides even among pre-teens.
This phenomenon is doubtless receiving considerable impetus from modern humanistic influences that have cheapened the value of human life, e.g., abortion, euthanasia, human experimentation, etc. In addition, the no-God ideology, hedonistic philosophy, and no-ultimate-Judgment concept unquestionably are contributors.
Suicide is based upon the premise that self-murder will end all of one’s problems because, supposedly, there is nothing beyond death.
Some false religions contribute as well. The notion that one, after death, may return to this life in a new existence wherein he can “try again” to achieve happiness, is a misconception of enormous magnitude. The idea that one can find pardon, and then happiness, in the post-death world is popular also. After death, judgment follows (Hebrews 9:27). There is no post-mortem plan of redemption.
The Biblical View
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, contains laws and principles that identify suicide as a morally reprehensible act on the part of a rational person.
There are several cases of suicide mentioned in the Scriptures, and all of them are viewed in an unfavorable light (cf. 1 Samuel 31:4,5; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18; Matthew 27:5). Self-destruction is a violation of the following biblical truths.
First, suicide asserts that man is autonomous; that he is his own source of law. Seneca, the Greek Stoic, defended suicide as an aspect of man’s lordship over his own being.
The Bible, however, teaches that it is Jehovah who made us, and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3). All people belong to the Creator (Ezekiel 18:4), and He has the “right” over them (cf. Genesis 2:7; Romans 9:21). Humanity is responsible to God.
Second, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that life is a gift from
God. It is He who gives life to all (Acts 17:25; 1 Timothy 6:13). No person has the intrinsic right to destroy that given by the eternal Source of life, unless authorized to do so by the Lord (cf. Leviticus 20:2).
Third, suicide is a violation of the divine law prohibiting murder. The unauthorized shedding of human blood is an assault upon the image of God in man (Genesis 9:6). [Note: The Jewish rabbis felt that this passage specifically forbade suicide (Gen. Rabbah 34.21b).]
Murder is condemned (Exodus 20:13; Romans 13:9), and suicide is self-murder when perpetrated by a person who is accountable. Though some who take their own lives doubtless are mentally disturbed, thus would not be responsible for the act itself, it is estimated that more than 90% of suicide victims are considered to be normal, sane persons.
Fourth, suicide is an act of selfishness. Human beings have been given the responsibility of serving God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). As our Maker (Psalm 95:6), he is worthy of our service (Psalm 18:3); man was created to glorify Jehovah (Isaiah 43:7).
Moreover, it is our duty to help others. Just as our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10:38), so he would have us act benevolently towards all men (Galatians 6:10). None of us lives “to himself” (Romans 14:7).
Fifth, suicide violates the principle of self-value that is so clearly enjoined in a multitude of Bible passages. When Paul admonishes everyone not to think “of himself more highly than he ought” (Romans 12:3), he certainly implied a proper level of self-worth.
Jesus taught: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); and the Scriptures suggest that: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). Would not a consideration of these two verses in concert lead to the conclusion that one should place a proper value upon his own life?
When Paul exhorts man to love his wife as “his own body” (Ephesians 5:28), there is the presumption of a legitimate obligation towards one’s body.
Dealing with Potential Suicides
In a world that is increasingly filled with a variety of pressures, the suicide rate will likely continue at its near epidemic pace. Christians need to be prepared to deal kindly with those who are driven to depths of despair.
The following recommendations are some of the elements of counsel that a compassionate person might give to one who seems frustrated with living.
- We must forcefully teach the truth that we are creatures of God; there is, therefore, real purpose in living. The distressed person needs to be convinced of his value as a creation of God.
- We need to point out that the depressing conditions of human existence are the result of sin (either directly or indirectly), but that Christ came to deal with the problem of evil. Through Jesus and his redemptive plan, we can be free from the guilt of all past wrongs (Acts 2:38), and we can learn to cope with a situation we cannot change (Philippians 4:13).
- We must emphasize that the relationship of being “in Christ” can provide a sense of tranquility and joy that makes life a wonderfully thrilling experience and certainly worth living (cf. Philippians 4:4-7).
- When you observe a person who seems inordinately distressed, offer them kindness and support. Attempt to demonstrate to them a better way of life.
Life is precious and we have the message of hope for the world!