In Part 1 of this post I explored the reasons why I believe suicide is related to a loss of hope. In this post I explore who what the Christian tradition and the bible have to say about suicide.
There are seven instances of suicide in the Bible but there is no clear statement from God about the act itself. Judges 9:52-54 and 16:25-30. 1 Samuel 31:4-5 and 2 Samuel 1 and the same story is told again in 1Chronicles 10. 2 Samuel 17:23, 1 Kings 16:15-20, and finally we have Matthew 27:3-5 and the suicide of Judas. Judas killed himself after repenting of his betrayal and returning the silver he was given to the chief priests and elders.
Although many of these instances are associated with God’s disfavour, none specifically condemns the act of suicide itself. The suicides in the Bible reflect responses to humiliation, dishonour, pride, fear, dismay and hopelessness. We know that God does not want us to kill ourselves but to find clear rejection of suicide in Christian teaching we must move from scripture to the teaching of the Church.
The Christian teaching on suicide comes primarily from two sources and is focused on suicide as an act of self murder and so is a violation of the sixth commandment. The two men who originally came to this understanding were Bishop Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century. Along with arguments based on natural law and violation of God’s creation, self murder became the clearest rejection of suicide. Each of these men saw this act of self-murder as a sin that could not be repented of and therefore condemned the person to eternal punishment.
While this is a good background it does not really get to the heart of suicide. This is an academic approach but suicide is an emotional act. The challenge for us is to find an emotional answer to the question. While Augustine and Aquinas expanded our understanding of suicide from a Christian point of view, both of them were academics and they missed a very important aspect of the Christian response.
Before I became a priest I was an attorney and I dealt with many different legal problems. While I was preparing for my presentation last year, I came to an overlooked point when it comes to suicide. What these men forgot was that in every murder there are two actors, the perpetrator of the crime and the victim of the crime. In suicide these two actors are the same person. The person doing the killing is also the person being killed. While this may seem like a small point its implications are enormous. Even though they have killed they are also the victim and Jesus Christ is always on the side of the victim. God in Jesus Christ is always on the side of those who suffer and who are in pain, always looking for the hopeless and lost. In Christ, mercy and grace always outweigh judgement. This leads us away from the academic and legalistic approach favoured by the Pharisees, to the loving and grace filled approach of Jesus. We as disciples are called to go out in His name, to bring hope, not condemnation, faith, not fear and love, not hate to those contemplating suicide and to families who have experienced this horrible tragedy. We are called to be with the victims. Part 3 of this post I will share just how close I came to ending my own life and why I didn’t.