One day, the wife of a Southern Baptist minister asked me, "Do you think it is possible for a person who commits suicide to go to Heaven?" As I began to speak with her about the subject, she shared this horrific story. She said that the pastor of her church had a daughter that committed suicide. The girl was going through some problems at the time. She was very deliberate in her own death as she lined the bathtub with plastic apparently to make it easy for those left behind to clean up after she was gone. I later learned that this all happened a good number of years ago, but it was still troubling this woman. What seemed to trouble her most was that her pastor along with her own husband were very adamant about the girl's eternal heavenly home. They insisted that she was in Heaven. Is this true? Is it possible for a Christian to commit suicide and still go to Heaven?
Suicide has become a major issue in the United States. From the perspective of a pastor, there are really two major concerns. First, we must do what is necessary to prevent suicide from taking the life of one of our own. Second, we must be ready to answer some very difficult questions in its wake if it ever does occur close enough to hurt our people. We must also be ready to counsel people through the grieving process in a way that would please the Lord. When I was a young man, I was in a music group that traveled from church to church. At one particular church, there was a man that asked if he could speak to me. He then told me that he intended to kill himself after the concert. As I continued to talk to him, he asked, "Do you believe that if I kill myself I will go to Hell?" In spite of my discomfort, I told him that I did and proceeded to talk to him more. Shortly, I was very happy when a more experienced member of the group joined the conversation allowing me to slip away. I was not ready to face this type of situation, and I knew it.
Later, I related the situation to another member of the group. I was startled as he looked at me with a stern expression and said, "You didn't tell him he would go to Hell did you?" I admitted that I had. Upon hearing that, he shook his head in disgust and walked away. I was stunned and more than a little intimidated. Dealing with a suicidal man was distressing enough, but this additional entanglement left me feeling even more unsteady. Why was he so forceful?
I was not sure how to respond to his comment because I had never heard anyone say that a person could commit suicide and go to Heaven. This was a news flash to me. Nobody had ever taken the time to share with me how the proponents of eternal security ensure Heaven for many who commit suicide. I did not realize at the time how important this issue is to Calvinists. Now, I know it is crucial. Calvinist doctrine requires that if a one time believer commits suicide they must go to Heaven. What if Calvin was wrong?
It is a fact that many Calvinists believe that a person can go to Heaven by means of suicide. Their doctrine requires it. Otherwise, they would be placed in the position to denounce the salvation testimony of all persons that kill themselves. For the Calvinist, there is no other option because of the belief in the doctrine of eternal security. As a result, the Calvinist confidently proclaims in various terms that the deceased is peacefully resting in a heavenly home.
One common way to affirm the heavenly resting place of the deceased is to attribute their last state as a mental illness; however, this brings up a new question that dives into the gap between the fields of modern psychology and Biblical Christian Counseling before the question of Calvinism can even be approached. Jay Adams, in his masterpiece, Competent to Counsel, takes on the daunting task of contrasting the modern methods and underlying assumptions of modern psychology to the teachings of the Bible. His research indicates that there is a vast difference between the two and the difference is irreconcilable. One of the major pillars of Adams' teaching is his outright denial of the concept of mental illness. He readily recognizes that there may be damage to the brain through trauma, disease, and drugs or other chemical imbalances, but he absolutely refuses to grant mental illnesses that are not categorically medical. Modern psychology speaks of emotional illnesses/disorders such as schizophrenia, multiple personality disorders, bi-polar, depression, and such. Adams contends that these are not diseases at all as they have no basis in the physical make-up of the brain. To him, they are all byproducts of sin and its companion - guilt.
Psalm 107 gives us some insight into the mindset of a person before they commit suicide: "Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death" (107:17-18). Psalm 38 also speaks of the severe depression that people experience before they kill themselves, and the source of the misery is sin. "For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me." (38:4). "My heart panteth, my strength faileth me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me" (38:10). In both of these Psalms, however, the distressed person turns to the Lord and is saved, but what happens when a person does not turn to God?
If Adams is correct concerning mental illness, and I believe he is, then what does this say about claiming mental illness as a factor in suicide? It says that mental illness, as classified by modern psychology, is the product of sin. Then ultimately suicide is the product of sin as well. If so called illness is induced by sin and the illness brings suicide, then the suicide is the fruit of the sin. This should not be surprising as the Bible says that this is the case. James 1:15 says, "And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." So to put this all together, the Calvinist pastor stands before the congregation at the funeral of a person who committed suicide and proclaims that mental illness (which resulted from sin) was ultimately the cause of this tragedy; therefore, the deceased is in Heaven. Is this what the Bible teaches?
What does the Bible really say concerning suicide? To begin, the precedent for God's concern about human life is abundantly clear throughout the Bible. Starting with Cain and Abel, there is a clear pronouncement from the Almighty concerning ending a human life. The Ten Commandments includes "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13). Is there any way to reconcile suicide and the sixth commandment? We often use the terms "killed himself" as equivalent to suicide. Is this the same as murder? If so, then 1 John 3:15 is relevant when it says, "No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." If we put a person who commits suicide in Heaven, then would we not also need to proclaim a Heavenly home for a person who dies in the act of killing someone else? I heard one Calvinist go so far. John teaches otherwise on both counts.
I have heard of Calvinists that explain suicide by attributing the despair and depression of the deceased to demonic activity. While I completely agree with their conclusion, I find it quite interesting for two reasons. First, many modern Calvinists deny or at least minimize the reality of demonic activity in present day America. This may not represent all of the Calvinists; however, this is not an unusual understanding. If a Calvinist who minimizes demonic activity turns to attribute suicide to demonic activity then this is a convenient inconsistency. The second reason that I find this response interesting is because it readily admits to the power of demonic forces over a saved person. Is this the message that we intend to convey? Is it the message of the Bible?
I find it difficult to imagine looking at this world, particularly the psychiatric mayhem that fills our institutions, without recognizing demonic activity. Denying demonic activity in the modern age violently clashes with both my intellect and experience. I most definitely believe that demonic activity exists; therefore, it is not difficult for me to believe that people who have committed suicide were troubled by demons.
I also have no difficulty believing that a demon can be troublesome to a true believer. Otherwise, Paul would not warn the believers at Ephesus: "Neither give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27). I do not even have trouble with the idea of a true believer being completely overcome by demons provided they open the door as Paul warns against. My question is not about the demonic activity. I want to know the condition of the person's soul. If a true believer opens the door to demonic activity to the point that they are completely overcome and kill themselves, were they still a true believer at that time?
When you consider a truly demonized person, the qualities that you will find are very far from the qualities that the New Testament ascribes to true believers. For example, if you attempt to compare the commonly observed behaviors of a suicidal person to the list of qualities a believer is supposed to have, there are no similarities. A suicidal person is usually severely depressed, withdrawn, refuses to eat, fails to groom, and other common symptoms. The Bible describes the believer as a person that is full of faith, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, temperance, etc. Jesus said you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:20). Suicidal people do not produce Christian fruit. Jesus said this was indicative. Can an absolutely fruitless demonized person go to Heaven? When Jesus said, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away," I don't think He was meaning that they are taken away to Heaven. More likely as Jesus continued, "Men gather them, and cast them into the fire" (John 15:2, 6).
In a rather intense conversation, I once discussed the subject of suicide with a prison chaplain. His response was, "Suicide is not the unpardonable sin!" I really don't like cliches. Most people who use them do not even stop to consider their validity, and what is even more bothersome is that they use them as if they have somehow dealt the ultimate argument. Nevertheless, his response was not very surprising. I had heard it before. As I continued to speak to the chaplain, I said, "Are you saying that a Christian who commits suicide goes to Heaven?"
He answered affirmatively and then explained how people often go through hard times and make bad choices.
I continued, "Are you saying that if I have a bad day, I can just shoot myself and go straight to Heaven? I suppose I could just go to Heaven later today."
He was a little surprise, but he managed to say, "Yeah, but you won't."
There is no escaping the end of this logic. If Christian people who commit suicide go to Heaven, then we can all go whenever we want. We can go today or wait till tomorrow if we like. Just keep the gun loaded for that special occasion.
Now, we will have a look at the absurdity of the idea that suicide is not the unpardonable sin. This is a blatant effort to shift the argument. The unpardonable sin is not in question when discussing suicide. Nobody is comparing suicide to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I am only familiar with two Calvinistic teachings concerning the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. One says that it is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to take the words of Christ and attribute them to the devil. The other says that it is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to continue in unbelief until your death. Interestingly enough, if the second of these definitions is true, suicidal people are not living by faith. The opposite of living by faith would be to live in unbelief. Some suicidal people may have a testimony of conversion, but if they are living in unbelief to the point that they take their own lives, then they may indeed fulfill this definition of blasphemy of the Spirit as defined by many Calvinists.
Could we not apply this same principle to other sins like stubbornness? Stubbornness is a sin that causes people to refuse to repent. It is likened to idolatry in 1 Samuel 15:23. Stubbornness is not the unforgivable sin. Does a person that dies in unrepentant stubbornness go to Heaven? We could go on and on with examples because ultimately any sin can be said not to be the unpardonable sin, yet any sin for which a person refuses or even fails to repent can and will be damning to their soul. Ultimately, it does not matter whether or not suicide is the unpardonable sin.
Even if, in theory, suicide is forgivable, a person must repent to be forgiven (1 John 1:9, see also Luke 13:3, 5) When would this happen? Some scoffers have suggested that if a man jumps from a tall enough building, he could repent on the way down. I will let one of them try that to see if it works. Jesus said, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12). In addition, a suicidal person does not repent on the way down. They look forward to the end. They are not trying to delay it. They are trying to embrace it, but what if it is not really the end after all? What if the Calvinists are wrong about this?
The danger of this teaching is that it inevitably provides the wrong kind of hope to the suicidal. Who would really commit suicide if they truly believed that a burning Hell awaited them on the other side of the pavement? Who would pull the trigger to escape the terrors of the earth if they truly believed that they would be eternally tormented in a real and painful Hell forever as the Bible teaches? If, however, Calvinistic teaching can somehow convince the suicidal person that there is hope in death, then fear of self-annihilation can be overcome. If the penalty for sin can be wiped away, at least in the mind, then the suicidal person can muster the nerve to trust in the unknown. If the penalty is taken away, then the suicidal person is just like Eve in the Garden of Eden when she thought that she would not surely die! But, she did!
The only hope for the suicidal is the truth. Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Jay Adams, in his advice to the Christian counselor, advocates a method of bringing suicidal persons to face the sins that have put them in that condition. He states,
In suicidal cases, when a client has such a low opinion of himself that he thinks the world would be better off without him, it only hurts to deny that his low estimate is valid. Counselors should acknowledge that he is probably right about the present worthlessness of his life, and should attempt to discover how bad he has been. However, they should take issue with his proposed solution, and instead point him to God's solution through repentance and holy living.
You have been reading an excerpt from the book What if Calvin Was Wrong? by Billy Prewitt. Please visit SpeakToMeToday.com or call (386)628-2526 for more information.
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