Losing a loved one breaks our heart, but when that loved one has taken his or her own life, their death presents a unique set of challenges in grieving for those left behind. The ‘complicated grief’ of suicide can leave family and friends feeling weakened and even incapacitated for long periods of time, even indefinitely.
Each year close to 45,000 Americans die by suicide. Sometimes there are clear warning signs and sometimes it happens out of the blue. No one can really know what brings a person to take their own life. This uncertainly causes parents, spouses, children, siblings and all manner of relatives and friends, to tend to blame themselves and to have anger that is difficult to channel. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is to have to live on with never having an answer to the question, “why?”
Attitudes toward suicide vary widely among faiths and cultures, and only recently we see suicide being discussed as a public health issue, “not a private shame.”1 Many of us grew up with the belief or at least the thought that suicide was an unforgivable sin. But if [we are] convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—[and that] not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:32), then how can we believe that a parent or child, brother or sister, who is blinded by the pain of hopelessness and helplessness, and tumbles into a pit of despair, would not also be afforded this love of God in Christ Jesus?
Suicide would never be God’s plan for anybody’s life, but neither is it an unforgivable sin. Jesus died once and for all time for all of our sins. He didn’t pick and choose which sins would be forgiven. In my review of Scripture the only sin the Bible cites as unforgiveable is grieving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides us in truth (John16:13) and, Ephesians 4:30-32 tell us: …do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.
There are six instances of suicide recorded in the Bible, and with the exception of Judas, who betrayed Christ, there is no Scripture that suggests taking one’s life cannot be forgiven. In the case of Judas, there are numerous Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that shed light on Judas’ condemnation. For example, Jesus says in John 17:12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them faithful to that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
Judas grieved the Holy Spirit. He believed in Jesus, and Jesus loved him. Judas’ sin against the Holy Spirit, was not that he betrayed Christ, but that he lost his faith by refusing to believe that Christ could forgive Him. Judas’ unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit was in believing that Christ did not have the power to redeem him. In the case of Samson, who took his own life, Samson is mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews because despite his failures, he never lost his faith.
As the number of suicides has increased over the last 15 years, there is a blessing in that our churches and communities have become more aware of the realities of the issues surrounding suicide and resources and training are improving daily to help those who are struggling and at risk. Joni Tada is a best-selling author who faced the despondence that could lead to suicide after a diving accident left her a quadriplegic. In her recently published article in Christianity Today, Why Suicide is Everybody’s Business, Tada tells us,
“Society is not a bunch of people…who sit around big tables and think up political trends or cultural drifts…You, my friends, are society. Your actions, your decisions, matter. What you do or don’t do has a ripple effect on everyone around you…and your participation can make a huge difference…”2 whether it be in the life of someone who is struggling, or in the life of those who are grieving the loss of that loved one.
The words, “death by suicide” can leave us feeling awkward and uncomfortable. But the support we offer can be the key to helping someone through a very difficult time. In Part Two of this blog, appearing in April, I will address what we can say and do to help bring the hope that makes a difference in someone’s life and to give glory to God.
Jesus, Himself, in the Gospel of Matthew says, Then the King will say, ‘For sure, I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of My brothers or sisters, you have done it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40