BIBLE READING: Judges 16:23-31
TEXT: Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines! Th en he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Th us he killed many more when he died than while he lived. (Judges 16:30)
In December 1856 Hugh Miller, a church leader in Scotland, a man of science and a great author, got out of bed and wrote this message to his wife:
“My brain burns. I must have walked and a fearful dream rises upon me. I cannot bear the horrible thought. God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me. Dearest Lydia, dear children farewell. My brain burns as the recollection grows, my dear wife farewell. Hugh Miller.”
He then went and shot himself. To this day people have speculated as to why. He was clearly in great agony – mentally and possibly physically. What happens to Christians who do that? I don’t need to go back to the 19th Century, or to read about suicides in other countries, to know that this is still an issue today.
In my years as a minister, I have known several Christians who have committed suicide. The beautiful, intelligent young student who had everything going for her; the middle-aged family man; the minister whose life and ministry went horribly wrong. Even to think about these is heart-breaking. Suicide is a dreadful thing. It may seem like a good solution to the person who is so depressed that they do not think life worth living, but the problem is that they are not always thinking straight. Indeed in some cases, they may not be thinking at all. They forget that they are usually leaving behind a people and a community who will be distraught and in despair at their death. It’s a sin against the community. But they also forget that it is God alone who has the right to take someone’s life.
We do not normally have the right to take our own life. So yes – it is a sin. It is also a terrible testimony to the world. I recall one famous existentialist philosopher saying that he could not live consistently with his philosophy of despair because it would mean he would have to commit suicide. The trouble with a Christian who commits suicide is that it is inconsistent with our belief in the goodness, forgiveness and sovereignty of God.
But whilst we acknowledge that it is a sin against ourselves, the community and God, why would that mean we don’t go to heaven? I wonder where this idea comes from. Is it a residue of a belief that those who die with unconfessed sin are not forgiven? Is it because it is considered a ‘mortal’ or unforgivable sin? That is certainly not what the Bible teaches. In today’s passage, we read of a suicide in the Bible. Samson by pulling down the temple of the pagans upon himself did kill himself – as well as many of Israel’s enemies. I suppose that is one example where suicide is at least understandable if not excused. Giving our lives for others might also be considered a good form of suicide.
But what about those who kill themselves out of despair or to get away from the fears, darkness, guilt and problems they face? Are they committing a sin that cannot be forgiven? We need to remember that Jesus died for all our sins, past, present and future. When we become Christians, Jesus doesn’t say; ‘that’s fine. That’s the slate wiped clean. Now you had better be sure you don’t sin anymore because there is nothing more I can do for you”. If that were the case we would all be in deep trouble!
None of us are in the position where we can look back on the life of Hugh Miller and say ‘this is why he committed suicide’. We don’t know. And when we don’t know about such personal and deep matters, we have even more reason to keep silent. We cannot judge. All we must do is seek to help those who are left and try to understand and encourage those who are thinking of suicide to realize that their lives are worth living. I don’t think that the Christians I have known who have committed suicide are excluded from heaven. The blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin – including suicide. They are with Christ. Purified, holy and happy. Their minds and bodies tortured no more. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)
CONSIDER: How would you help someone who confided in you that they had suicidal thoughts? What would you do if you felt like killing yourself? Who could you speak to?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Gary Nelson – A Relentless Hope – Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, there is no pit so deep, that you have not been there already. You cried out in the depths of despair ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? You understand. You know. Lord help us when we struggle with such dark despair. Help our friends and family. And may we always look to you to lift us out of the pit. Amen.
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