I have been asked many times about the eternal fate of people who commit suicide. Do people who commit suicide go to heaven?
I need to make two things clear: I have never committed suicide, nor have I been to heaven. All I can do is make some observations and leave it to you to judge for yourself. Here are some things to take into account.
- The idea that suicide is a mortal sin is based on Roman Catholic theology. It is interesting that Protestants have rejected many Catholic doctrines but have been hesitant to let this one go.
- The Bible says nothing about suicide or how it affects the afterlife.
- Some have pointed out that suicide is the ultimate lack of faith. Considering that suicide is most often caused by mental illness, faith is not the deciding factor. I suspect that there are many of us who have less faith than those crippled by mental illness.
- It is true that suicide breaks the commandment not to kill. But according to Jesus, even feeling hate toward another is considered a violation of that commandment.
- One of the unique aspects of suicide is that you cannot repent of it after committing it. Repentance is important (see 1 John), but being in a state of repentance for every individual sin is not a requirement for salvation. How many of us have repented for every specific sin we have committed? Do we think that a Christian who covets a nice car half a second before being killed by a dump truck would miss out on heaven?
- Is suicide a sin? I would say that suicide is a sin. It should be avoided for many different reasons. But can sin make one lose their salvation? The New Testament makes it clear that we are not saved by works. If that is true, how can we be “un-saved” by works, that is sin. Committing a sin does not mean that we are not true Christians. We learn in 1 John that we are liars if we claim we have no sin.
- Do people who commit suicide go to heaven? The real question is, have they placed their faith in Jesus Christ? If one has truly experienced justification, they will go to heaven, whether their life is ended by suicide at a young age or of natural causes at 100. There are Christians who have committed suicide who are in heaven and there are non-Christians who have lived long, productive and happy lives who are not in heaven.
I suspect that many people teach that suicide is an unforgivable sin to encourage people not to commit suicide. I don’t want people to commit suicide either but there are other reasons.
Being created in the image of God, our lives have value. God has a plan for our lives and it is not up to us to decide when that is over. Committing suicide is not just a personal decision, it affects people all around us. I understand that a person with severe mental illness cannot think through these things logically. But looking from the outside, there are good reasons not to commit suicide and good reasons why we need to help people who are struggling.
This is not an apologetic for the permissibility of suicide. Suicide is very serious and I believe those who commit will have to answer to God. This is more for Christians who have lost loved ones and who fear that they may have lost them for eternity.