We live in outrageous times. Most people would likely agree with that statement. Whether it be politically, economically, socially, etc. there are many things about which people become outraged. In only a flash a word, a phrase, a picture can set someone off and they make sure to let as many people know their feelings as possible.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, we live in outrageous times personally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Because of a great many circumstances about which so many are familiar, there is a continuing and increasing sense of hopelessness, even a profound dread as to what is and what may come in this life. And these sorts of feelings often lead to very consequential actions. Actions that harm others, or that may even move someone to harm themselves.
Both are dealt with according to the Fifth Commandment, You shall not kill (murder), which Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism: We should fear and love God, so that we do no bodily harm to our neighbor, but help and befriend him in every need. This explanation we usually apply to harming others, but there’s something else there that our Catechism Explanation puts this way:
How do we sin against the Fifth Commandment?
We sin against the Fifth Commandment by failing to help our neighbor, hating our neighbor, committing bodily harm to our neighbor, murder, abortion, euthanasia (mercy killing), and bodily harm to ourselves (including suicide).
Regarding suicide the question is often asked: “Can someone who commits suicide go to heaven?” The answer given to me when I was younger was a categoric, “No. There is no hope for such a person,” and I accepted that. But is this true? Is suicide the equivalent of the so-called “unforgivable sin”?
Hear what Jesus said about this (St. Matthew 12:31-32): Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
Many would state that suicide and the “unforgivable sin” are equivalent. That if someone commits suicide, breaking the Fifth Commandment, they are committing the added sin of unbelief since they’ve lost hope in this life and in this world. As Pastor Peter Preus writes in his excellent book And She Was a Christian: (E)very suicide results from the person’s seeking relief from his hopelessness. (83)
Does this disqualify them from salvation? There are those – focusing on the Law alone – who would say, “Yes.” One of the reasons given would likely be: “We don’t want anyone to think that committing suicide is good and will take you from this life of trouble to the joys of heaven. We have to use the Law to discourage it…especially among young people.” And that does make some sense.
But is this a proper use of the Law? Well, yes, if by using this you then intend to provide the Gospel to one who is hopeless. The Law cannot work righteousness as t. Paul reminds us (Galatians 3:21): Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. We can’t think that using the Law will make a Christian stronger in their faith so that they won’t kill themselves. The Law alone leads the hopeless only to become more hopeless.
Consider Judas and the chief priests. When he returned the thirty pieces of silver they had paid him to betray our Lord, he said (St. Matthew 27:4): “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Faithless shepherds! They directed Judas back on himself to find within himself the forgiveness he craved and, finding none, he took the only route he wrongly thought available to him. He shed his own blood even though that “innocent blood” of His Savior was right then being shed even for him all his sin.
As the Fifth Commandment applies to self-harm, so the Eighth applies in a way to hopelessness. For the Christian, “bearing false witness” applies to themselves, too. St. John wrote in his first letter (3:20): For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Do not call yourself what God does not call you. Do not name yourself eternally damned when you are not any longer in Christ. That’s the Law speaking. That’s Satan accusing you. Jesus was condemned in your place when He cried out on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
Martin Luther famously wrote: So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
This is why we sometimes speak with a measure of hope regarding a professing Christian who has committed suicide. We don’t know whether their faith was strong, weak, or perhaps not even present at all. Yes, they committed this sin that does not only have an effect on them, but, tragically, to all those around them. But we are not privy to what was in their heart at the time. Suicide is not pleasing in God’s sight, just as none of what we do as sinners is acceptable to Him. But the mercy of God is greater than our sin. Jesus bore our sin, He bore their sins, too, on the cross and then rose on the third day to give us hope in a world so seemingly hopeless.
This is precisely why If you have reached the point of despair, if you have given up all hope, and think that everything’s lost; if you are thinking that your only option is suicide, here’s what to do: Tell the devil to go to hell and then seek counsel from a Christian pastor who can speak the Word of life to you in Jesus’ name.
Romans 15:13: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-Rev. James Braun