Do people who commit suicide go to heaven or hell?
Recently I’ve had suicide come up in Q&A sessions I’ve done. Typically, the question is asked in a way that seems to imply suicide is the sort of thing that might send a person to hell, even if the person is a Christian. This is obviously quite a serious issue, with serious consequences at stake, so do people who commit suicide go to heaven or hell?
First question: What determines whether you go to heaven or hell?
This is an important question to start with because, if we don’t know why people go to heaven or hell, we can’t properly determine the fate of the suicidal person. There’s tons to say about this issue, but here’s just a couple of quick points.
John 14:6 = I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
So we can only come to Father God (heaven) through Jesus, but what does it mean to come to the Father “through Jesus”?
Romans 10:9-10 = if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
There’s also many verses that make a distinction that it’s either heaven or hell, and there’s no middle ground.
Matthew 25:46 = And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
If someone dies, in any situation or circumstance, and that person did not believe in Jesus as their Lord and savior, then that person does not go to heaven, and will go to hell instead. Basically, all of humanity is on the way to hell, and God loves us, so He provides us a way of escape. If we ignore that way of escape, and slap away the hand trying to save us, we will get what we have coming.
John 3:16-18 = For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Second question: If someone believes, can they still go to hell?
Even just the way I word this should tell you what the answer is going to be. Belief in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins is a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation. In other words, if you believe, you will go to heaven, and if you’re already on your way to heaven, then you must be a believer. Belief in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins is a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation. In other words, if you believe, you will go to heaven, and if you’re on already your way to heaven, then you must be a believer. “But what if the person commits suicide?” It doesn’t matter. If the person believes in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection for their salvation, they are a Christian, and they will be saved from the consequence of hell, and instead, will get the awesome reward of everlasting life with God in heaven. So why does this question even come up if it’s so simple? I think there’s a couple of presuppositions behind the question, and we should deal with those.
Bad presupposition 1: Suicide is worse than other sins.
This is false. I think a possibility is that this kind of idea has come out of Roman Catholic thinking, because within Roman Catholicism, murder is a “mortal sin” (a sin so serious that you will be damned if you don’t repent before you die). If you follow that reasoning, suicide is murder (the taking of an innocent life, even if that life is yours); therefore, suicide is a mortal sin, and you will go to hell. Firstly, I think “all” sin is like this. Every single sin, regardless of how apparently small, breaks our relationship with God, and condemns us to hell. The only way we can be saved is by repenting. However, if someone repents, then they are forgiven. Committing a horrible act doesn’t somehow remove your salvation. Romans 8:38-39 makes it quite clear that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. There might be sins that will bring greater condemnation on a person when they go to hell, and there might be sins that bring greater negative consequences, but there are no sins that are greater or lesser in terms of our eternal destination. All sin condemns us to hell. However, the good news is that the love and forgiveness of Christ covers literally ALL sins, so repentance leads us to salvation, regardless of the sin involved.
The only place the Bible implies that a sin is somehow “unforgivable” is where Jesus talks about it in Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10. While there’s lots of debate as to what this “eternal sin” is, it’s definitely referring to some type of blasphemy, and does not refer to murder in general, or suicide specifically, so it has no bearing on this issue.
So, the obvious next question would be…
Bad presupposition 2: If the last thing you did was sin, you go to hell
This is also false. I think this is probably the main problem Christians have in understanding suicide. Here’s another example, and see where your intuition leads you. Suppose for a moment you are driving home one day, and in your car you start to feel convicted about your sins you’ve been committing lately. You repent of your sins, asking God for His forgiveness through the sacrifice Jesus paid for you. You then continue your drive home, but someone cuts you off, and this makes you incredibly angry. You then speed up, switch lanes to get next to the other person’s car, and you flip them off. However, you were so angry, and so focused on this, that you stopped paying attention to your driving, and you got into a horrible car accident, which killed you immediately upon impact. In this case, you had just finished repenting of your sins, but literally right after, and literally the last thing you did, was sin. Does this sin receive forgiveness? I can understand the thinking here, because it seems logical to say, no, the sin is not forgiven, because you haven’t asked for forgiveness for it. However, this story seems to paint an awfully silly scenario if it’s true that you need to repent before you die. Many deaths occur randomly, without notice. It’s quite likely many of these people (who relied on forgiveness from Christ) had sinned since the last time they repented before God. Does that mean God is going to condemn them to hell for all eternity, because of a minor technicality? This doesn’t sound like the grace, mercy, and love that we read about in the Bible.
I think ultimately this presupposition rests on a misunderstanding of God’s grace. When you ask for forgiveness, recognizing Christ as Lord, and accepting the grace and mercy that comes through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are now in a “state” of forgiveness. You are now forgiven, past, present, and future. If this weren’t true, ridiculous situations like the one I described above with dying in a car crash would imply that, yes, you do get condemned forever, which seems obviously false. Additionally, the Bible doesn’t describe forgiveness and redemption in terms of individual sins, but instead, in terms of the person’s status before God. We are actually considered righteous before God, because of what Christ did for us (some verses to check out would be 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom4:5; 5:17, 19; Phil 3:9).We are not continually in a process of gaining and losing our salvation over and over, every time we sin, then repent, then sin, then repent. Once we have repented and accepted the gift of God’s grace, we are in God’s graces, and don’t need to fear condemnation.
Third question: Why do people commit suicide?
I think this question is incredibly important, because it helps us understand the nature of suicide, and ultimately, helps give us a deeper answer to the question of the eternal destination of those who take their lives. If someone is serious enough about suicide that they actually take steps to end their life, you can be pretty well guaranteed that some form of mental illness is involved. Suicide is a different kind of sin in that people don’t really face temptation to do it out of enjoyment. When someone struggles with suicidal thoughts, it’s not the same as when people struggle with lustful or angry thoughts. Suicidal thoughts come from things like depression, which is typically linked to mental illness, rather than merely being incredibly sad about your circumstances (and even in cases of situational depression, since the person is suicidal, the situation has likely “broken” some part of the person’s mind, which is why the result is extreme depression to the point of suicidal inclinations).
The reason I say all that is because the appropriate outlook here should be one of concern for the individual, rather than judging the action. The action of suicide is bad, and even sinful (we are taking our lives into our own hands, when our lives belong to God). Really, it could even be considered a form of murder, or even theft (you’re taking something from God). However, the person is, in actuality, quite sick. It’s not the kind of sin where the person just gave into temptation. While there is still a moral element to it, it’s similar to cancer; the disease ends your life.
With this in mind, can you really picture God meeting a Christian who committed suicide, someone who’s sickness resulted in the ending of their life, and God responding, “too bad, off to hell you go”? God does not want anyone to go to hell (Ez 33:11). If someone has relied on Christ for the redemption, Christ has paid the price they owe, and the person is seen as righteous before God, and will be welcomed into God’s loving embrace. I should also add, the person will be welcomed into heaven totally healed of their depression.
Fourth question: Is there any problem with committing suicide then?
Ultimately, if suicide won’t damn you to hell, then the Christian who commits suicide will immediately be in heaven. Doesn’t this then actually give those with mental illness a sense of hope in suicide? Realistically, if I’m incredibly depressed and want to end this miserable life, and I will go to heaven if I do, what’s holding back that decision?
I want to be extremely clear about this; if you are suicidal, do not end your life. Why? God still has great things for you to accomplish while you’re here. This life is not about merely getting to the end of it, and being rewarded. We as followers of Christ are here for a purpose, and we should continue through this often wretched existence in order to fulfill our purpose. We are here to help other people not go to hell. We’re here to introduce them to Jesus, and help them understand the need for forgiveness, so that they don’t get what we all deserve. While it may seem incredibly harsh, if someone commits suicide, it seems to me they’re saying they don’t care about those going to hell. Persevering through this horrid experience of depression is terrible, but if you can push through in order to witness to even one more person, isn’t that worth it? Lots of Christians have a bad life, and have good reasons to want to give up. I’ve known Christians that got unfairly locked in jail for years, suffered the death of their child, had family members disown them, had their spouse commit suicide, etc. However, they persevere through it in order to accomplish what Christ has for them to accomplish.The real tragedy is when Christians are not eternally minded enough to actually do what God has called them to do. It’s upsetting when Christians happily go about their lives, living pleasurable and comfortable lives, without ever trying to fulfill the Great Commission God has called us all to.
So should you just end it to get out of this horrid experience? Definitely not. Even if it’s so excruciatingly unpleasant that you can’t bear it anymore, remember that Christ loved you enough to bear through His crucifixion, and took all our sin on Himself. You should then love the world enough that you can bear this long enough to witness to those around you.