A couple days ago, a pastor in California, Jarrid Wilson, took his own life.
His is one story among many.
The recent trend on suicides in the United States are upward. From 42,773 in 2014 to 47,172 in 2017.
As of 2015 it was the second leading cause of death amongst those 15-29 years of age globally.
After Pastor Wilson’s death, there was fierce debate among Christians as to whether someone who commits suicide will spend eternity in heaven.
Some Christians take the following position: Suicide is a sin, and if the last thing you do in life is commit a sin which you are unable to repent from, that sin will keep you from being in God’s presence.
I have deep concerns about this position.
What if the last thing that happens to me is somebody drives on the wrong side of the highway and kills me? The last thought I may have will be of anger towards them. Jesus tells me that being angry towards someone can be judged the same as murder.
What if I live a life of following Jesus, but the last thing I do before dying in my sleep one night is tell a lie? Had my whole life been meaningless - only to be judged on the last thing I did?
That doesn’t seem to line up with the final judgement as Jesus describes it in Matthew 25. In Jesus’ telling, God seems to discuss the breadth of our lives with us.
To me, the idea that one final act is all that matters is bad theology. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice, it applies to our whole lives - past, present and future. The idea that God is looking for technicalities to disown us is not biblical at all.
Anecdotally, my own journey of faith speaks to this. I always believed in Jesus growing up. But in my teens, I decided to walk away from faith. I had to get pretty adamant that I wanted no part of the Kingdom of God before one night I felt a physical hole in my stomach and God strongly impressed on me that I had driven him out of my life. I apologized immediately and told God that wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve never had that feeling of emptiness again.
But looking back, the amount of selfishness and sin I engaged in was WAY more than I would expect God to put up with.
We say often in Christianity that our faith isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. If you had a friend who, the first time you did anything wrong immediately kicked you to the curb, that would be pretty strange, right? Even if your relationship has a big blow up, reconciliation often happens.
Now, this is all anecdotal. I feel it’s important, but one who feels that suicide immediately and irrevocably breaks that relationship will not agree with this.
Here is the theology I would add to this argument: the person who feels suicide is a disqualifier is reducing God to rules. You are reverting to the law, which Paul specifically calls sin.
Here’s what we read from him in Galatians 2:18 and 21:
I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down…I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
If we try to force God into a box, into a rulebook or a scorecard, we are sinning.
God adopts us.
This is, as is often said, not about religion (humans attempting to reach God) but about relationship (God reaching out to humanity).
I’m not advocating suicide as a viable option. In fact, if you’re wrestling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts, I beg you to please reach out to leadership in your church for counseling. If you don’t have that option, the phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
God made you for a purpose and the idea that the world is better off without you, or that there’s no point in your existence is a lie from the enemy of God, God’s Kingdom, and God’s good creation - including humanity.
What I am saying is that a victim of despair or depression will not find themselves facing an angry judge. They will find themselves facing a holy, just, and merciful Father. One who suffered in flesh for them and knows the pain of living in our broken, corrupted world.
Anyone who says that a person who committed suicide definitely ends up in heaven or definitely does not end up in heaven is attempting to write rules which they have no power to write.
For now, we must simply trust that God is Good. My faith is that when - one day - we get to see all that He does, we will be amazing at how loving and just it is.
Here’s our focus: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
When we learn of a suicide, it should not become a theological football. It should be a moment to offer care and compassion to fellow humans - those devastated by the loss. Turning it into an argument is foolish and useless. Nobody is led closer to Jesus through such behavior. But compassion can certainly do that.