God is mean. Suicide is confusing.
The following is a recent e-mail exchange; slightly modified for confidentiality.
A few questions. I’ve been reading 2 Samuel 12 and it bothers me. David commits adultery and his mistress bears a son. God reveals that as part of the punishment the child will die. Why would God choose to punish an innocent child for the dad’s sin?
Second, I’ve been thinking about the topic of suicide. Some believe that when one kills themselves that it is an unforgivable sin and they go to hell. Is that true? What does the Bible say about this? I’ve lost people to suicide and it’s always made me wonder.
Dear Question Guy,
Just a heads up, you’re probably not going to like my answer to the first question. It won’t satisfy. At the heart of your question is the issue of why “bad” things happen to “good” people—why would God allow or even ordain a “bad” thing to happen to an “innocent” child. There are couple of things we have to admit first. No one is innocent—not even a child. David himself in the psalms says this when he admits that he was “sinful at birth.”
Likewise, in Romans 3 Paul quotes the psalms to bolster his case that no one is without culpability and corruption in sin. No one. So innocence or guilt as a factor for why God would allow or ordain something is really a non-issue theologically.
The big question is “why” would God kill a child as judgment on a father? The answer: we don’t know. Actually, we can’t know. We can’t know the big picture he is painting. We can’t know the reasoning he is using. He’s God and we’re not. Moments like 2 Samuel 12 bring that reality into stark detail. In fact, even if God were to try and explain it to us we’d simply become a lot like a 2 year old who is confused by his parents and simply say, “Why” once again and then again. No answer would really suffice, would it? The truth is that God is God, which means he has an ultimate reason and an ultimate authority which allows him to do whatever he wants and still be good. He defines the rules of good by virtue of being God. Again, not satisfying, but the truth.
As for suicide, the question is whether or not someone who commits suicide has rejected their faith and has gone to hell. The answer, I believe from scripture, is unequivocally “no.” Yes, they committed a sin. Yes, they had no chance to repent. But that works on the presupposition that what keeps us “saved” is our ability to stay away from sin and that when we do sin we are somehow “out” of God’s grace until we repent. That’s pagan works-righteousness, not the relationship of grace and faith that we are in. If that were the case, what about the baptized follower of Jesus who gets distracted by some hot woman on a billboard, lusts for a moment, but gets in a wreck and dies? He had no chance to repent either? Is he in hell? No.
Yes we must repent when we sin. But until we do we are not out of God’s family—no more than your son who rebels against you and breaks a family rule is without your last name and banished from your family tree with every mistake. Does your son need to repent? Yes? Could an absolute refusal to repent eventually lead to him outright and explicitly rejecting his membership in your family? Sure. But those are different things.
Repentance and forgiveness are dynamics that take place within a solid relationship. What “gets us into heaven” is not our lack of sins or our ability to repent right before we die but the work of Jesus Christ and our relationship with him promised through baptism and belief.
As for suicide itself, the Bible is rather mum on it explicitly as God’s word chooses to lump it in with other talk about murder. Suicide is simply murder of the self. In short, suicide is a sin. But one who commits it is no more suddenly out of God’s grace than the rest of us who will be wrestling with some unrepented or unresolved sin issue when we die.
Thank God we are not saved by what we do, but are saved through the what Christ has done for us.
I hope this helps.