By Barry C. Poyner
More people in the US die from suicide than homicide. Approximately 30,000 people each year commit suicide compared to 16,000 that are murdered. You should be more afraid of yourself than an unnamed killer! Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24, especially young white males where suicide is seen as a solution to stress, confusion, and depression. In the last 20 years the largest increase in suicide rates occurred among Americans 65 and older, especially those divorced or widowed, with men accounting for 84% of all suicides in this category. We may be living longer, but not necessarily better. It takes a man, it takes a woman—and I’m persuaded God’s man and God’s woman—to be faithful until death, to trust God’s timing.
The Philippian jailer (Acts 16:23-34) could have ended his life, but was stopped by the Apostle Paul. “Do yourself no harm, we are all here.” And that’s true today, we’re here to help you. The Roman penalty for letting capital offense prisoners escape was death. The keeper was ready to take his life. Asleep earlier when Paul and Silas were singing and preaching, he asked what to do, and followed through. God can forgive you from attempting suicide and from other destructive sin patterns in your life.
Sadly many people are more afraid of living than they are dying! Jesus came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). He gave us the church as a support group and family to help us. He does not spare us from persecution, troubles, illnesses. He does give us a perspective that looks beyond the physical realm and a way to cope that the ungodly do not have.
There are 5 cases of suicide in the Bible. Each case is sad. King Saul at one time had everything, but he spared King Agag and left God’s plan. God determined to remove him as king. Rather than accepting his punishment, Saul clung to power. His vain attempts to retain power made him paranoid (distressed spirit), make rash promises, turn to attempted murder, and even to witchcraft. In the end, badly-wounded Saul asked his armor bearer to assist him in death. The armor bearer declined, so Saul fell on a sword, and the armor bearer died similarly (1 Chron. 10). He died without God and without hope.
Ahithophel was a counselor of King David, but sided with Absalom’s rebellion. He counseled Absalom to violate David’s concubines and demonstrate his power in a despicable act (2 Samuel 16:21-23). Ahithophel further advised an immediate pursuit of David. When he saw the strategic maneuver to capture David had been forfeited, he resigned himself to ultimate defeat. He calmly put his house in order and hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23). Suicide, like rebellion, is a selfish act. Ahithophel was a pragmatist, concerned only with his own career, and not God’s plans.
The kings of north Israel were ruthless idol worshipers. Zimri illustrates that those that live by the sword die by the sword. He had killed Elah the son of Baasha. Then as soon as he could, killed all the descendents of Baasha. Zimri was to rule North Israel for one week! His rule was rejected by the people, and Omri was authorized to apprehend him. When Zimri saw his doom was in sight, he burned his palace and himself (1 Kings 16: 15-20). He died without God and committed suicide to escape the judgment of man.
Judas is the 5th case of suicide. One of the 12 apostles, Judas served as treasurer. He was critical of ointment poured on Jesus, and his love for money led him to steal (John 12:4-6). This same love for money led him to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). Greed was his downfall. When he saw that Jesus was condemned, he became remorseful, recognized his money as blood money, threw it at the Jewish leaders, then hanged himself (Matt. 27:1-9; Acts 1:17-18). Judas had remorse, but it was a worldly despair. He was sorry for his betrayal, but did not turn back to God. Godly sorrow turns to repentance, not despair (2 Cor. 7:8-11).
The word “suicide” does not appear in the Bible. God’s value on life makes it unthinkable. It is forbidden under the commandment not to murder. Is it unforgivable? In these cases, it does seem so. One may have moments to repent after the act, and illness may impair judgment that God will overlook. But why take a risk and forfeit life to come? As Jesus resisted the temptation to hurl himself from the temple pinnacle, he answered, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matt. 4:5-7).
Some argue that Samson committed suicide in Judges 16:29-30. However, suicide is a selfish act. Samson died as a military hero having destroyed more in the end and is listed among the faithful (Heb. 11:32). Others have even suggested that Jesus committed suicide by knowingly going to the cross. Such is a misunderstanding. He heroically gave his life—willingly and sacrificially.
People may legitimately long for death and not be suicidal. Those to be punished may long for it (Rev. 9:6; Jer. 8:3). Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), Job (Job 3), and Jonah (4:8) longed for death when in dire situations. Simeon felt his life was complete and thought he could now die (Luke 2:29). Paul knew that to die was to gain (Phil. 1:20-23). But none of these godly people sought to end life.
Circumstances can put us in tailspins, and we may be tempted to sin by ending life. The jailer could have ended his life, but he heeded God’s word. Allow your sorrow to turn to repentance. Participate in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to gain the ultimate victory. Do yourself no harm!
- Barry C. Poyner serves as an elder for the Church of Christ in Kirksville, MO. He may be contacted through their website, http://www.kirksvillechurchofchrist.com