Does Suicide Ensure Hell?
Recently I had someone ask me if suicide was the unforgivable sin. This is not an uncommon belief among Christians. Many simply assume that a person who commits suicide is automatically condemned to hell.
Suicide is a very real danger for young people and for many others who struggle with depression. Recent studies have shown an increase in the suicide rate among teenagers and young adults following the prolonged periods of isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Satan is very adept at affecting our minds in such a way that we sometimes think thoughts that are extremely unreasonable and even dangerous. My heart goes out to anyone who has had a loved one commit suicide and also to anyone who is contemplating suicide themselves.
Before I even address this question from the Bible, I want to plead with anyone contemplating suicide to reach out to someone for help. Suicide is never the answer. The relief from the suffering you are experience is not worth the suffering it would thrust upon those who love you. Consider those who love you. The very fact that there are those who would be grieved by your death is proof that you are loved and that you matter, at least to them. Consider the fact that the Father in heaven loves you, values you, and wants to bless you and use you for his glorious purposes. His opinion, his love, is worth more than all the attention and accolades in the world.
Now, to the question at hand. As a teenager at church once asked me during a class on this topic, "If you commit suicide do you go straight to hell?" The short answer is no, it is not guaranteed that such a person would be condemned eternally. But this obviously needs more nuance and explanation.
It's very interesting to me how many people believe the Bible teaches that all who commit suicide go to hell. So much confusion (not just on this topic) would be cleared up if people would actually read the Bible cover to cover. The Bible never says anything of the sort. Here's what it does say:
Murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6; Ex. 20:13).
Hell is the consequence of failing to put your faith in Christ and obey the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8-9; 2 Peter 3:7; Rev. 20:15).
God forgives all the sins of anyone who has become a Christian (Ps. 103:10-12; Acts 2:38).
So, is suicide a sin? Yes. But on the cross Jesus took the punishment for all our sins. Yes, even suicide can be forgiven if someone if someone is a Christian.
But what about 1 John 1:9, you might say? It says, "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us of all unrighteousness." Someone who commits suicide can't confess and repent and ask for forgiveness for that sin. So doesn't that mean they would go to hell? Not for that reason at least.
First of all, have you actually asked forgiveness for each and every specific sin in your entire life? Ever missed one? Or dozens? Do you think that affects your salvation? Of course not. Jesus died for all your sins.
Not only that, but this is an incorrect understanding of 1 John 1:9. One of the most important skills we must develop as Bible students is to read verses in context. Greg Koukl often says, "Never read a Bible verse." What he means is, never read just one Bible verse when thinking through a specific question or topic. Always read the verses before and after so you can get a sense for the context—the overall point the author is trying to make.
And lo and behold, if you look at verses 8 and 9 of 1 John chapter 1 together, our problem is solved. Verse 8 reads, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." So, verses 8 and 9 are intentionally contrasted or juxtaposed to give us a picture of someone who denies their sinfulness and thus cannot be saved (forgiven), and someone who accepts (or confesses) their sinfulness and thus can be saved (forgiven). Verse 9 is not teaching that we only receive forgiveness for the sins we specifically confess to God.
But, someone might say, what about the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12:31? There Jesus says , "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." Again, context is essential. Jesus is responding to the Pharisees having just attributed his work to the power of Satan. There is nothing in the entire text that even hints at suicide. While this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit may remain somewhat confusing, it makes no sense to apply it to the sin of suicide.
In conclusion, if someone who is not a Christian commits suicide, yes that person would be condemned just like any other person who died apart from Christ through some other means. However, for those who are in Christ, we cannot, and indeed we must not, say that suicide ensures an eternity in hell for that person. Even the minds of true believers can be affected in such a way that they no longer work properly, or perhaps no longer understand reality.
Our enemy, the devil, is treacherous, cunning, and a master of deception. I believe we must leave the possibility open that a genuine child of God could be deceived into such depths of despair, or could have such significant mental struggles, that they could fall to the sin of suicide. But remember, the Father in heaven is more compassionate and merciful than any human being... and Jesus's blood is powerful enough to cleanse us from all sin.