The Bible doesn’t explicitly say what happens to people who commit suicide. The references to Judas refer to his betrayal of Jesus, not his suicide[1]. Many Christians believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. They may argue that (a) suicide is self-murder; or that (b) suicide is unforgivable because forgiveness is dependent on repentance, and we can’t repent of an act until after we’ve done it[2]. Either way, I believe the assertion that ‘suicide is unforgivable’ is wrong, for several reasons.

(a) Suicide is self-murder.
Even after the Fall, the Bible indicates that all people are still in the image of God, although that image has been marred by our rebellion. In the Old Testament:

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man. (Genesis 9:5-6).

Here we see that all people are equal in the sight of God, as far as being made in His image. This isn’t limited to Christians, although it is only Christians who are being recreated in God’s image (2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). It is God’s valuation that counts, no one else’s.

The reason why murder is wrong is because we are made in the image of God: we bear His communicable attributes (the ability to relate, to love, to be just, et cetera) and we have a purpose; to rule the earth as His representatives. So murder – or insult, or even thinking of someone, ‘They’re a waste of space’ – is by extension an attack on God Himself. It’s something like burning your country’s flag, or a person in effigy: you’re rejecting them and what they stand for.

(b) We can’t repent of an act until after we’ve done it.
1. The Bible talks of ‘the’ unforgivable sin; it is singular, not plural. And the unforgivable sin is to reject the work of the Holy Spirit; therefore, suicide cannot be the unforgivable sin.

2. When Jesus mentions the unforgivable sin, it’s in this context: he’s just forgiven a man and healed his paralysis, yet the religious leaders are saying, ‘He [Jesus] is possessed by Satan.’ They put an incredible interpretation on Jesus’ miracles: they called the work of the Holy Spirit (that is, of God) the work of the devil. The work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal who Jesus is and to turn people to Him. If people reject the work — the word — of the Holy Spirit, they do not, and cannot, believe in Jesus. The religious leaders rejected Jesus’ claims about Himself, going to the point of seeking to kill Him.

This, then, is the unforgivable sin: to reject the work of the Holy Spirit, who speaks the words of God, and testifies about Jesus, the Word of God. If Jesus is the only way to God and we reject Him, we will not receive forgiveness. That is why rejection of Jesus is the unforgivable sin. But when we accept Jesus on His terms, we are forgiven [3].

Forgiveness is a gift. Imagine that a friend gives us a new house. It’s our choice whether or not to accept it. They’ve paid for it; it’s in our name; all we have to do is take the keys and move in. But if we don’t believe our friend, the house will gather dust and will get used by squatters. But as soon as we take the keys, the gift is ours. If we choose to trust God’s word and live in dependence on Him, we are saved. This trust includes believing that Jesus has paid for our rebellion.

3. Repentance is not ‘feeling sorry for our sin’. We can feel sorry for what we’ve done without repenting. As most Christians will have heard, ‘repentance’ is the translation for the Greek word metanoiō, ‘to think after’; ‘to change one’s mind’. To repent means to change our beliefs from belief A to belief B. This isn’t positive thinking; it refers to authority and truth.

Repentance is essentially a change of belief about who has authority to say what is right and wrong (this is what ‘knowing good and evil’ means in Genesis chapter 3). For the Christian, repentance means that we believe that God is the authority on what is right and wrong, good and bad. He is; we are not [4]. This is the case both for specific topics — say, sex outside of marriage — and also for our whole life. When Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses (statements intended to be debated), the first of them was this:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent!’ (Matt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. [5]

God’s offer of forgiveness doesn’t depend on our repentance. He has already offered it in Christ Jesus, and Jesus died for us before we were born; before we had sinned at all. God made His offer of forgiveness before we existed. If God forgives a sin, it cannot be unforgivable. At this point many people will be howling, ‘But we have to accept God’s forgiveness: it’s not automatically applied to everyone!’ Learn to be patient and to read carefully, people. And yes, I believe this is the Biblical position; we must accept God’s offer of forgiveness for it to be applied to us. But we are talking about a sin that is unforgivable, one that God will not, or cannot, forgive. ‘Unforgivable’ isn’t referring to our response, but to God’s offer.

Now I’m going to draw a fine but clear distinction. We repent when we have believed what is wrong, rather than when we have done what is wrong. What we do follows from what we believe. For example, we believe that God says that lying – even a ‘little white’ lie – is wrong; we might lie anyway [6]. When that happens, we can’t repent of lying, strictly speaking, because we already believe that lying is wrong. We have repented of lying not after we have lied, but when we chose to believe that God says that lying is evil. Repentance – the acknowledgement that God is the authority on truth, not us – makes us confess that we have sinned, ask for forgiveness and for the strength to always be honest in future. This is the fruit of repentance.

If we believe that suicide is a sin (repentance) we can hate that sin yet still commit it, as we trust God’s grace in Christ that He will keep us. Hear Paul in Romans 7 (although I know that some people, greater scholars than I, have reasons for considering that this refers to Paul before his conversion):

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-24)

1 Corinthians says that whenever we are tempted, God will provide us a way out – but while ‘the spirit is willing, but the body is weak’ (Matthew 26:51); so we may not feel that there is a way out. Feelings, of course, aren’t to be trusted, but they are extremely powerful. That’s why we must trust God’s word despite what we might feel.

4. The question of the unforgivable sin is also partly a question of whether we can lose or forfeit our salvation [7]. For various reasons I say ‘No.’ But salvation, from first to last, must be of God, or we could boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). This issue of perseverance (or ‘staying saved’) is connected to suicide by the concept of sin. Whether or not you believe that a Christian can lose their salvation, most Christians acknowledge that even as children of God we still do sin. This is because, like no-one else, Christians are hybrids. Apart from Adam and Eve, and Jesus, every person is born a citizen of Satan’s domain. But when a person becomes a Christian, they are made a citizen of Heaven. We can’t carry dual citizenship, but we still carry many customs from our birth country with us. So although God declares us as legally perfect as Christ Jesus, we aren’t actually perfect. We still sin.

But we cannot sin with impunity. (‘Shall we continue to sin so that grace may increase? By no means!’ (Romans 6:3)) If we’re aware of a particular attitude or act that is hurting our relationship with God, we need to turn away from it. But we don’t turn away from sin so that God will forgive us: we turn away from sin because God has forgiven us.

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.’

‘Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? … And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

We choose to keep turning away from sin — even if we don’t want to — because the new heart God has given us desires to honour Him. Our will to honour God is stronger than our desire to do what feels pleasant but is sinful [8].

Now we can tie all these ideas together. Having bought our salvation, God offers it to us. We can accept His offer or reject it. If we accept it, God declares us legally perfect, as righteous as Christ Jesus Himself. But we still sin, because we’re not actually perfect. These sins don’t ‘un-save’ us, just like doing good things doesn’t make a person saved. When we’ve sinned, we go to God and ask Him for forgiveness. At the same time we can thank Him for having forgiven us because Christ Jesus paid the penalty that we should have.

As we grow in faith, we’ll become more aware of the reign of sin in our lives. Ignorance is no excuse. Romans 1 and 2 say that God has given us enough testimony. There have been Christians who have died with unconfessed sin. Are there sins you haven’t asked God to forgive you for? Could you have sinned in ways you aren’t even aware of? I’m willing to say ‘yes.’ Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). If our salvation depends on confessing every sin we’ve ever committed – including the righteous acts we haven’t done and righteous attitudes we haven’t held! – I’ll go to Hell. I can’t begin to see how much evil I’m guilty of.

Are you thinking that it’s different for wilful or conscious sin? That we must confess or we won’t be forgiven? I am not saying that suicide isn’t a sin nor that we can sin with impunity. I am saying that God is both just and merciful, and He is so beyond our imagination. If we belong to Him, He will not disown us (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

If God has already forgiven us, why do we bother to ask Him for forgiveness for our day-by-day sins? Even if we know how someone will react, we’re still in a relationship. Mt friend Stephanie is repulsed by the thought that there is a permissible level of cockroach body parts and other impurities in chocolate (I think it’s about 0.5%). It amuses me to tease her about this but it would be wrong for me to eat a whole box of Lindt balls (the chocolate, not dust bunnies) or Guylian truffles without offering her any. The point is that we shouldn’t take the other person for granted. We may do, even though we know it’s wrong. It’s a similar question to ‘shall we continue to sin so that grace may increase?’ No way! Do you want a happy relationship or a miserable one? Do you want to belong to a family who likes you, or resentfully tolerates you? In a healthy relationship, both people care about the other. So, while we can be confident of God’s forgiveness, we still ask Him for it.

Finally, then, suicide is wrong but it isn’t unforgivable. What is unforgivable is rejecting what God says.

[1] Matthew 26:23-25; 27:4-5; Acts 1:25.
[2] This is not because it’s murder, one of the ‘big’ sins.
[3] I know there seem to be huge logical holes in this argument, but there’s not enough space in the book for an extended look at the issue. ‘Being forgiven’ is God’s action, therefore we are forgiven by God. But forgiveness is only a part of salvation. If we don’t believe we need to be saved, or that there is another way apart from Jesus, we won’t believe what the Bible says. So forgiveness isn’t applied to us until we accept it. It’s in that sense — application to us — that we’re forgiven (or not).
[4] This is what the original sin was — to reject the word of God.
[5] Luther: man between God and the devil, p.190.
[6] This is why the belief that ‘he who knows what is right will do what is right’ is wrong. We what do is determined more by what we want that by what we know.
[7] Although there are times we may not feel saved.
[8] The problem with being a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) is that you keep trying to crawl off the altar. (Helen Cripps).

copyright 2007 Troy Grisgonelle.