Wednesday, May 31, 2017

If a Christian Commits Suicide, Will They Go to Heaven?

Recently I visited a third grade classroom in our school, and I was taking questions from the kids. One of the questions was: "If a Christian Commits Suicide, Will They Go to Heaven?" What an important question from a third grader!

One of the most popular shows on Netflix right now is "13 Reasons Why," a controversial show about a student who committed suicide and then left messages telling thirteen people why it was their fault. Kids as well as adults are thinking about these things. 

There are two kinds of suicides. The most common is committed by those who have no faith in God. All people who refuse to fear, love and trust in the Triune God are essentially a god unto themselves despite whatever outward religion they may profess. Faith in anything but the Triune God is faith in yourself. That is because only the Triune God promises forgiveness and salvation. Those who die with faith in themselves cannot be saved whether they commit suicide or not.

The other kind of suicide is committed sometimes by true believers. This kind of suicide could be caused by sickness and/or the oppression of the devil. Just as our stomach or heart can be sick so can our minds be sick. This can drive a person who truly believes in Jesus to commit suicide. Martin Luther said that such a suicide might be caused by the devil who drove them to kill themselves.* Both could be possible.

Sometimes people wonder, "If our last act on earth was a sin, and we didn't repent, how can we be saved?" This a misunderstanding of our sinful condition. We are always sinning, and we will all die with unrepented sin. This is because we are not perfect, and we "all fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3.23). This is not the same as living in unrepented sin. When a person sins continually and has accepted that sin, they have turned away from God. This is why, in a sermon I preached for a person who committed suicide** I stressed that all Christians must live in repentance and forgiveness. When we turn away from this, we are lost. As we struggle in this, we are saved. 

This is not to say that suicide is okay for Christians. I have a man in my congregation who has wanted to commit suicide for over twenty years. The one thing that holds him back is the fear of going to hell. This is a valid fear. It is not a contradiction to what I just said above. Notice that when I referred to sickness or to the oppression of the devil, I said both could be "possible" causes of suicide. Suicide is not to be considered an option for Christians. It is a temptation that we must fight with all our might. No one knows for sure what actually is going on deep inside someone's heart. If they commit suicide as a Christian, we can hope that they were saved. But there is no doubt that such an act leaves us wondering - Did they have true faith?  That we have to leave in God's hands. But for us who are living, we must contend with this terrible temptation if it ever comes upon us. 

I beg anyone who has this temptation, PLEASE tell a pastor or another faithful Christian about your temptation. Don't try to fight it on your own. Don't try to manage it only with medications and certainly not with alcohol or drugs. Spiritual battles need to be fought with spiritual weapons. You can win this battle with God's grace. 

*Luther's Table Talks No. 222
Suicides Are Not Necessarily Damned
April 7, 1532

“I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc.80 Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.”
80 According to popular belief the corpse of a suicide was not to be carried out of the house “over the threshold.” Cf. WA, TR 1, 95, n. 7.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 54: Table Talk. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 54, p. 29). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

**Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8.38-39

     There are things in this life that can shake us to the core. Learning that your son, your brother, or your friend is gone at such a young age is one of those things. It is a shock to our souls. _______ was strong and healthy in many ways. But in some ways he was struggling and fighting demons that we can only imagine.

     It is very easy to gloss over the harsh realities of life and to pretend that somehow everything is really okay. Everything is not okay in this world, and whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are struggling or will struggle with our own troubles in this life.  Most Americans just automatically assume that everyone who dies, except for really bad characters, always go to heaven. This is not at all true. First, Jesus  said, “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7.13). Most are not saved.  Second, Jesus also said that even bad characters can go to heaven. To the thief on the cross who repented and believed in Him, Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). So in two very important ways Jesus contradicts popular thinking. People don’t just automatically go to heaven – even good people, and, even people who aren’t so good can still go to heaven.  Why?

     The answer lies in the fact that heaven is gift not a reward. If it is given and received in repentance and faith, it means salvation. “By faith you have been saved, by faith, an that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2.8). If it is rejected for some other alternative, like a trade – my good life for God’s eternal life – it will not happen. God takes no trades. He only gives, and we can only receive.

     What does it mean to receive this gift? It means we must put down all our pride and presumption and become very humble people… Humble to the point of saying, “Dear God, I am a lost and condemned sinner. Please forgive my sins and save me.” We have to recognize how broken we are in order to receive the healing that God alone can give. When a person goes through this, and when they cry out for the mercy of God, then they are saved.

     __________ was baptized in _______  in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I had the opportunity to teach him and his brothers as much as I could any 7th or 8th grader about sin and about salvation in Jesus. He received all of that and did not reject it. As his life went on, he found many other good blessings from God as an athlete, friend and member of a loving family.

     I don’t know what kind of internal struggles he had. But I do have some experience with that agony. That is when a Christian, in the pit of despair, cries out to God for help. And even though he may have been so beaten down and broken by Satan, God’s promises are always stronger and better. “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” This is a promise that God will fulfill to anyone, no matter where they are, no matter what dark corner of life they may be in, who simply says, “Jesus, help me.”

     When Satan puts us in a corner and comes to crush us, it is only Jesus who can save us. This is because Satan put Him in the darkest corner of this world when He was abandoned by His friends, let down by the world’s justice, and torn apart by those who loved evil. As He was being crushed under the load of all our sins He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Sin is insanity and death. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He died on His cross so that when we come to ours, we can believe in Him who rose again. Amen.

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