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How an unforgettable message taught me what suicide is not

Chris Elkins serves as Brand Director for Denison Forum. He joined the staff in 2016 after several years serving on the staffs of local churches and denominational agencies. He earned a Master’s degree in organizational communication from the University of Southern Mississippi and is a published author. He is married to Minni Elkins, one of the original Denison Forum employees. They have two children and five grandchildren and live in the Dallas metroplex.

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I’ll never forget a message slipped to me in a chapel service at work: “Allen committed suicide.”

That simple.

That direct.

I almost fell out of my seat.

Not Allen, one of my best friends. Impossible.

Yet somehow, the news pulled all the pieces of the past several years together. 

It all seemed clear after that note. There were lots of signs.

But we all know the adage about hindsight.

Missing the signs

Allen and I had been best friends since high school. He had helped me move some furnishings from New Mexico to my home in North Texas. I remembered how during that long drive he asked me if I thought people who committed suicide went to hell.

Good grief. How clearer could a sign get?

Allen was a loner, a self-appointed exile in many ways. Likely, he had become dependent on prescription pain medication. He was struggling. Only a few weeks earlier, he had unexpectedly sent me some mementos from our high school days.

More signs.

But then he went through with it.

When I arrived the next day at the home of Allen’s parents, they asked me to conduct the graveside service. Their pastor was unwilling to do it because Allen’s death was a suicide. That pastor wasn’t sure what that meant about Allen’s salvation.

Many people mistakenly believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin. What does the Bible teach about this tragic subject?

What does God think about suicide?

My friend, Dr. Jim Denison, addressed this subject in Biblical Insight to Tough Questions Vol. 1Here’s his clear and thorough answer:

God’s word consistently warns us that suicide is always wrong. Deuteronomy 30:19 is God’s command, “Choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Job knew that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, that life and death are with God and not us (Job 1:21).

Paul teaches us, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). And the sixth commandment is clear: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

God gives us life and he alone has the right to take it. It is always too soon to give up on life. God can always intervene, and often does. You’re not done until God says you’re done.

That said, why is suicide so often thought to be the “unpardonable sin”? Not because the Bible ever teaches this connection. Here’s the story in brief.

In the first era of Christian history, the Church came to separate “mortal” from “venial” sins. Mortal” sins would condemn a person to hell, “venial” to Purgatory. Only by confessing a mortal sin could a person avoid hell.

Murder, including self-murder, was one of these mortal sins. Of course, a person could not confess this sin after committing it. So, by logic, suicide was defined as the unpardonable sin.

But nowhere does the Bible teach that this is so. Suicide is always wrong, always a sin, and always a tragedy. It places far more grief and pain on family and friends than choosing life would have. It takes into human hands a decision which is God’s alone. It leads to judgment and loss of reward by God in eternity. But it is not the unpardonable sin. Those you care about who committed suicide are not in hell for having done so.

Rejecting Christ is the only unpardonable sin.

What can separate you from God’s love?

While my friend’s faith was not perfect, he knew Jesus Christ as his Savior. 

Allen’s last decision was tragically flawed and unfortunately fatal. But his decision earlier in life to accept Jesus as Savior trumped even his later bad decisions—including suicide.    

I performed Allen’s graveside service a couple of days later. I felt led to share this thought that day that helped me process my grief.

I told those gathered there that “No one’s entire life should be measured by his worst decision. Suicide does not negate a lifetime of compassion, kindness, friendship, or sharing—nor one’s salvation.”

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39, emphasis added).

Every friend, co-worker, spouse, child, neighbor, or casual acquaintance of someone who has committed suicide needs to know this. 

Nothing can separate us from God’s love once we have received it.

Nothing.

NOTE: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Ask your pastor to recommend a Christian counselor in your area. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Take every threat of suicide seriously.

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