Beyond the Pulpit – Is Suicide a Mortal Sin?

by Stan Hudson, who served as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor for 38 years and is currently the Director of Creation Ministries at the North Pacific Union Conference

Given the requirement in Catholic theology for a priest to hear confessions of sinners for forgiveness to be received, it is logical that those who commit suicide would forever be lost.  With no opportunities for the dead to confess afterward, those left behind had the added pain of believing their troubled love one was now doomed to eternal burning in hell for that sin.  No doubt responding to questions on that position, Rome has issued a couple of statements softening somewhat that belief without lessening the importance of confession.  They admit that “mental health issues” contribute to such drastic decisions and that people should not “fear for their loved one’s salvation.”

Amazingly, Adventism is not immune to this mortal sin theology.  In one of my first churches I had an elder who was into this thinking.  I challenged him on it, asking, “So you are saying that if a Christian committed a sin, walked across the street and was killed by a truck driver, he would be lost?”  Without hesitation, he said, “Yup!”  So, for that elder, suicide was a mortal sin.

As you all know, THE most important facet of any doctrine is what it tells someone about God.  If this above theology is true, it looks like God is all about keeping track of people’s legal records.  That is, He cares less about the heart, and more about test scores.  A giant Pharisee perhaps?

And yet the Bible records the suicide of someone who was saved!  I speak of Samson, who despite his Judges 16 decision to “let me die with the Philistines” he is included in Hebrews 11’s “Hall of Fame of Faith.”  How did Samson miss out on eternal punishment?  What was his mental state at the time of death?  Was he depressed?  I would think so, given how he had disappointed God with his lifestyle.  Was he angry with himself?  Sure.  Did he think that by ending his life he would make his world a better place?  Of course! 

But over the course of those last months of his life, more than his hair was growing back.  He had reflected on his past and had made peace with God, despite his natural mood swings and the humiliation of having his mistake paraded before God’s mortal enemies.  His last prayer of wanting revenge upon his tormentors may not have been the purest motive, still God could read his heart…and liked what He saw.

Over against Samson is the sad story of Judas.  He had regrets, too, over his terrible decision.  But his heart wasn’t right with God.  His story ended on the surface as similar to Samson’s.  But his sorrow was with himself and not towards God.

Finally, what about Jesus’ death?  Wasn’t it suicide, in the sense that He had said, “I have power to lay down My life and power to take it up again?”  Where would we be without Christ’s death for us?  There a suicide ended with immortality for millions.  Praise the Lord!

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