In light of the recent tragic news that comedian and actor Robin Williams took his own life, discussions surrounding depression and suicide have entered the popular discussion. As I am writing this less than two days from the shocking announcement, news outlets and social media websites are inundated with both tributes to Williams as well as debates on suicide and depression. From my perspective, the majority of stories and comments on this event have been positive reinforcement. In other words, they choose to either focus on the comedian’s body of work, or use this tragedy to shed light on issues of depression and suicide. However, some outlets have chosen this opportunity to either condemn or paint those who suffer from depression or commit suicide in a negative light.
What is it that drives a person to attempt suicide in a manner that guarantees death? What factors lead him or her to that moment? Although my purpose here is to discuss suicide from the biblical perspective, I do want to state upfront my own personal view of suicide. I think it is absolutely horrible and tragic that circumstances in one’s life would lead to this decision. I do not think that those who take their own life are selfish or cowards. I think it is incredibly sad that someone would turn to that as a solution, and equally tragic that a support net of friends, family, or professionals was not in place at the right time.
So this brings us to the topic at hand: suicide and the Bible. Inevitably, when one discusses suicide and the Bible (at least from the Christian perspective), the notion of damnation typically enters the conversation as the ultimate result of suicide. Does this approach meet with any evidence from the Biblical text?
The answer is no. An attempt to engage the Bible on the topic of suicide is an interesting endeavor. In the entirety of the text, only six people (by my research anyway) commit suicide throughout both the Old and New Testaments. These include Saul and his armor bearer in 1 Samuel, Samson in Judges, Ahitophel in 2 Samuel, Zimri in 1 Kings, and Judas in the Gospel of Matthew.
Although the circumstances of these suicides vary, there is a common theme running throughout all the accounts. The Bible never judges the act of suicide as a sin. In fact, in many cases, the character in question that kills himself comes across as tragic. In particular, I find Saul to be a terribly tragic figure who, in the end, must take his own life. I will not discuss all the instances in this blog post, primarily due to the unwieldy length that the article would quickly achieve. Rather, I seek to give a quick glimpse of this topic.
The other important aspect to note for looking at suicide from the Biblical perspective is that their societal norms and values do not mesh with our own. We are looking at civilizations from thousands of years ago that existed under different circumstances. While they did not champion suicide, at least as far as we can tell from the biblical text, they certainly did not view it as a sin punishable by damnation.
In the end, I think it is important for Christians, and everyone for that matter, to be more aware of the issues surrounding suicide and suicide attempts. They should not be approached from a judgmental or accusation point of view, but rather as an illness and the recognition of a human who is suffering and in need. If one does seek to address suicide from a biblical perspective, then it is my opinion that one should focus on passages pertaining to hope and caring for others instead of attempting to interpret passages in an effort to condemn. Sound off below if you have any comments or feedback. Thanks for reading.