The evangelical community was rocked and deeply saddened in 2013 when news broke of the tragic death of Rick Warren’s 27-year-old son, Matthew. Perhaps never before, at least in the Christian community, has a death caused such emotional turmoil and energetic concern to learn what the Bible teaches about suicide.
In the wake of that event I was asked by numerous people: Is suicide the unpardonable sin?
What Is Suicide?
In order for an act to be suicide, one need not die directly by one’s own hand. A person might persuade another to do the killing, but this would still be suicide. I have in mind a person who wishes to die but wants to preserve life-insurance benefits for his family (which are forfeited if he dies by his “own hand”). Thus it would seem that just as one can commit murder through the agency of another, so also one can commit suicide through the agency of another.
It is also possible to distinguish between passive and active suicide. Consider this case from Robert Wennberg’s Terminal Choices: Euthanasia, Suicide, and the Right to Die (while not agreeing with everything he wrote, I’ve been greatly helped by Wennberg’s book):
A woman who is in a state of depression is accidentally given a drink containing a lethal dose of poison. Unaware of its contents, she consumes the drink. Upon being informed of what has happened, she is provided with a safe and effective antidote—but she refuses to take the antidote and subsequently dies. If we assume that she refused the antidote because she wanted to die, I think we would conclude that she committed suicide. Thus we seem justified in concluding that suicide can be carried out passively as well as actively.
Most people think that a death by “natural causes” cannot be a suicide. But what about the diabetic in despair who, although in otherwise good health, stops taking his insulin in order to end his life? He soon lapses into a diabetic coma and dies before being discovered. Clearly, he died of natural causes, yet just as clearly he committed suicide.
The most basic definition of a suicide is when one intends to die, or when one acts on the desire to die. This person pursues a course of action for the express purpose of ending his or her life. Thus, for example, the soldier who charges the enemy in a time of war, knowing that he most likely will die, is not guilty of committing suicide. As Wennberg puts it, he is not choosing this act as a means to his death “but rather is accepting a foreseen yet unwelcome consequence of what he is doing” (23). In a sense, then, the soldier is engaging in a suicidal act but is not committing suicide, because he is not undertaking his mission for the express purpose of ending his life.
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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition