Why is suicide a sin?
At first, it seems to be a strange question because the answer is so obvious. But the young man who asked this is struggling with how to explain it to someone he knows. The difficulty is that you can't turn in your Bibles to a passage that says "Thou shalt not take your own life." So, how do you prove it to be a sin?
Suicide is the ending of your own life. Because an individual decides his life should not continue, the person committing suicide is no different from a person who decides to end the life of another. The Israelites were told, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Such ending of life is not the same as a government administering the death penalty for a crime. "But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:4). Governments were given the right to execute evildoers by God. That act is only performed after careful consideration that evil had been committed. The one committing suicide cannot claim either right. He has not been given the right to end his own life. Nor is the one considering suicide in the position to accurately weigh whether a death sentence should be applied.
Once you are willing to admit that suicide is one form of murder, then it is straight forward to prove that murder, including suicide, is a sin. "You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (I John 3:15).
A better question is "Why would someone want to end his life?"
Today we often call it "depression." It is the attitude that life is not worth living. It is the decision that there is no future and no hope of a better tomorrow. We see this in several biblical characters who contemplated suicide. Job lost everything that he had. It appeared that God had turned against him, though Job could not figure out why this should be. And so Job said, "May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived. May that day be darkness; May God above not seek it, Nor the light shine upon it. ... Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?" (Job 3:3-4, 11). In his sufferings, Job wished he never had been born. Yet, even in the depths of despair, Job did not commit suicide. He understood, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10). Some things are out of our hands, including the choice of when our lives should end.
The prophet Elijah also faced depression. After successfully proving to Israel that only God exists, the queen, Jezebel, threatened to kill him. "But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"" (I Kings 19:4). Elijah had given up hope. He saw himself as the only faithful follower of God left in the world, and he was a failure. After his best effort, he could not turn Israel from their idolatry. God countered by assigning Elijah important duties that would affect the future of Israel and He pointed out to Elijah that his view was wrong; seven thousand people still remained faithful to God in Israel (I Kings 19:15-18). But notice that even though Elijah wished for death, he did not attempt to take his own life. Even in his despair, he knew the decision was God's alone to make.
Judas is the most famous man to commit suicide. "Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:3-5). Judas was a man always looking for a way to make a quick buck, whether by legal means or otherwise. He had observed how Jesus always managed to escape when the Jews attempted to arrest Him or kill Him. Perhaps Judas thought to cash in on this by offering to betray the Christ, all the while fully expecting Jesus to simply walk away as He did in the past. But things didn't go as planned: Jesus was arrested and condemned to die. Judas could not face his own guilt over what he had done, and so he hanged himself.
The response of Judas stands in stark contrast to another man, named Saul. Saul was present at the death of Stephen, and he stood there encouraging the mob in their murder of this righteous man (Acts 7:57-8:1). Saul was a leader in the persecution of the church, where he dragged many into prison and to their death (Acts 8:3). Yet, Jesus sought out Saul, and Saul was given salvation. Looking back at this in wonder, Saul, who was now called Paul, said, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (I Timothy 1:12-15). Paul didn't wallow in self-pity or despair for long when he learned the truth concerning his evil deeds. Instead, he took hold of the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of God.
Christianity is a religion of hope; a hope that does not disappoint those holding on to it (Romans 5:5). At one time we were among those who did not have God and had no hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12), but now we are called to hold on to our hope. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). Those who in their despair commit suicide are declaring they have given up hope in God.
The most common reason people committed suicide in the Bible was in a vain attempt to control their destiny. Abimelech was fatally struck by a rock by a woman. He did not want it to be known that a woman killed him, so he ordered his armor-bearer to strike him dead (Judges 9:53-54). Yet, we remember that a woman was the cause of Abimelech's death (II Samuel 11:21). He tried to change history, but he failed. King Saul was in the midst of battle, his sons were killed, and he was fatally shot by a Philistine archer. "Then Saul said to his armorbearer, "Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me." But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it" (I Samuel 31:4). Saul feared that the Philistines would abuse his body after his death. Yet, he did not manage to prevent it. "So it happened the next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and sent word throughout the land of the Philistines, to proclaim it in the temple of their idols and among the people. Then they put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan" (I Samuel 31:8-10). You see, once you are dead, you have no control. You give up all possibility of affecting the world.
When Absalom rebelled against his father, King David, one of David's advisors, Ahithophel turned traitor and began advising Absalom. However, in a critical matter, Absalom took the advice of another over Ahithophel. "Now when Ahithophel saw that his advice was not followed, he saddled a donkey, and arose and went home to his house, to his city. Then he put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died; and he was buried in his father's tomb" (II Samuel 17:23). Ahithophel knew disaster was coming, so he decided to control his own death. Funny thing is that nothing changed. He would have died one way or the other. And by taking himself out of the picture early on, he insured the defeat of Absalom by removing any possible good advice that he might have gained.
Zimri did much the same. He killed King Elah of Israel but quickly faced defeat at the hands of a rival general. "And it happened, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house down upon himself with fire, and died" (I Kings 16:18). Zimri chose his method of death, but in his death, he gave his enemy exactly what he desired. Zimri's suicide only made Omri's triumph easier.
You see, suicide doesn't give men control. It is simply a means of abandoning any control of one's future. It can make no change. It cannot cause improvement. It is just the coward's escape. Oh, but they don't really escape, do they? "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
Jonah was commanded to preach to his hated enemies. He did not desire their salvation. He tried to rebel, but in the end, Jonah was forced to deliver God's message. The message filled Jonah with glee; in forty days the city of Nineveh would be destroyed. But, to his dismay, the people listened to his warning and repented of their sins. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!"" (Jonah 4:1-3). Jonah would rather have died than to see Nineveh survive.
Often people who commit suicide are trying to strike back at others whom they perceive is causing them harm. Yet, for the Christian we are told, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). In essence, these people are trying to take matters into their own hands. They believe they know better than God what ought to be done and when it should be done. It is the motivation behind the suicide bombers. Here is a way they believe they can strike back at their most hated enemies. And if they die in the process, they deceive themselves into believing God will be happy with their deed. Such woefully foolish people! Their death guarantees facing an angry God. They killed others and themselves; murderers will not enter heaven. Especially murders trying to take matters into their own hands instead of giving place for the wrath of God. When the disciples sought to take vengeance on a village that had offered Jesus an insult, Jesus "turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them."" (Luke 9:55-56).
Suicide Holds No Solution
Suicide fixes no problems. It gives no control. It is not heroic, but cowardly. It brings wrath upon the one seeking vengeance. It brings no comfort to the suffering soul.
When the jailer sought to take his life, Paul cried out, "Do yourself no harm" (Acts 16:28). The cry brought the jailer back to his senses. He wanted to know how he might be saved from his predicament. Perhaps he was only focused on his immediate problems, but Paul pointed him to a greater need. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). But how can a man believe in what he has never heard (Romans 10:14)? And so we find the jailer and his household learning about Jesus in the middle of the night. "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house" (Acts 16:32). That word made a difference! "And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household " (Acts 16:33).
Here, then, is the solution to your problems, no matter how overwhelming they may seem. Suicide doesn't bring joy into anyone's life, but Jesus holds the key to eternal joy.