What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide, who was supposedly a believer?
James F. Pope
Your question addresses a very tragic situation. It is one that teaches us to be careful in our judgments and to exhibit loving concern for others.
Suicide in perspective
There was a time when Christians concluded that all those who took their lives were eternally lost because they had lost all hope, including faith in God’s care. With that thinking, there was simply an assumption that suicide automatically meant that the person died in unbelief and the soul went to hell.
More recently, there has been an increase in understanding the intricate makeup of human beings. As a result, people have recognized that some Christians might have taken their lives without losing their faith. A person who professed Christ as Savior might have committed suicide because of psychological or other mental health issues. Another person might have committed suicide as the result of a rash act or in a moment of weakness, while still possessing Christian faith. Taking one’s life is a sinful act, but there could be explanations for that action that do not presuppose the absence of faith.
Indeed, God alone knows what is in a person’s heart at death. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). You and I need to remember that we cannot look into the heart of anyone who has died, let alone someone who has committed suicide. The Bible teaches that Christian faith saves and unbelief condemns (Mark 16:16). The Bible instructs that it is vitally important to have Christian faith in the heart when life on earth comes to an end (Revelation 2:10). We leave the judgment of hearts to God (Hebrews 9:27).
Comfort in grief
So, does this mean that Christians cannot pass along any comfort from God’s Word to those impacted by suicide? Not at all. Consider the Bible’s message: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Christians have been comforted to comfort others.
We do want to offer genuine comfort and not false comfort. Because we are not aware of God’s judgment, there may be instances when we need to scale back the comfort associated with the deceased’s eternal welfare. Still, we can offer comfort to family and friends.
To the survivors of a loved one who has died in any way, we can give comfort from God’s Word. We can assure them that, in spite of troubling and confusing circumstances in their lives, God remains their refuge and strength (Psalm 46). We can comfort them with the reminder of God’s promise that he will never leave or forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). We can point them to God’s pledge that he will provide strength for daily living (Isaiah 41:10).
The news of another person’s death—no matter how it took place—is a clarion call for Christian vigilance. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). That verse answers the call.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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