The scourge of suicide
Each year, tens of thousands of people in North America, and up to a million people worldwide, take their own lives as an escape from situations that feel overwhelming and hopeless to them. Millions more make unsuccessful attempts.
There is plenty of good information available on the psychological, emotional, and social issues involved in suicide, and its effects on friends and relatives. We don’t need to repeat it all here. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the spiritual questions involved in suicide:
- Do people who commit suicide go to hell?
- What happens to people after death if they commit suicide?
- Does suicide work? Do we really escape from our problems if we kill ourselves?
- Is there a path to heaven for suicides who are good people at heart?
Does suicide send us to hell?
Let’s clear this one up right away: No one who commits suicide will be condemned to hell just because of that one act. No single act admits a person to heaven or condemns a person to hell. Rather, it is the overall pattern of motives, character, beliefs, and actions built up on earth that determines our eternal home.
Is a middle-aged man who kills himself after losing his job, his wife, and his home an evil person? Is a teenage girl who kills herself after her boyfriend breaks up with her an evil person? Depressed and desperate people will do desperate things. God is not interested only in how our lives ended. God is interested in what we have done during our life, and especially in how we have treated our fellow human beings.
In short, people who commit suicide will enter heaven or hell based on the same measure as everyone else. That measure is the quality of their character.
What is death, anyway?
To our material eyes death looks like the end of life. But from a spiritual viewpoint death is simply a transition from one life to another. In fact, death is the beginning of our real life.
Our life on earth is like our time of growth and development in the womb. When our body dies, we are born from the womb of the physical world into our fully human life in the spiritual world.
Our life on earth is also like the creation of a pot on a potter’s wheel. (See the Biblical parable of the Potter’s House in Jeremiah 18:1–11.) Like a pot being formed on the potter’s wheel, as long as we are still living on this earth our character can be formed and re-formed. At the time of death, the “pot” of character that we have created through our life here on earth is “fired,” so to speak, and this becomes our permanent character in the afterlife.
In the example of development in the womb, our real life begins at birth. In the example of the pot being formed on the potter’s wheel, the pot’s real, useful life begins after it is fully formed and fired in the kiln. It is exactly the same with our life here on earth as preparation for our real, eternal life in the spiritual world.
As we consider the life-and-death issue of suicide, let’s not forget that death is not the end. It is only the beginning. And just as babies born prematurely can live a full and happy life even if the circumstances of their birth may have created some health issues, those who are born into the spiritual world through a premature death by suicide can enter a full and happy eternal life in heaven—though some of the effects of their suicide will persist.
Does it make any difference when we die? Of course it does. Clearly God intended us to live out a full lifespan, or we would not have been designed for it. Besides, if life were not sacred, “Thou shalt not kill” wouldn’t be in the Ten Commandments. Still, whether or not we make good choices, God is able to bring some good out of the critical decisions we humans make, right or wrong. This includes the desperate and very damaging decision to kill ourselves.
Is suicide the ultimate escape?
If we don’t go to hell just because we commit suicide, does this mean that if we take our own life we will get off scot free while those left behind have to suffer through their grief?
Not at all. Actions have consequences. Those who commit suicide suffer its effects in the afterlife. This is not because God decrees a punishment upon them. It is because the act of taking one’s life does not change anything but where we live. We are the same person after death as before. The only thing we have left behind is our physical body. Our mind, including all of our emotions and thoughts, continues right on in our new spiritual body—which at first will look and feel exactly like our physical body. Even our surroundings will look the same at first because we carry them with us mentally.
This means that all the emotional and psychological issues that led to the suicide will be just the same after death. Those who commit suicide will still have to face the issues that led them to take their own lives. What’s worse, they will not be able to work out those issues with anyone who had been involved in their depression, addiction, or mental illness because those people will still be living on earth. And there will be no more escape through suicide because they’re already dead. Listen to this description by Emanuel Swedenborg of what it was like after death for one person who committed suicide:
Someone driven to despair by depression in his physical life was pushed by diabolical spirits to the point of killing himself by stabbing himself with a knife. He came to me complaining that he was being treated miserably by evil spirits, and was surrounded by fiends who constantly harassed him. I saw the place where he was: it was in the lower earth, a little to the left [near hell]. I also saw that he had a knife in his hand and was trying to stab it into his chest. He was struggling terribly with that knife, also trying to throw it away from himself, but he couldn’t do it.
I was told that whatever happens in the last hour of our death stays with us for a long time. March 14, 1748. (Spiritual Experiences 1336–1337)
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the suicide, it could be a long and difficult road before those who have a good heart underneath it all finally throw off the demons that led them to kill themselves, and find themselves on an upward path. And even if they do finally travel that upward path, they will have robbed themselves of the full process of spiritual growth that can take place only on earth. Remember, it is here on earth that we develop the character we will take with us into the afterlife. If we cut that process short, we can never reach the full depth and maturity of character that we might otherwise have developed if we had lived out our full lifespan.
In short, though people who commit suicide can still have a good life in heaven, the effects of their premature birth into the spiritual world will be permanent.
Wrapping it up
Will suicide send a person to hell? No. But it will cause many deep and difficult problems both for the person who committed suicide and for those who are left behind. Every effort we make to overcome the conditions under which people resort to suicide will be a positive step for our loved ones, for our society, and for God’s kingdom. If you are considering suicide, please seek out help. As hard as it may be to believe, there are people who care about you and can help you. If you don’t know anyone you trust to talk to, please call the National Suicide Hotline (in the United States) at 1-800-273-8255, or search the Internet for a similar hotline in your own country or region. And if you know of someone who is considering suicide, please take it seriously, and get them the help they need.
Can people who commit suicide make it to heaven? It may be a long, hard road for them in the afterlife, but the answer is yes. Anyone who has a good heart underneath it all, but is driven to the desperate act of suicide by forces that feel crushing and overwhelming, will in the end have an opportunity to sort out and resolve their struggles in the afterlife. The results may not be as good as if they had worked through their struggles here on earth. But through a winding and difficult path, those who commit suicide can eventually find their way to an active, contented life in heaven.
Still, it is best for everyone, including ourselves, if we let God decide when our time of death will be, rather than taking that decision into our own hands.
This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden
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