Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving a comment on this post.
Last week Chris emailed us a question relating to the tragic suicide of Junior Seau on May 2. Though he was unsure of where Seau stood spiritually, Chris wondered if the Bible speaks to the eternal destiny of those who have placed their trust in Jesus for salvation but choose to take their own lives. Chris specifically wondered how the Bible would have us approach situations like Seau’s, in which some have suggested that football-related brain trauma may have played a role.
The Bible indicates that murder is a grievous sin; this is so because God made man in His own image (see Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Mark 7:21; Romans 1:29; James 3:9). To take one’s own life is no less a sin than to murder someone. Some would argue from 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (ESV) that suicide, in particular, is unforgivable:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
At first glance, these verses could indicate that suicide is a sure path to hell. It is important to recognize, though, that the word “you” in these two verses is plural. Thus, Paul is speaking here of the church as the temple of God, a notion that is important for other discussions as well. Those who would destroy God’s church themselves face destruction (note that Paul doesn’t even mention hell here, at least not explicitly). Suicide is simply not in view in 1 Corinthians 3:16–17.
The Scripture does speak of one sin as unforgivable: the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). And though there is some disagreement about the exact nature of this sin, the context of the passages in which it is discussed make it highly unlikely that a believer in Jesus Christ could commit this sin. Suicide is clearly not in view here, either. Elsewhere in Scripture we read of Christians dying because they partook of the Lord’s Supper in an improper manner (1 Corinthians 11:28–30), or of Ananias and Sapphira dying because they lied to God (Acts 5:1–11), but in neither case does the Scripture speak of the believers as having blasphemed the Holy Spirit or being eternally unforgiven.
Beside all of this, we have the witness of the Scriptures that all who have placed their trust in Jesus for salvation are eternally secure. John 6:37–40 and John 10:27–28 teach this directly, but the doctrine is bolstered further by New Testament teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone, not through works, and that it is a done deal once it occurs (see, for example, John 3:16; 5:24; Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:4–7). Even the term “eternal life” itself is instructive. One wonders how a person could receive the gift of eternal life, only to lose it. Such life wouldn’t really qualify as eternal.
In summary, once a person is saved, he or she cannot lose that salvation. Suicide, though it is a grievous sin, is not unforgivable.
What, then, should we say about the role of brain damage in suicide, or in moral decision making in general? The Bible doesn’t speak directly to the issue of brain trauma, but it consistently underscores human moral choice and responsibility by presenting commands, exhortations, punishments, and rewards. None of us know yet how extensive Seau’s trauma may have been, but I can’t think of a biblical passage or doctrine that would make me comfortable saying that someone who shot himself in the chest was in no way responsible for what he did. God may well take into account our level of ignorance or physical impairment when He evaluates our deeds; Paul seems to indicate this in 1 Timothy 1:13. However, the trend of our hyper-naturalistic culture is increasingly to absolve people of moral responsibility by blaming their neurons, and we must resist this trend.
What are your thoughts on Junior Seau’s death, or on the various other issues raised in this post?