Suicide, Salvation & Hell

Several years ago, I got a call from a shaken friend. A well-respected and well-loved deacon in his church had taken his own life. The man left behind a wife and two small children. My friend's question: did the act of suicide condemn him to hell?

Several years ago, I got a call from a shaken friend. A well-respected and well-loved deacon in his church had taken his own life. The man left behind a wife and two small children. My friend's question: did the act of suicide condemn him to hell?

Since the early days of the church, suicide has been considered a grievous sin. Theologically, it is seen as an act of subverting God's will.  Because we belong to our Creator and not ourselves, self-murder is on par with murdering another person.

However, all sin is a subversion of God's will. So how and why did suicide become an "unpardonable sin"? Augustine asserted that suicide was an unrepentable sin based on the fact that "Thou shalt not kill" didn't exclude oneself. Catholic thinker Thomas Aquinas lent his support on three points: suicide opposes love, it hurts the greater community, and it usurps God's right to determine the length of his creation's earthly life. In the Middle Ages, the doctrine was simply that suicide cuts short a person's relationship with God. The view that suicide doomed one to hell continued with the Catholic church's view that those who die with unabsolved mortal sin are bound to hell.

Protestant reformation leaders strongly condemned suicide, but generally disagreed with the Catholic church's stance that suicide would condemn a person to hell. The reformers preached salvation through grace alone, and therefore, it is neither earned nor lost by human works–including suicide. Reformers also opposed the Catholic view as unsupported by Scripture.

Suicide is all that the church has labelled it: a tragedy, a sin, usurping God's rights. It leaves deep scars on the family, church and community. It is a horrible and painful occurance. But, I believe that we are saved by grace alone, and Jesus' righteousness clothes even the most wretched sinners, and that nothing can separate us from God's love, and therefore could answer my friend confidently. There would be many days of pain and regret and healing ahead of them, but they didn't have to add to that the thought that this Christ-follower was eternally doomed.

Laura Singleton’s passion is the transformation that happens when women get access to God’s Word and God’s Word gets access to women. She was twenty-five when her life was turned upside down by an encounter with Jesus Christ. With an insatiable thirst for scripture and theology, she soon headed to Dallas Theological Seminary to learn more about Jesus, and left with a Th.M. with an emphasis in Media Arts. She, along with two friends from DTS, travel the nation filming the independent documentary Looking for God in America. She loves speaking and teaching and is the author of Insight for Living Ministry’s Meeting God in Familiar Places and hundreds of ads, which pay the bills. Her big strong hubby Paul is a former combat medic, which is handy since Laura’s almost died twice already. She loves photography, travel and her two pugs.


  • Hailey Post

    as always it is a pleasure to

    as always it is a pleasure to read your blog. you really have guts to speak about those gray areas that are theological but not directly answered in scripture, good job. i think when we speak towards these issues, the gray areas, we need to firmly have faith in what we know to be true of gods character. you can tell that you know god and his grace and love. thanks for sharing.

  • Russell Singleton


    Thank you for such an insightful answer. That is a question I have wondered about in the past and it's nice to know someone that knows as much as you do comes to the same final conclusion that I did.

  • Mike Hickerson

    The Role of Mental Illness

    Thank you for this post, especially clearing up the difference between Catholic and Protestant teachings on the subject. However, aren't you overlooking the role of mental illness in suicide? As someone who lost a beloved relative to suicide, I can testify that she was literally "not herself" when she was facing suicide. Most people who are rescued from suicide attempts are eventually thankful for the intervention, suggesting that suicide is not an act of the will, but a symptom of a treatable disease. If someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they should seek immediate medical help – including therapy, medication, and possibly hospitalization. Confronting sin and repenting might be a part of their recovery, but I worry that a focus on suicide-as-sin misses the point. 

  • Laura Singleton

    Mental Illness & Suicide


    Thank you so much for bringing this up. I was trying to limit the conversation to the theological positions regarding suicide and hell and, in the editing process, removed my comments about mental illness. Reading your comment, I realize that was a mistake. The man I talked about in the post had battled mental illness for years. During "up" times, he was a stable, loving servant-leader. During the bad times, he fought a level of darkness and despair that most of us will never understand.

    With the fall, death contorted the world. We live in a reality that is not as it should be. In this broken and sin-sick world, chemical imbalance, psychological trauma, and even physical injury can cause mental issues. Even more reason to cling to the grace of Jesus Christ.

  • Sue Bohlin

    What drives suicide

    I'm grateful that this discussion has developed to include the mental illness aspect and not just the theological part, Laura.

    I spent three years in lay counseling training under a godly, smart, wise man who taught us that suicide isn't about wanting to die, it's about wanting to stop the pain. And that pain can become so overwhelming that it prevents people from seeing things clearly, or seeing the big picture.

    Those words came back to provide perspective when he took his own life over a decade later. Although the pain to his family and community continues, his own pain is over as he is in the presence of the Lord who purchased his life with His death.

  • AllieF

    origins of damnation for suicide


    My understanding of why suicide became elevated in the Catholic Church to "unpardonable" status comes out of the middle ages. Life for most people was horrific. There was extreme poverty, which means hunger and illness for the masses. Turning to faith, people were taught that suffering now was okay because one day you will be in heaven where there is no more pain, suffering, etc. Faced with horrific life on earth or a beautiful life in heaven, the church found that more and more people were committing suicide to get to a better life. Something had to be done. (I stumbled across this blog looking for information to support what I am saying – as of yet – since I found this first -this is not substantiated outside of a casual theological conversation I had several years ago.)

    Suicide has always been a sin for reasons listed above in the original post and others. I believe the only unforgivable sin is rejecting God as far as what is directly in scripture. Suicide can be seen as a way of rejecting God by believing he is powerless in your situation, and you are taking over his job as far as deciding when you will die.

    I have seen suicide situations that seemed to fall into this category. Selfish people who have made bad choices and "can't live with what they've done," leaving everybody else behind to deal with whatever mess they've made.

    I've also seen desperately mentally ill people who are as Mike, Laura, and Sue described above. This is truly illness and we need to recognize it as such. Part of what will happen when this perspective changes is that people will be more likely to reach out for the help they need. Clinging to our Saviour is important, very important. But so are counseling, medication, and hospitalization for extra support and intensive counseling as chemical imbalances and other health problems are addressed.

    In the painful aftermath of one of these situations, a pastor said this to me."I cannot say this scripturally, but in pastoral comfort/counseling I will say that I do not see any difference between death by physical illness and death by mental illness."  Again, this was not based in quotable scripture, but it sure does inspire some consideration as to how we view health, why we (less so now, thankfully) separate physical from mental well-being, and how we should care for one another with any health struggles. 

    I will also share that I have always had empathy for people with mental illness, it was obvious they struggled with their pain. But until I had to take some medication that had very intense and terrible side effects, I did not understand HOW they were feeling and struggling. That darkness, hopelessness, and unrelenting desire for the pain to go away can and does make you irrational and not yourself. Good thoughtful decisions are all but impossible to make in this frame of mind. Fortunately, I was able to reduce dosage of the medication to ease some of the misery, but for about 2 years I fought very hard to not lose myself in the quicksand of depression.

    And yes, I clung very tight to God. But we also must take care of our bodies (which are indeed his temple). When he says come to me and you will never be thirsty, he does not mean that it is no longer necessary to drink water! We must nourish and care for our bodies – in sickness and in health. It infuriates me to hear people (and I know that nobody here has done so) say things to a person suffering with real anxiety or depression, "you aren't trusting God enough, you need to let go and let God, etc." insinuating that lack of faith is what is going on. People of faith who are told this are then made to feel more anxious because now they are not only betraying themselves and the people who care for them with their inability to control their anxiety or depression, but now they've failed God as well. Simply not helpful. 

    Because I believe in the sanctity of life, I believe that suicide is, in fact, a sin. I believe that helps deter some people who are not in the deepest stages closest to taking that step. I am not sure that people who are desperately seeking a stop to their (emotional and physical) pain can really logically consider that at the time. I also believe that God's mercy and grace are beyond our comprehension. He will be the ultimate judge of our actions and intentions.