In this paper I will discuss St. Augustine’s argument against suicide, a Calvinist’s view of suicide, as well as my own view of suicide, which is the Arminian view. Suicide, even if it is for saving our honour, is a sin because the Bible says, “Thou shalt not murder”, and that includes yourself.
Suicide is the act of ending one’s own life, but it gets much more complex than that. So complex that we are only able to judge from a biblical perspective. People sometimes commit suicide as a way to escape pain, suffering, or depression. Suicide accounts for two percent of all deaths in America. Essentially, it is caused by the division of the will.
St. Augustine wrote the book The City of God in the fifth century, making it Christianity’s first work of condemnation of suicide. He wrote it to protest the Roman conception of suicide as a matter of heroism and virtue. Rome held that suicide was a noble act to commit for political reasons, to protect chastity, and to avoid personal trouble. Rome believed that those who have committed this crime against themselves are to be admired for greatness of spirit. St. Augustine disagrees and finds that quite on the contrary the one who killed himself lacked strength to endure hardships or another’s wrongdoing. In short, his argument is this: suicide violates the divine law against killing (Exodus 20:13) and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. For Augustine, suicide is an effort to control uncertainty and escape suffering. He believes that anyone who kills himself is definitely a merderer. He strongly holds and repeatedly brings up in his book that the fifth commandment “Thou shalt not kill” applies to oneself as it does to one’s neighbor. He discusses only one exception: that only suicides directly commanded by God are permissible. Otherwise, there is absolutely no way to justify it. In The City of God, St. Augustine examines five possible justifications for suicide. They list as follows: to escape temporal troubles; to avoid another’s sin (for example, rape); out of despair for past sins (for example, Judas Iscariot after betraying Jesus); to reach a better life after death; and to avoid falling into sin out of fear or pleasure. He carefully and thoroughly examines all these, but in the end, justifies none of them. He offers an intriguing argument against people committing suicide in order to avoid sinning in the future. He states that by committing suicide, the person commits a worse sin than any he avoided by killing himself.
I will now talk about suicide as seen from a Calvinist’s view. In answer to the question “If a saved man commits suicide, what happens to him after death?” a Calvinist would simplysay he would still be saved. He does believe that it is a sin but Jesus died for all sins, so the man was forgiven. An Arminian could then argue that the sin was an unrepented sin since the man died immediately and had no time to repent of his suicide. Again, the Calvinist would use Romans chapter 5-6 to argue that when we commit a sin, grace abounds – where sin runs deep, His grace is more. He would insist that us humans, Christians and unbelievers of course, have an absurd amount of unrepentant sins and Jesus covered even the sins we are not aware of; our self awareness is very weak. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). ( …) The Calvinist’s safe haven here would be in saying that, fortunately, God keeps no record of sins against us. Even though a person commits the sin of suicide, he is under grace, fully clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and no longer under law. The man did not repent, he will still be saved nevertheless because our daily repentance for our sins is not for our justification, but for our sanctification. According to the fifth point of Calvinism – preservation of the Saints – God preserves His people so they can never be lost, meaning, we are forever secure in His righteousness. In other words, once you are saved, you are always saved. Calvinism’s foundation for this is John 10:28-30 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one”(ESV). A popular Calvinist preacher named Rick Warren preaches the perseverance of the Saints and he spoke out on this topic especially after his son took his own life in 2013. He encouraged families of suicidal people, saying that they can have hope of meeting their loved ones in heaven. Warren preached that it is very tragic that they were led to take their own lives because of depression or a mental illness, but there is no need to fall into despair because if they were saved in this life, they remain saved. He supports his stance with Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
Ultimately, Calvinists do condemn suicide but if someone commits this sin, he still has hope of spending eternity with God. I will now offer my argument against suicide, which is the Arminian view. Some believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is considered as a suicide because He said to Judas “what you do, do quickly” (John 27:13) while Judas already knew that he would betray Jesus. The early Christian scholar and theologian, Origen, said, “Jesus killed Himself in a more divine manner”. We know this is wrong, first, because Jesus cannot sin even i n the form of a man. The second reason we know this is wrong is because the Bible says “Thoushalt not kill”and the Bible does not contradict itself. Some could possibly interpret that Moses meant you are prohibited to kill others, while it is also possible to interpret that he prohibits the killing of any living things.
- The Bible . Authorized English Standard Version. Wheaton, III. Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.
- Augustine, Aurelius. The City of God . New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.
- Gritters, Rev. Barry. T.U.L.I.P. or, The Five Points of Calvinism. 16 July. 2000. http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_41.html
- Ortiz, Dr. Jared. The Catholic World Report: Saint Augustine Contra Suicide. 29 September, 2019. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/09/29/saint-augustine-contra-suicide/