If you take your own life, can you still be forgiven of your sin?
If you remember a few weeks ago, the topic for the Ask the Pastor was intentional sin. (You can find that ATP here.) In short, Christians do not sin intentionally. Willful, intentional, persistent sin is incompatible with faith. In fact, it wars against faith. Christians do still sin, but they always hate their sin. They do not intentionally persist in it.
So what about suicide? Isn’t suicide an intentional breaking of the 5th commandment? Yes, suicide breaks the 5th commandment (as well as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and maybe more). But how intentional is it?
A Lutheran understanding of repentance, unlike the Roman Catholic understanding, is not something that we do for each and every sin. Rather, a Christian is always repentant, always sorry for his sin, always trusting Jesus for full forgiveness. To illustrate how much this divides Rome and Wittenburg, note the first of Luther’s 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He meant the whole Christian life to be one of repentance.”
So the problem with suicide is not that you don’t have the chance to repent. Repentant faith is the way of life for the Christian.
Moreover, it’s incorrect to oversimplify suicide and to call it an intentional sin. Depression, which is almost always the disease that motivates a person to commit suicide, is an illness. Just like other diseases have symptoms and effects, so does depression. Among the effects of depression are despair and hopelessness. A depressed mind does not think clearly; the chemical pathways are biologically altered because of the disease. So a person does not exactly intend to sin who commits suicide.
Those suffering from depression should seek both pastoral help and medical help, even if they have not had any suicidal thoughts.
A Christian lives in forgiveness. If a person who commits suicide retains God’s gift of faith until death, he remains in that forgiveness. Nevertheless, Christians seek to avoid suicide as they seek to avoid any other sins that are contrary to their new identities in Christ. As Christians, we humbly acknowledge and give thanks to God that our whole lives are in His hands. The death of Jesus and His resurrection redeem our suffering and enable us to endure our crosses, praying for the day of His return, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”