Catholic Suicide: Is He in Hell?
We have a friend (he was only 19) who took his own life about a month ago. He had a Catholic upbringing. We would like to know your opinion about where he is now.
Sincerely, Mike and Alicia
Dear Mike and Alicia,
Suicide is tragic at any age. I guess we grieve the most over the young ones who “check out early” (the term used by many teens today).
I remember my first suicide call. The young man and his family had no church contact whatsoever. One of their friends recommended that they call me. I was on the scene less than two hours after the dastardly deed.
I guess that I use the term “dastardly” because I soon discovered that this twenty-two-year-old male had blown his brains out with a shotgun in front of his nine-year-old sister. The scene in the bedroom was incredible. I never want to see that again. The nine-year-old was in a catatonic shock. I doubt that she’ll ever be the same again. The family was in shambles.
Since he left no suicide note, mom and dad and the rest of the family will struggle with so many unanswered questions and will suffer a legacy of guilt: “Why did he do it? If we’d only known his despair, what could we have done to help him before it was too late? What warning signs did we miss?” A no-note suicide is one of the nastiest and harshest things any one can do to their family and friends.
The next day I sat with the family as we planned out the funeral service. They were too much in shock to help much with the planning. Of course, I didn’t expect much help.
There was one thing they all agreed that they wanted to include in the service. They wanted someone to sing the song, “Desperado.” This was his all time favorite song. After what he’d just done the day before I thought the song highly inappropriate and in ironic poor taste. Try to plan a funeral service around the song, “Desperado” some time. It is not easy.
The confused emotions at the funeral were incredible. As I rose to speak I saw his wife and baby sitting on the front row to my left. The woman sitting alone on my right was his mistress. I couldn’t help but wonder.
My pastor’s journal is filled with funerals, many of them suicides.
I have met many people who think that if someone commits suicide then he/she cannot go to heaven. Those with this perspective often reason that since they die and cannot ask for forgiveness after they die then God will not let them come into Heaven. That is not true.
The important thing is that sometime during their lives those who commit suicide surrender their lives to Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Bible teaches that Jesus died on the Cross to suffer the death penalty we all live under because of our sins. When we accept the gift of forgiveness and salvation then all of our sins both past, present and future are covered. Jesus accepts us into the family God knowing knowing all the sins we will commit in the future and He accepts us anyway. According to John three, when we receive Christ into our lives (John 1:12) we are born again and we can’t ever be “spiritually unborn.” The only sin that God cannot forgive is refusing to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior In order to have our sins forgiven.
Some say that Catholics are not Christians because of all the “church baggage” people are required to do and believe in order to earn their way into Heaven–as opposed to finding salvation by faith and faith alone.
Personally, just like for anyone else, Catholics must come to Christ by faith and faith alone. Paul wrote in Galatians that the only way into heaven is by faith, otherwise people would boast and get proud about what they had done to earn their way into Heaven. No one is good enough to earn his/her way into Heaven. Only God gets glory for our salvation. Salvation is based on our faith in Christ–nothing more or less.
I know Catholics who are fully committed to Christ and trust in His work of forgiving their sin, and in that alone, to allow them to enter into God’s heaven. If we were to try to come in based on our own works we would wreck the place.
We need cleansing with the blood of Jesus to make us fit for Heaven.
In direct answer to your question, the issue for your suicide friend revolves totally around whether or not he surrendered his life to the person of Jesus Christ, fully accepting His work on the cross to forgive his sins. If that is the case then he is in Heaven. Otherwise, he is not. According to the teachings of Jesus, he is in Hell.
Let give you a few thoughts that might help as you bring care and comfort to those left behind.
1. The family of an unsaved suicide needs comfort. Let me share several comfort passages that I use again and again: Psalm 23; Psalm 103; 119:76; 2 Corinthians 1:3; and 2 Corinthians 1:4. Focus on understanding their grief.
2. Refrain from encouragement, rationalization and explanation. Rational explanations and encouragement can come later. This is not the time to speculate why he did what he did or attempt to answer questions regarding suicide. Tell the family how sorry you feel for them and how much you grieve for their pain.
3. Don’t talk about Heaven or Hell. You don’t want to raise false hopes and you certainly don’t want to pretend someone is in heaven when you know that the chances are slim. After all, you don’t know the history of what someone might or might not have done at some point during their lives.
4. At appropriate times, share some good memories about his/her life. Humor can dissipate the strained nerves of a tense situation.
5. Fear of appearing “preachy” in no way means that we stay away from talking about Jesus. Using the story in John eight of Jesus’ restoration of the woman caught in the act of adultery gives a hopeful sense of picking up the pieces and starting over again. Using Philippians 4:10-13 about the God who pours in the power through Jesus Christ to give victory in every situation can be helpful and appropriate.
I am sorry for your loss and the pain you are enduring as well. I hope you find my answer helpful.