Summary: Suicide is almost always folly in our culture, for it is basically just a means of escape. It is usually based on ignorance of the future. People think their present situation is permanent, and they cannot stand to think of living with their present burden for the rest of their lives.
The book of Jonah gives a very favorable account of the
attitude and character of the pagans involved. In fact, they
are at points pictured on a higher level than Jonah himself.
At last, however, we see a change in Jonah, and some of his
good character breaks through. The sailors had all the
proof they needed to condemn Jonah, including his own
confusion, but they did not unmercifully attack him. They
approached him for advice. These pagans had a high
concept of the value of life. They did not take lightly the
idea of destroying a man's light, especially one who was the
servant of God.
The storm was getting worse, however, and time was at a
premium. Life was hanging in the balance, and a decision
had to be made immediately. In desperation the jury asks
the guilty convict for advice on what his punishment should
be. Such concern for justice on his behalf must have broken
down the wall of Jonah's prejudice. The scales of blindness
fall from his eyes, and sees his action as wicked and ungodly.
He was the cause for endangering their lives. He did not
want Gentiles to be saved, but they cared so much about his
safety, and the contrast made him realize there was only one
honest solution, and he would have to sacrifice his life to
save them. Most guilty men, if they had a choice of
punishment, would not select capital punishment, but Jonah
with the first sign of nobility in his character choose just
You are probably wondering what all this has to do with
suicide. The answer is, practically nothing, but since this is
true of the whole Bible, the subject can as well be considered
from this text as any. Note that Jonah said to them to take
him up and cast him over. Jonah knew nothing at that time
about God's plan to save him. He was asking them to take
his life. Why not just jump over yourself Jonah? If the
solution is your death, why wait for them to throw you over?
Just jump and end it yourself. Jonah's hesitation to do this
is considered by some to be an indication that
self-destruction is such a serious sin that Jonah did not dare
to do it. He could submit to death at the hands of others, but
he could not take his own life. I think all must agree that
this is an incidental observation, and that the account is not
written to convey any teaching on the subject of suicide.
The subject of suicide is, however, not incidental, and is
worthy of consideration to determine what Scripture does
teach on the subject.
It is a subject of gigantic proportions in the world. I
never realized until recently that there are literally
thousands of people doing research, writing books and
articles, and in many ways dealing with this major problem.
It is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.
Over half a million attempt suicide every year, but with only
a 5 per cent being successful. If we count those listed as
accidents such as overdose of drugs, and car accidents, the
figure comes to about 50 thousand a year. Anything of such
major proportions demands that Christians have some
biblical basis for an attitude towards it. I want to examine
what the Bible has to say first in the Old Testament.
I. OLD TESTAMENT TEACHING.
The first impression one gets from a study of the Bible is
the lack of information. There are laws against almost
everything, but none against suicide. The Bible has a high
view of life and the recognition of God as the author of all
life, and so the assumption is that suicide is evil. The lack of
any stated condemnation, however, has led many to
conclude that it comes under the command thou shalt not
kill. It does not say thou shalt not kill others leaving
self-destruction as legitimate. Self-murder is certainly as
evil as murder of another. But since there is no penalty for
attempted suicides which fail, it seems that the only
conclusion we can draw is that suicide was not a social
problem among the Israelites.
The few cases recorded in the Old Testament have some
very definite characteristics that make it clear it was not
then the kind of problem it is today. We do not have records
of that period as we do today. Every nation has statistics
going back over a hundred years that lists suicides according
to sex, age, religion, occupation, etc. But the Bible only gives
us a few examples that we want to examine.
1. Ahithophel in II Sam. 17:23 we see that he hung himself.
The parallel with his experience and Judus in the New