We are sure that neither
death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth
nor anything else in all creation,
Will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Affirmation from Romans 8:35, 37-39, United Methodist Hymnal 887)
When a loved one chooses to take his/her own life it is terribly tragic.
In addition to the grief and loss that comes with any death, surviving family members and friends struggle to understand. They are filled with additional questions and suffer the stigma sometimes associated with suicide. Many assume suicide is an unforgivable sin, but that is not the teaching of The United Methodist Church.
This is not God’s plan
The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles include a statement on suicide that begins, “We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end.” Taking one’s own life is not God’s plan for anyone. For some, however, external factors can make life feel intolerable.
The Social Principles immediately addresses some of the causes of suicide: “Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering.” We acknowledge that suicide is not a choice people make out of the best parts of themselves. Instead, it is a decision made from places of deep darkness that may be due to physical illness, mental illness, or circumstances that make life feel unbearable.
The United Methodist Church calls on every member “to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy.” We seek to eliminate incidents of suicide by being agents of wholeness, hope, renewal, and restoration so that all might “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).
Social Principles on Suicide
We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.
A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.
We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Nothing separates us from God’s love
The Social Principles then addresses the painful stigma surrounding suicide. “A Christian perspective on suicide,” the statement teaches, “begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).” This means we do not see suicide as “unforgivable.” We believe that in Christ Jesus, God has the power to forgive us from all sin.**
Because of this, “we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.” We grieve for those who take their own lives, and alongside surviving family and friends.
What we can do
The United Methodist Church encourages our pastors and members to preach, teach and talk about suicide and the factors and mental health issues that lead to it. We seek to provide care for those who are at risk, survivors, families and others who have lost someone to suicide, “seeking to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide.”
Depression, pain, suffering, and thoughts of suicide are felt by many, but often remain unspoken. If you have struggled with any of these issues, there are others who will benefit from hearing your story. When you become aware of one who is at risk for suicide, courageously tell the story of your pain, and how you were able to survive.
Finally, help those contemplating suicide find the resources they need to “have life, and have it to the full.” Tell your pastor. Call a counselor. Seek help.
In the U.S., the suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
This story was published June 22, 2018.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
**Our Articles of Religion acknowledges “sin against the Holy Ghost” as unpardonable. See Mark 3:29.
For further thought and/or discussion
- Read Romans 8:35-39.
- What does it mean to you that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ? How does that make you feel?
- In what ways are we “more than conquerors”? Are there limits those abilities?
- How do these verses speak to how God views suicide and those who take their own lives?
- Read John 10:1-10.
- What does Jesus mean when he says he came to give us life? What does abundant life look like?
- How can you follow the example of Jesus and offer life to those suffering from depression, pain, suffering, and thoughts of suicide?
- Read the full statement on suicide from the Social Principles.
- What surprises you? What challenges you?
- What action will you take to help combat the oppressive stigma around suicide?
- How can you assist those who are struggling with depression and possible thoughts of suicide?