- Religion and Philosophy
Is Suicide A Mortal Sin? You tell Me!
I was always brought up to believe that suicide was a mortal sin, that it was unforgivable and that you could not go to Heaven if you took your own life. The logic being that life is so precious to God that taking any life, even if it were your own, is one of the greatest sins right up there with murder and that suicide condemns a soul to be lost forever, because God can't forgive you until you repent and you can't repent of suicide after you are dead.
Having tragically lost people to suicide, I wanted to find out if this were true. The first time I had ever heard the word was when I was in grade school. I was probably around 9 or 10 when I heard that a girl in my class had an older sister who had killed herself. I remember how very shocked I was because not only had I never heard of such a thing but just the idea that it was possible or that someone could want to do that was just so alien to me. I was then told that this 16 year old girl had gone into her garage, doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire. She then went running down the street engulfed in flames, screaming until she finally fell dead. I was beyond shocked and kept picturing that image in my head. I kept thinking of her sister and her poor mother having to deal with the horror of it all. I tried to put myself in her position and understand what she could have possibly been thinking. What could ever make a child take her life in such a painful and horrific way? We attended Catholic school so we all had to attend a memorial mass for her. It was my first brush with death and there was just no way of understanding it. But like most things with children when it doesn't directly affect us, it soon faded from my mind. As the years passed, I heard about a few more suicides that happened to people I didn't know..a friend of a friend and a distant relative whom I had never met and as sad as it was at the time to hear about it, I didn't really give it much thought until around 10 years ago.
It was about mid morning when there was a knock on the door. My father and I both reached the doorway at the same time and as he opened it, I was shocked to find my friends mother standing there. Vesna was one of my best friends from grade school and high school but we had lost touch after that. In the 10 years since school I must have spoken to her only a handful of times. Every once in a while she would call and fill me in on what was going on. Even through school, she was a lot to handle. She was always so much fun to be around, she had boundless energy, loved to party and chase boys and was always getting in trouble for something. Then there were the odd times when she would become really depressed if something didn't go her way. She never got along with her parents and at one point was even placed in a foster home. She was a wild child and the instigator of our group. I remember going to her house with another friend one afternoon when we were around 13. She decided she wanted to introduce us to her older cousin who"was really cool". Anyway, she convinced us that her cousin had taught her to drive and insisted we take her dads van that was sitting in the driveway. I can still remember that drive. He lived about 20 minutes away by highway and we were experiencing a sense of freedom we had never known before. All of us, driving together, singing along with the music we had blasting, with no parents and not a care in the world. I don't remember what happened when we got there but we didn't stay long and the cousin who had "taught her to drive" didn't seem so pleased to see us. I don't remember the drive home either but I think he might have driven us back. Not surprisingly, she got into a world of trouble when her parents found out and later told us that she had never driven before and was kind of scared when we were on the highway. I am grateful now that we made it home ok and was also glad I didn't know any of that while we were on the road but it was classic Vesna so to speak. So, like I said, in the past 10 years since high school, I had rarely spoken to her. The last time I did was about 2 weeks before her mom came to my door. She called me and sounded really depressed so I went to meet her for a coffee. She told me she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and she had to take some medication that she really couldn't stand. I told her how I had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease and the surgeries I had to have, etc. She seemed a little happier then. She went on to say that nobody understood what she was going through and so she basically had no one left in her life who wanted to spend time with her because of her disorder. She was happy that I was sick too so that we could, in her words, help each other through it all. Remembering what she was like back in the day, I told her that one of my biggest problems was exhaustion and that I hardly ever go out anymore, especially to bars and clubs. I was never a club person to begin with but you couldn't drag me there now if you paid me. I also knew how much she liked to drink which is something else I didn't do anymore. Nonetheless, she seemed a bit better by the time we left. A few days later she called and wanted to go out. She was really depressed and didn't know what to do with herself. We went to a restaurant and ordered some food and coffees. She was taking some new medicines that just sucked the life right out of her. This was not the same person I knew. She had no expression on her face and spoke in a monotone. It was like everything was in slow motion..her actions and her thoughts. If you asked her a question, she'd stare at you expressionless for a few minutes until you almost forgot what it was you asked and then in that same monotone, she finally answered you. It was a difficult lunch to get through and my heart just broke for her. She complained about the meds and wanted to stop taking them because they made her feel zombie like but I encouraged her to stick with them, suggesting they may just need to be adjusted. Needless to say, it was one of the longest hours of my life. I didn't hear from her again for another few days, maybe a week but when I did, I knew she was off her meds. She insisted that I come out for a drink with her. I really, really didn't want to but I finally gave in and said I would go for an hour. The next time she called and left a message, I just couldn't bring myself to call her back. It was difficult talking to her and I was just so exhausted. A couple of days later, she left me another message. She sounded upset which was pretty normal for her these days but again, I just didn't feel up to returning her call. You couldn't have a normal conversation with her, each call was gut wrenching and took a lot of time and energy and I just didn't have the energy to give her at that point. Two days later her mother was knocking at my door. I had only seen the woman once or twice when we were in school and she had never before been to my house so I was kind of shocked. The first thought that crossed my mind was that she didn't come home and they were worried about her. She had run away from home so many times when we were younger, she would just take off for days or weeks at a time never telling anybody where she was. The first thing I said was,"What's wrong?" She just looked at me and said,"Vesna died." It was like someone just punched me in the stomach and my mind started racing. She came over and hugged me. I couldn't understand what had happened though. I was picturing car accidents and all kinds of crazy stuff. I heard my father say," Oh my God, What happened? " Then another blow to my stomach as I heard, "She killed herself." I heard her say it but it still didn't seem real. Why had I not seen this coming. I should have seen this coming. Why didn't I call her back? I, of all people should have seen this coming! I knew what it was like to find out you have a chronic illness, which is depressing enough but to have a mental illness causing depression..how had this not even crossed my mind? I was the only friend she had left and I hadn't returned her phone call. Why didn't I return her call? If I had returned her call this wouldn't have happened. It was my fault. Granted it had only been 2 weeks since we had started talking again and we had only spoken a few times but I should have known! I should have been able to stop it.
Her mother told me that she overdosed on her medication. I can't tell you how much I thought about it in the following year. I could hear her voice as plain as day. I imagined what it was like for her..taking her pills, swallowing the whole bottle, lying there knowing you were going to die. Was she scared? I imagined fear gripping her after she had taken them and there was nothing she could do. What must that have been like..knowing you were going to die, becoming frightened, perhaps changing her mind but knowing it was too late? I couldn't sleep for the longest time. I just kept imagining it over and over again. Was she scared, had she changed her mind, what was she thinking? It took a long time for me to stop blaming myself. I know it's not my fault but I still think I should have been able to see it coming, that if I had only returned her call this wouldn't have happened. Perhaps God brought her back into my life at that time precisely because I should have understood what she was going through and in so doing, I could have saved her. I have come to terms with it now though. Regardless of whether it is true or not, I will always feel some what responsible but I have since made peace with it.
There is an interesting side note to this which helped me to get over some of the blame. I am a bit of a pack rat when it comes to sentimental things. I have saved every letter, card, note, scrap of paper, etc that I have ever received from grade school right on through to the present and from every relationship I have ever had. After she died, I went through all of it, from the 6th grade when we first became friends right through high school and into the present and what I found shocked me to my very core. First of all you can clearly see that she had times of mania and times of depression both in the way she spoke and in the way she wrote. I mean even her handwriting changed during those times though besides her being pretty hyper, she wasn't much different from the rest of us back then. What shocked me the most though was note after note saying she wanted to kill herself. Of course she wasn't really serious, at least I don't think so but I couldn't believe how many times she said it. I don't remember her saying it and I know it wasn't a phrase our group used but there it was on paper. In notes we passed around in class and in letters she wrote to me, more often then not, there it was. It was stupid stuff though like, I hate my teacher, this class sucks, I want to kill myself...I hate my parents, I want to commit suicide or so and so never called me back, I swear I'm gonna kill myself. Like I said, I don't remember her speaking that way but there it was, page after page of it. Was this self fulfilling prophecy? Did her subconscious some how know this is how her life would end or was it simply coincidental? I'm really not sure but I don't think it was just a coincidence. Which brings me to the real question. What happens to a persons soul when they commit suicide?
I have learned that the Bibledoesn't have anything to say on this subject one way or another which I find really strange since quite a few people in the bible committed suicide and though it was talked about, it never gave an opinion one way or another on whether this was ok or wrong, sinful or not. It seems to me if this were a sin and one that there was no coming back from, God would have made it clear and there would at least be some mention of it.
I also learned that in the early Christian era suicide was not only tolerated, but condoned by the church. As a result certain sects such as the Donatists and the Circumcellions jumped off cliffs in great numbers to hasten an afterlife that promised greater rewards than those found on earth. However, faced with the loss of so many of its members, in the early centuries (4th to 6th) the church decided that anyone else who committed suicide was going to hell.
So what do you think? Is suicide a sin and considering the one who committed suicide was a practicing Christian, what if anything happens to that soul once they die? I'm still not sure. Part of me feels that it's really wrong. Perhaps if it happens due to mental illness then it's different. Perhaps then they are not responsible but what about those people who aren't mentally ill? What happens to the person who just can't handle the trials of life anymore? What happens to those who are just lonelyor poor or just tired of the struggles? What happens to them? And what about things like, suicide by cop or assisted suicides? Can we really get passed God's law that way? Are we really fooling anyone? After all, God knows what is in our thoughts and in our heart. Does the fact that we goad someone else into committing that final act for us really make any difference to God? I don't think so. I would love to hear your thoughts on this because I have no answers. So...what do you think?
As a final aside, I just want to say that no matter what you are going through in life, suicide is never the answer. In fact, I think it is one of the most selfish acts a person can commit. The pain and devastation that you leave behind is by far the wost thing you can do to people who love you. Believe me, I know how difficult life can be and I can't say the thought has never crossed my mind. There have been times of great pain when I prayed, even begged God to call me home but aside from an act of God, I could never reap that kind of pain on the people I love. If the thought has entered your mind then I beg you to seek help. Talk to someone about it. If you feel there is no one you can talk to then seek medical help. Talk to your doctor about it or call a suicide hot-line. Remember, there is nothing so bad that is worth taking your life.
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