Scripture for suicide funeral

Funerals for someone who has committed suicide are challenging for the Christian pastor.   For much of Christian history, and for much of modern Christendom, suicide is considered an “unforgivable sin”.  I’m not convinced that suicide has placed someone irrevocably beyond God’s grace.  There are examples of suicide in scripture where there is no negative judgment.  In fact, 1 Samuel 31:4 has the account of Saul commanding his armor bearer to kill him, and when the armor bearer refuses, Saul falls upon his own sword.  Some will argue that Saul was already out of favor with God.  Some will make a distinction that a situation where one is likely to be killed and abused by one’s enemy is different than someone who willingly commits suicide.

Let me simply say that suicide is not a choice I recommend.  I don’t think offering possible scripture passages for a funeral of a suicide victim contributes to suicide.

I’ve conducted at least 2 funerals for people who have committed suicide.  I don’t remember many details of the funeral for the first one.  The second one, I used Matthew 13:24-30 as the scripture text.

Matthew 13:24-30 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

The refrain, “An enemy has done this” can be very effective.  We know that mental illness, including depression, can result in suicide.  I’m convinced that “an enemy has done this” and the experience of the master in knowing the difference between weeds and wheat, what was planted and what was not, who a person is and what awful things have been a part of that person’s life cannot be underestimated.

At least consider it.

Pondering Pastor

30 responses to “Scripture for suicide funeral

  1. I think you are right on point here. The fact is, as you poiny out, the decision made in suicide is not a decision made by the individual, but by the demons of mental illness. I for one find it difficult to imagine that God will condemn for such an out of control decision. I posted some time ago about the increased grief that seems to accompany suicide.

    By the way, I like the new lay out of your blog.

    • Dear unknown collegue, I thank you for your suggestions: I’m pastor in a rural congregation on the Italian Alps, and too often I face the terrible challenge of suicial of elderly people or people suffering of depression, It is always quite hard to find ideas and resources to preach Jesus’ meekness – and the passage you suggested was quite usefull. God bless.

  2. I appreciate your comments very much. My best friend committed suicide and he was a fine Christian, just overwhelmed by depression and money problems. I didnt preach at the funeral (I couldn’t have managed)but I did subsequently preach on the subject from “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy” which seems completely on track with your point here.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m not a minister, however a minister once told me that there is only one unforgivable sin, blasphemy. He pointed the text out to me in the new testiment; however I can’t remember where it is listed. When my cousin committed suicide, the minister preached a text about being in the basement. If you have any idea of what text he may have been using, please let me know. Thanks. Have a blessed day.

  4. Thank you for your insight. I will be preaching a funeral service soon and needed another positive take on it.

  5. I’m glad to have your scriptural reference for funerals for people who have committed suicide. But I’ve never really understood how any Christian can decide what God thought of anyone or anything. I always thought that Christians left the judgments up to the Creator. I always thought that a good part of Christianity was about not throwing stones at other sinners, for who has not sinned? How did this view of suicide become traditional anyway?
    I may have a pretty simplistic view of Christianity, but I always did just ask, “how do you think Jesus would have seen this situation? what do you think he would have done?”
    I guess this could be dangerous, because maybe I’ll come up with the wrong answer, but it does move me inevitably toward more loving, expansive, non-judgmental responses, I hope.
    Of course, I’ve had some experience with suicide. I say of course because, if that weren’t the case, I likely wouldn’t have done so much thinking about it. I just can’t think of anything more cruel than rejecting the possibility of forgiveness for ANY person. And I’m not pro-suicide either.

  6. My husband was parnoid/schophrenic and he committed suicide. He was a Christian. Where was God when he was so depressed? Why didn’t God answer his prayers?Why didn’t God help him? Maybe there is no God.

    • Jean, The pastor has said something we must rememeber, we are not God’s puppets. He shines the light, he gives direction and even sent someone to live a life to be modeled after, his own son. We make choices not to follow, we choose to walk away and we suffer the consequences. God still loves us and forgives us, but we must come to Him. All around us is His truth.

    • I just ran across this. You may never read it as it’s four years later.

      I just wanted to let you know I said a prayer for you. I know it’s easy to ask where God is during times of trial. I hope you have since repaired your relationship with him. If not, I really encourage you to talk with a pastor who can be so gentle and understanding. God does not cause pain and suffering. God is a refuge during times of pain and suffering. Please give Christ and the Bible a second chance. I think if you spend time and devotion to the Lord you will find healing, comfort and peace.

      • Leah: The human body and brain is not infallible; it can and does go “bad” on occasion. I’m amazed how well it seems to work for 99% of the time.

        But when it does go bad, that does not frustrate God’s “ultimate plan” for the soul. The body’s failure does cause much pain and sadness; we have to live in it while on this earth. Remember that eternal ife, but not forever. God’s promise is for real. I’m glad for that. It is my only hope through Jesus Christ. Bob Logan

  7. ponderingpastor

    Jean,

    These are huge questions, ones not answered quickly, easily, or in this kind of forum. Ellie Wiesel’s book “Night” explores these very same questions from the experience of the Holocaust. I’d recommend it as a starting place.

    I still maintain that sin and evil infects this world and our lives. We are not puppets at the whim of God.

    Pondering Pastor

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful words on suicide. I am a pastor and have to do a funeral this week for a suicide victim and found your thoughts helpful. God bless you. Ed

  9. I come from a small town where many people that I know have committed suicide. I did not attend any of the funerals. I do not know what was said at any of them…I was just on this website because there was another suicide and I don’t understand why someone with a young child would commit suicide…leaving that child…in the cases I know, there was not diagnosed mental illness. Jerry killed himself one year after his drunk driving caused the death of a friend. Janell committed suicide while drunk. J.D. killed himself and does not seem to have any trigger. B.J. is the recent one and hanged himself–that is what I was told…

  10. I head Derek Prince, one of the great preachers in deliverance and demology say in one of his tapes ” no one has ever commited suicide except under the impulse of an evil spirit”. I think first of all we need to join in with Jesus in this spiritual fight against the suicidal spirit, and and then as we have been encouraged by scripture. refrain from stigmatising suicidal funerals. Am moved by Shannon’s testimony.

  11. I have know death in all it’s various disguises and none are more devastating than suicide.What evil and misery that caused it , one will never know. What grief is inflicted on the family,friends and community of the departed is monumental.Everyone’s life is changed forever by one act of satan in one moment in time.
    I believe if the person who committed suicide was a born again believer , they would be forgiven of their sin and still go to heaven.If they were not a believer they may have become one in that last nano second before life ended and they still would go to heaven.If , at the very end, they still choose not to believe in Jesus as their SAVIOR and LORD,well nothing changed for them as they
    were not GLORY bound to start with.

  12. Thanks for the article. I recently did a funeral for a young man who committed suicide, and I used 1 Thess. 4:13, and I think it’s especially helpful at those times to be able to share with those left behind what the Scriptures actually say about suicide, you can find it here: http://travisconnick.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/suicide-survivors-questions-answers/

    Thanks agian!

  13. I’ve used Hebrews 11, where Samson is listed in the hall of faith. His death was a suicide too., and yet he is listed in the records of the faithful. It’s best to say God will be merciful and just to all those who die by their own hand. And most suicides are due to mental illness or incapacity of some kind.

  14. Robert H. Logan

    I, too, have conducted suicide funerals on two occasions: one by asphyxiation, one by hanging.

    I used several of the proposed texts, but also a line from Hamlet. I forget the character’s name, Ophelia?, but she was hopelessly in love with Hamlet. When he declined to respond to her love, she drowned herself. The church refused her burial on sacred ground, but one of the characters suggested that she was “out of her mind”, killed by unrequited love, that perhaps there could be forgiveness for having loved so deeply, but could not find fulfillment on this earth, and fled to God’s unfailing love for her by commiting suicide, the only way she could find fulfillment for that love. It’s a controverted trail, and takes some hard work for a brief funeral sermon, but it’s worth the try.
    God’s grace is not limited to those who “touch all the spiritual bases”, but could well be extended to those who are unable emotionally or spiritually reach the higher levels.
    I didn’t take the time to offer additional scriptures here, on short notice, but to suggest, as others have suggested, that God’s love can reach farther, deeper than our inadequate human efforts to satisfy his call for faithfulness.
    Scripture is always our strongest base, but there are examples from everyday life, even drama, that can minister to hurting souls in need of healing if those examples are not in conflict with sacred scriptures of God’s Holy Word.
    An excellent old film, “East of Eden” is a powerful story of a young man, I forget the famous actor who portrayed the part (he also committed suicide in real life), who desperately needed his father’s love, but couldn’t realize it, even tried to “buy his father’s love”. The up=shot of the story is that he found the love he was seeking from his brother’s girl friend, who fell in love with him, leaving the cold, self-assuming, possessing spirit of the other brother. A powerful “other side” of the Cain and Able story.
    Check it out; the film may still be found. I have it somewhere. It offers a fresh insight, for me, on the fraternal struggle of the two boys.
    Another powerful film is “The Chosen”, a story of two Jewish boys from the extremes of the Jewish spiritual spectrum, and how their lives became united as true brothers. I love that story as it speaks to my love my Jewish brothers.
    Jewishness, orthodox and secular, are portrayed, meeting, and finding a common ground. One boy’s father is a rabbi; the other a professor.

    • Hi Robert,
      I am intrigued by your use of ‘Ophelia’ in the funeral you conducted. Would you happen to have your transcript and if so, have you published it anywhere that I could read it? – Leah

      • Pr. Robert H. Logan

        Hi, Leah: My mind fails me with too much of the subject matter, but when I was in High School, our Literature Class went to see the motion picture “Hamlet” (starring Lawrence Olivier, great actor). He was distressed when he (Hamlet) learned that Ophelia had committed suicide. She was denied burial in “hallowed ground” (church cemetery) because her death was by suicide. Belief was that those who commit suicide sin against God who alone has the right to take a life, because he “gave it”.

        Hamlet expressed the opinon that surely God would not deny a person “out of their mind” entry into blessed rest, inasmuch as they were not in control of their natural, God-given senses. Apparently, Hamlet (Shakespeare) felt that God would be much more understanding of the stress of “unrequited love” in Ophelia’s case, and would receive her soul into heavenly rest.

        The situation in which I used that as an illustration as an example was a long-suffering cancer patient, who asphyxiated herself by going into their garage and starting the car, and dying in it. The family, rather denoted to Christ, needed some help in understanding that their mother “would still make it into heaven”, despite her suicide effort.

        Not to try to “make up God’s mind” for him, I feel that God, who is “merciful and full of grace”, would not deny a severely distressed, tortured mind, heavenly rest in their time of greatest need. After all, who among us can claim our own merits as the promise of salvation. And who is “in their right mind” ever, in this sinful world. God alone is truly gracious.

        Thanks for the comment. Bob Logan (retired)

  15. I have read your message but my Mother always told me that when a person committs suicide that our bodies are the Temple of God to keeo pure and sacred and she truly believed Suicide was not forgiven by the Lord, I truly would like a yes or no answer to this question, She was a pure Christrian whom we lost last year in Sept. So plez I need to know because I had a cousin who committed suicide and I would like a clear opinion to this Thank you Jana French

    • ponderingpastor

      Jana, I apologize for the delay in responding to your question.
      The church has taught that suicide is an “unforgivable sin” for most of its history, mostly because there is no opportunity for repentance of that sin and desiring not to encourage suicide. Your mother understood that teaching.
      Ultimately God doesn’t tell me everything that God does or does not do. I trust in God’s mercy. I know the kind pain experienced by many of those who contemplate and carry out suicide. May God be merciful. That is our prayer.

  16. I was looking on the internet today for guidance and found your site. My 14 year old nephew took his own life on September 22nd and we are struggling with why. I don’t believe that it is an unforgivable sin at all. He was a lost little boy that had that small moment in his life that he made an unreversable mistake. I know that God has taken him in and given him the peace that he was looking for. I just pray that now he will take care of those left behind and help us get through the whys and what ifs that we are all dealing with. If you can suggest any other verses that may be helpful to us at this time, please share them. Thanks

    • Pr. Robert H. Logan

      In a case as a suicide, I’ve shared with the family that only God knows and can understand the extremity of the anxiety that they must have experienced. If the Lord can read the minds and hearts of us all, He surely must understand the struggle that they person must have experienced. Secondly, the judgment is not for us to make, but rather commit the person to the Lord’s care and mercy, as we all must do in the final analysis. The family needs all the support and care that is possible to give them.
      I’ve oftne thought of the burial in the play Hamlet where Hamlet eulogizes Opheliah who was deeply in love with him. She died of “unrequited love”, I believe was the line. Besides the 15th Chapter of I Corinthians, and some others in the Occasional Services Book (Lutheran Church), there are some helpful aids in the book “Life After Life” by Raymond L. Moody (not the great evangelist, but a psychiatrist

      • Rev. Kevin Wenker

        I am very cautious about using any resource other than Scripture. Having just had the funeral of a suicide (a Pastor’s son) last week, this is all still fresh and painful for me. It is indeed in God’s hands. But, and we dare never minimize this, suicide is sin and the result of sin. The only comfort for that is Jesus Christ, the grace of God and faith which connects us with Christ. If there was no faith prior to suicide, as with any death outside of Christ, there is no comfort. If there was faith, then there is eternal comfort. There is also a difference in suicide. A person, like Judas or Saul, who commits suicide to escape the consequence of something they have done (robbed a bank, got caught, going to go to jail, ends life, etc.) have put themselves in a far different situation with God – as it clearly states about Judas – than a person who falls into a deep depression (like Elijah) and in a moment of despair, ends their life.

      • Pr. Robert H. Logan

        Of course, Pr. Wenker, scripture is always “solid rock” for a sermon on any subject.
        But if you were to follow that rationale, it would be improper to use any human or life situation as illustrative material. Jesus often used human and “non-religious” situations to illustrate his teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven, sic. parables, being very careful to draw the correct parallels, so that people could / would understand his purpose. Very likely, you use “non-scriptural” illustrations from time to time. I believe that Jesus used “earthly illustrations and situations” so that people would be able to understand Jesus’ “heavenly teachings. Even humor, appropriately used, can serve the Kingdom of Heaven. Nevertheless, your point is well taken.

      • Rev. Kevin Wenker

        Brother, I absolutely agree. I use illustrations and, yes, humor, often in my sermons. So did Jesus. People remember stories (it is one of the things that made Reader’s Digest so popular for so many years). I was intending my remarks to be very narrow in scope. I’ve read Life After Life as well as 90 Minutes In Heaven and the recent There Really Is A Heaven – or whatever that title is. I am not sure in a suicide that I would want to draw on those resources. In fact, in one of the 2 former books, the author, in a near death experience, describes the sad state of suicides in eternity. Please forgive me if my reply sounded critical – I did not intend it that way. I was simply reflecting from my recent experience that by sticking just to Scripture in a suicide funeral, we walk on more solid ground that veering off into what other sources may provide.

      • Thank you for your candid reply. I suspect we are both on the “same page” theologically and confessionally. I am very familiar with the books you mentioned, and have found them very helpful. My seminary thesis (Gettysburg, when it was still “Lutheran”) was on “Life, Death, and Eternal Life”, a subject that enthralled me all through Seminary days. Very little to nothing was taught in homiletics or “Practical Theology” studies. I wonder what is being offered there now. It.s not the same Seminary now.

  17. Rev. Kevin Wenker

    Romans 8:38-39
    I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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