Some years ago one of my better students came by my office for a chat. Several times before, she had talked of her troubled past. However, her faith had showed a marked development.

But on this day she announced that she had recently planned for her suicide. I was shocked and confused.

Suicide is confusing for Christians. Although the general thrust of Scripture is clearly opposed to the taking of one’s own life, it provides no clear disapproval of the few cases of apparent suicide it recounts. Suicide also confuses us because some of those we believe to be strong in the faith have considered it as a “way out.”

Samson and Saint Augustine

Must we believe that those who have taken their own lives suffer the eternal punishment of God? Nothing in Scripture drives us to that conclusion.

Of the seven or so suicides reported in Scripture, the most familiar are Saul, Samson, and Judas. Saul apparently committed suicide to avoid dishonor and suffering at the hand of the Philistines. He is rewarded by the Israelites with a war hero’s burial, there being no apparent disapproval of his suicide (1 Sam. 31:1–6). And while there is no hero’s burial for Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:5–7), Scripture is once more silent on the morality of this suicide of remorse.

The suicide of Samson has posed a greater problem for Christian theologians. Both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas wrestled with the case and concluded that Samson’s suicide was justified as an act of obedience to a direct command of God.

Objections to suicide have a long history in the church. But the idea that suicide is an unforgiveable sin is less easily traced. Among the church fathers, Saint Augustine was the most prominent and influential ...

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