My thoughts have returned to suicide recently as we (the PCA at large) had to face the realities of this ugly sin with the death of Harriet Deison this past Saturday. Harriet was the wife of Pete Deison, an associate pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX. Our prayers have gone up for Pete and his entire family. When I was an intern in PCPC I always looked up to Pete and his ministry there. I barely remember Harriet but from what I gather, she was an awesome woman for the LORD for many years before she took her life on Saturday.
I know a lot of people have the belief that if you take your own life, that this is one of the unforgivable sins found in Scripture. While suicide is a sin, it is not unforgivable. I had to wrestle with this some years ago when my step-mother, Liz Hammons, took her own life in a field outside of Brenham, TX in the very same manner. My father asked me to give part of the eulogy for Liz, since I was the only pastor in the family. Upon my arrival at his home, I set out to see Liz through the eyes of her friends. Given that she was a step-mom, I can’t say that she and I had the best of relationships, although I loved her and do miss her to this day. She was part of our family for some 32 years and she had a lasting impact on my life as well as those around her.
Yet, I wanted to see a side of Liz that wasn’t readily open to me since I was a step-son. What I found was that she was more of a woman of faith in Christ than I imagined. At that point, the discussion comes to an end concerning her eternal destiny. The simple fact that she was trusting in Christ shows that even in that last act of suicide, she was a forgiven child of God.
That was what I spoke about while given her eulogy. How she died didn’t determine who she was. What mattered was that she was “in Christ” as a child of God, therefore her sins were forgiven and are forgiven. Once a person becomes a believer, he or she is completely justified by the atoning death of Christ on the cross. Therefore no matter what sins they may fall into, their sins are forgiven. Remember, Christ’s atoning work on the cross paid the debt of all our sins, even the future one in relationship to our present being, because they were all future when He paid the debt.
The idea that it is unforgivable comes from Roman Catholic theology which teaches that you have to have all your sins forgiven before you die by a priest, otherwise you have to pay some of the debt on the other side. Since suicide itself is a sin, then there are no last rites that can help. This is works-based theology. In other words, a simplified version of it is that you must ask God to forgive you for each sin you commit in order to be forgiven. In this belief is the assumption that we can determine all our sins, both known and unknown. We cannot. We are far too sinful. God in His grace only shows us the sins we can handle, but our entere beings are saturated with sinfulness. Therefore if it is up to us to make sure we are forgiven for each particular sin, then we are done for whether we commit suicide or not.
This is why the atoning work of Christ is so wonderful. He pays not only for every sin that we commit, both known and unknown, He pays the debt for the very sinful nature that produced the sins in the first place. All our sins are forgiven, even those committed in the last moments of life.
So who was Liz and Harriet before they died? According to the Scriptures, they were the righteous (Romans 5:18-19). That is who Christ declared them to be because of His work on the cross. If both women were trusting in Christ for salvation in life, then they are secure in their eternal destiny in death. Salvation is a free gift from God to those who believe. It is based on faith, not their works.
At Liz’s funeral, I closed with the following passage:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”[a]
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not even the sinful act of suicide can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing can.
Yes, we grieve over the loss of Liz and Harriet, and others who die in the same fate. Who knows what led them to make such decisions that led to suicide. But we trust in HIM who makes us, and them, more than conquerors. For our lives are in His hands, and nothing can separate us from His love, not even the sinful act of suicide.