Suicide, Heaven, and Jesus—the Final Answer to Our Sorrow
Since it made national headlines, many of those both inside and outside the church are familiar with the story of Jarrid Wilson, the vibrant, passionate, Jesus-loving, 30-year-old associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California who took his life. That happened on September 9, the day before Suicide Awareness Day (September 10). He left behind his wife, Juli, and two young sons.
Over the years I’ve spoken at Harvest four times with my good friend Greg Laurie, at both the Riverside and Orange campuses, and consider it to be on my short list of churches I dearly love. In his ministry, Jarrid had been vocal and vulnerable about his own depression and mental health struggles. Together he and Juli founded “Anthem of Hope,” an organization to help those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
In the wake of Jarrid’s death, much has already been said about suicide and mental health and the need to address them within the church. But I want to highlight some things Greg Laurie, the senior pastor at Harvest, has said, and also share some more thoughts related to suicide. This is an issue that will not go away until Jesus returns. Countless Christian families have been profoundly affected by suicide and the constant threat of and vulnerability to suicide.
This issue is very personal for me, too. Three years ago a close friend—a godly brother who loved Jesus and loved to share his faith—took his life, and it rocked my world. A month earlier Nanci and I had talked with him and his precious wife about depression, stress, and sleep deprivation, and had encouraged him to get medical treatment and qualified counseling, and he had taken steps to that end. He had a great family, church, and support system. He drove me to the airport just three days before taking his life, and I talked with him directly about his struggles. He told me the depression was still there, but that he was feeling better about his life and state of mind, and he assured me all would be well. We hugged and said goodbye on a Sunday evening, and that Wednesday afternoon I got the call telling me he had died. That weekend I spoke at his memorial service.
Does Suicide Keep Someone from Heaven?
Because I’ve written a lot about Heaven, over the years I’ve been asked by readers whether those who have professed Christ but take their own lives would be turned away from Heaven.
Greg Laurie shared in a blog post after Jarrid’s death, “One dark moment in a Christian’s life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross.” Based on what Scripture says, I agree.
Suicide is the unjustified killing of a human being, and is therefore included in and forbidden by the commandments not to murder. Scripture says very little directly about suicide. However, it says much about God’s character and we can certainly trust in His love, fairness, and judgment. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham asked in Genesis 18:25, and it is a rhetorical question that assumes and demands a “yes” answer.
At Jarrid’s memorial service Greg said, “I believe Jarrid Wilson is in Heaven. He put his faith in Christ, and Romans 8:38 reminds us that nothing will ever separate us from the Love of God. ….When you stand before God, you won’t be judged by the last thing you did before you died but by the last thing Jesus did when He died.”
If someone truly knows Christ, then regardless of what they do, they cannot be snatched out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28). Ephesians 1:13 and 2 Corinthians 1:22 speak of believers being sealed in Him. Only God knows a person’s heart and if they were truly were a believer.
In the same passage that says we can’t be snatched out of the Father’s hand, Jesus made it even more emphatic: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27). Eternal life could not be called “eternal” if it doesn’t last forever. The promise that Christ’s sheep “shall never perish” would not be true if by choosing suicide they would perish in hell. If people could snatch themselves out of Christ’s hands or the Father’s hands, or be snatched out by others, then that too would make Jesus’ words false. His words are true and the three-fold assurance of John 10:27 should inform our thinking about suicide.
Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, was asked by the family of a woman who took her own life, “What does God say to a Christian who’s committed suicide?” She tenderly replied, “I once heard someone say, ‘God did not call her home, but He welcomed her.’”
God has already forgiven our sins, past, present and future when we trust in Him as our Savior and Lord. But He wants us to confess our sins to restore fellowship with Him, as 1 John 1:9 says. A person who commits suicide, if it is instantaneous, wouldn’t have opportunity to confess that sin before dying. Presumably that would mean having to confess and repent upon meeting God after death. Christ died for sins of suicide, so suicide is forgivable—but it is also tragic, unnecessary, and cruel and debilitating for loved ones left behind. (These loved ones need help and support. See David Powlison’s booklet Grieving a Suicide: Help for the Aftershock.)
Love Gets the Last Word
Greg Laurie and I first connected eleven years ago when he called me after his son Christopher, then 33, died in a tragic car accident. Greg and I talked a lot about Heaven then, and have continued that conversation over the years, and we’ve also talked about the problem of evil and suffering, and the fact that Jesus is the only answer bigger than the questions. (See our first and second conversations at Harvest.)
Greg said at Jarrid’s service, “We shouldn’t be spending too much time wondering ‘Why.’ Better than asking ‘Why?’ We should be asking, ‘Who do we turn to at an hour like this?’ The answer is Jesus Christ.”
In situations like these, we should remind ourselves Jesus has not broken any promises. He never promised that everything in this life would go well. He specifically promised that it wouldn’t. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV). He also said in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Those are God’s promises.
In his last tweet, Jarrid wrote,
Loving Jesus Doesn’t Always Cure Suicidal Thoughts.
Loving Jesus Doesn’t Always Cure Depression.
Loving Jesus Doesn’t Always Cure PTSD.
Loving Jesus Doesn’t Always Cure Anxiety.
But That Doesn’t Mean Jesus Doesn’t Offer Us Companionship And Comfort.
He ALWAYS Does That.
Not only in Heaven but also while we are still here on Earth, our God is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Any sorrows that plague us now will disappear on the New Earth as surely as darkness disappears when the light is turned on. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Jarrid’s wife Juli wrote on Instagram, “Suicide doesn’t get the last word. I won’t let it. You always said ‘Hope Gets the last word. Jesus does.’”
She’s right. Our sorrow will not have the final say. In the eternity that awaits us, God will replace it with everlasting good and happiness: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11). Consider these great words from Jason Gray’s song “Love Will Have the Final Word”:
Sorrow may close the chapter
But the story will end with laughter
Cause the worst thing is never the last thing
No, the last thing will be the best thing
Of all the things I've ever heard
Let me remember when it hurts
That love will have the final word
As long as God is on His throne
I am carried by the hope
That love will have the final word
A Word to the Depressed
I can’t leave out something I felt was vital to say in my book Heaven. If you are facing depression and especially if you have ever contemplated suicide, please read this:
The fact that Heaven will be wonderful shouldn’t tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. If you’re depressed, you may imagine your life has no purpose—but you couldn’t be more wrong.
As long as God keeps you here on Earth, it’s exactly where He wants you. He’s preparing you for another world. He knows precisely what He’s doing. Through your suffering, difficulty, and depression, He’s expanding your capacity for eternal joy. Our lives on Earth are a training camp to ready us for Heaven.
I have faced depression and I know it can be debilitating. Many godly people have experienced it. But if you are considering taking your own life, recognize this as the devil’s temptation. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). He tells lies because he wants to destroy you (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t listen to the liar. Listen to Jesus, the truth teller (John 8:32; 14:6). Don’t make a terrible ending to your life’s story—finish your God-given course on Earth. When He’s done—not before—He’ll take you home in His own time and way. Meanwhile, God has a purpose for you here on Earth. Don’t desert your post. (And by all means, go to a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church, get help to find a wise Christian counselor, and also explore medical treatment as an option.)
If you don’t know Jesus, confess your sins and embrace His death and resurrection on your behalf. If you do know Him, make your daily decisions in light of your destiny. Ask yourself what you can do today, next week, next year, or decades from now to write the best ending to this volume of your life’s story—a story that will continue gloriously in the new universe.
By God’s grace, use the time you have left on the present Earth to store up for yourself treasures on the New Earth, to be laid at Christ’s feet for His glory (Revelation 4:10). Then look forward to meeting in Heaven Jesus Himself, as well as all those touched by your Christ-exalting choices.
I’ve been reading comments and getting private messages regarding my post about Jarrid Wilson and suicide, claiming I am not recognizing suicide is a sin, and that I am promoting and minimizing it. This is false. Here’s what I actually say in the blog:
“Suicide is the unjustified killing of a human being, and is therefore included in and forbidden by the commandments not to murder. [In other words, suicide is a sin.]
...The fact that Heaven will be wonderful shouldn’t tempt us to take shortcuts to get there. If you’re depressed, you may imagine your life has no purpose—but you couldn’t be more wrong....
Don’t make a terrible ending to your life’s story—finish your God-given course on Earth. When He’s done—not before—He’ll take you home in His own time and way. Meanwhile, God has a purpose for you here on Earth. Don’t desert your post.”