Is It Inappropriate to Cite John 8:44 in Connection to Suicide?

Question from a reader:

Thank you for talking about suicide on your blog. I am concerned, however, about your use of John 8:44. The context of that verse is a strenuous debate between Jesus and his interlocutors that begins in verse 30 and ends in verse 59. Neither Jesus nor his disputants are suicidal in John 8:30-59. The passage isn’t saying anything about suicide. Bringing suicide into this lofty, theological discussion is not only distracting but also quite inappropriate.

Further, attaching verse 44 to suicide reduces a complicated act involving multiple concerns down into a singular cause of a satanic origin. It, therefore, demonizes individuals who are most likely struggling with serious mental disorders rather than with demonization. Suicide is already highly stigmatized in our culture. Adding Satan to that stigma complicates genuine prevention efforts and hurts family members left behind after a loved one has died by suicide.

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

Here’s what I actually said in the article:

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. 

Had I said Jesus said that Satan lies to us and wants to murder us through suicide, and then given John 8:44 as a proof text, then the objection to the passage not talking about suicide would be legit. But that isn’t what I said.

I said exactly what the passage itself says, that Satan murders and lies. Not as an interpretation of the passage but in application of these truths, it seems clear to me that suicide is self-murder, and that Satan lies to people to tempt them to take their lives. As I have dealt with people who are suicidal, which of course can involve many issues besides what the devil is doing, it has seemed clear to me that the devil is in favor of suicide and tempts people toward it.

I believe Satan is real and roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). That doesn’t mean I think suicide is the primary meaning of 1 Peter 5:8 any more than it is John 8:44, but I believe what both passages say is highly relevant to the temptation to take human life, whether that of others or ourselves.

Again, I do not believe the primary meaning of the passage is about suicide, but what it does mean is relevant in all sorts of areas involving Satan lying to people and wanting to have a role in killing them—not just through suicide, of course, but including it. Passages have interpretations, principles (timeless truths), and applications. The primary interpretation of the meaning of these passages doesn’t involve suicide, but the meaning involves timeless truths or principles about Satan hating human lives and wanting to kill them. Does this properly apply to suicide and the temptation toward suicide? I believe it does.  

Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries