What Happens to People Who Commit Suicide?
Sermon by Rev. Rich Tafel
September 26, 2021
Today is a tough topic to speak about and an important one. Recently, Sheri told me that she and Scott had just suffered the loss of friend’s child through suicide and ask me to speak on it. I’m glad she asked because it is an important one for each of us here today to because each of need to be prepared to someday pastor to someone who has faced this crisis. September is suicide awareness month, so this seems like a perfect Sunday to discuss this.
Suicide is a crisis. In the last decade we’ve seen an increase in suicide up 58% among our young. Anxiety levels are off the charts. We are living in time of suicide epidemic when people are choosing to end their life versus working through the crisis they face. We are also seeing a new spike of people at mid-life.
One of the worse aspects of suicide is the horrible impact it has on those who don’t take their lives. In a grim example this past week a man in NY jumped to his death and landed on another person killing that person too. Suicides leave behind great pain and suffering.
Suicide is that time when we can’t seem to figure a way out. It is more common among young people because they don’t have a track record of surviving challenging events. The breakup with a girlfriend, failure in school, the anniversary of a loss and loss of reputation are often triggers.
In my own life, I considered when I was struggling with coming out as I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in my wildest dreams. This thought has crossed my mind at other times. And it seems some people consider this, and others never do.
I want to focus on today is what happens to people who commit suicide and what solace we can provide those who survive them.
Most all religions condemn suicide, and many have seen it as the gravest of all sins a person can commit. Most faiths see your life as a gift from God and to destroy it is to destroy God’s creation and the purpose for your life. Many faiths have refused to hold a funeral for a suicide victim or allow them to be buried in the church cemetery.
But the Catholic Church is evolving in their views on this. Here’s a more empathetic view of suicide.
Churches are often very bad at supporting people who suffer in this situation compounding the guilt and shame for those who survive.
First and foremost, it is important for me to say the Church of the Holy City will always be open to a family grieving from suicide and, as a pastor, I’d personally always be available to support a family.
Types of Suicide
There are different types of suicide, for example, physician assisted suicide at end of life and there are times people essentially allow themselves to have their life taken to save someone else.
Let me briefly speak to ending an elder person’s life through suicide, that I don’t think this is a sin and may bring comfort to all involved. I personally don’t think there’s a great new spiritual lesson to be learned to force an elder to suffer longer during death. In fact, many treatments we use in hospices work to comfortably move people to death and I think that’s very kind and healthy.
But the most common type of suicide is in a health person who can’t see a way through pain, depression or a crisis and ending their life is the only way they see through it. In the past decade those under 15 and those in their mid-life have experienced the greatest increases in suicide.
What the Bible Says
What does the Bible have to say? The short answer is that there are about six examples of suicides in the Bible, but it is not really addressed. The Bible does not seem to address suicide, except where its command, thou shalt not kill. The most famous would-be King Saul, Samson pulling down the temple and the reading form today’s gospel when Judas takes his life by hanging.
What exactly happens to these figures in the next life is not mentioned in the Bible.
Our Tradition’s View
To get insights here, we’ll need to turn to the insights from Swedenborg. For those not familiar Swedenborg had visions of the next life and gives one of the greatest glimpses into what’s on the other side. But I don’t encourage you to take that on face value because he said it. I encourage you to run it through our own spiritual understanding and see if it resonates with God’s will as you know it in your life.
Swedenborg himself wrestled with suicide and later saw the person on the other side who had been presenting nooses for him in his thoughts constantly:
He wrote “I wanted to kill myself with a knife. This desire grew so strong that I hid the knife in my desk.” (Spiritual Diary 4530) This feeling was the result of a woman who had hated Swedenborg during her life in this world. She carried that hatred into the spiritual world and there she tried to get revenge by inspiring him to kill himself. Swedenborg also mentions spirits who apparently tried to make him step in front of a moving vehicle or jump off a bridge. (Spiritual Diary 253, 1043)
In understanding what happens to someone who dies from suicide, it is important to understand in our tradition that Hell is a deliberate choice. You must really want to go there.
Suicide is a very selfish act. It’s like setting off a bomb with fragments of pieces haunting family members for years. It leaves wounds in others it is always wrong and painful.
When a person takes their life, they are disrupting God’s purpose for their life, and this has millions of connective events that are impacted through that one decision. In our tradition, we are not punished in the next life for acts in this life. That’s very hard to comprehend based on how most of us have been raised.
It is an evil which comes from hell. However, evil acts are not the same as evil people. Many people who take their life are responding to forces beyond their own control.
Suicide is caused by the influence of evil spirits with the goal of destroying us. They can cause mental illness and insanity. If this is the case, those under attach are not responsible for their act.
Death doesn’t seem to solve suicide for the person in involve. In the afterlife the suicide needs to be worked out. The crisis is not taken away. When people are drawn to suicide through evil choices, the evil in those choices remain with us after death, and they will suffer as a result. The act of taking one’s life does not change anything but where we work out our struggles.
When someone who is mentally ill, they are not spiritually responsible for their behavior. While we think we understand the motives, we rarely see the big picture. Their family traits passed down to us that are not our fault.
Many suicides involve young people as I stated earlier. It’s important to remember that anyone who dies before becoming an adult is taken directly to heaven to be raised by angels.
We also get some insights based on the most famous Biblical suicide, Judas. At one point Swedenborg sees the original disciples in heaven and they are going out through the spiritual world teaching about the next spiritual evolution coming in this world. It says he saw the twelve. Unless he means someone, who replaced Judas that implies Judas was in heaven.
I’ll need a better Swedenborgian scholar than I to know for sure, but that’s intriguing. (True Christian Religion 791, Matthew 27:5)
Swedenborg reports Judas did suffer in heaven for what he did, “…torments, as was told me concerning Judas the betrayer, of whom however, there is said to be hope because he was one of the elects who were given to God Messiah.”
If there’s hope for Judas, there’s hope for anyone.
Swedenborg also reports that many people released of false teachings and mental illness reform themselves quickly at death and shortly after.
It’s also important to remember that our lives can’t be defined or condemned by one act. God looks at our totality and will all of us to be in heaven after death. We must resist that to go to hell.
What we can see is that for people who take their lives, there’s much work to be done on the other side. The spiritual growth doesn’t end.
In summary, suicide is a horrible choice. It not soul destroying. It doesn’t not immediately banish a person to hell. It is incredibly important that we who are still living, provide support to those who have lost someone they love. We can share this more positive message of life after death with them.
Churches should welcome those families with open arms. In the same way our Lord welcomes the suffering person into is arms as Jesus embraces all of us with his compassion.