Monday, July 5, 2010

Suicide and the Divine Mercy of God

The Catholic Church has always taught that suicide constitutes a grave injustice towards God, principally because God is the author of life, and all life belongs to Him. And it is also because of this belief that all forms of contraception also constitute a similar injustice to him. Just as we don’t control how life begins, neither do we control when we exit this world. We are not the masters of our own lives, and when rightly viewed, our lives (and everything, really) must be seen as gift. To purposely and willfully terminate our own lives is to falsely think that we have final control and complete dominion over our lives, which is to buy-in to a lie.

I am not a moral theologian by a long shot, and am not pretending to be one in penning my thoughts on this very sensitive and complex issue of suicide and its moral implications. There are, to be sure, many different layers and facets to this issue, where one can talk about positive and direct suicide, positive and indirect suicide, negative and direct suicide and negative and indirect suicide. Each has its nuances and the Church tries its best to logically and rationally present the moral implications of each kind of instance of suicide.

But pastorally, when faced with any event of a suicide death by people under our care, priests in general will face a vacuum of sorts. Suicide is death that is most unlike any other. Of course, each death is very different, and very personal. But suicide, without doubt, intensifies the anxiety. Priests will face the great issue of what best to say, and what can be done to address the deep cavern in the tormented hearts of those whom the victim leaves behind. People are impacted in many ways. To be sure, nothing one can say can assuage the pain of a loved one taken away by deliberate choice. But this is perhaps where what are needed may not be succinct theological answers (though these may very necessary), but rather, a heart that is willing to enter with and into.

Perhaps the only thing that can try to address the hearts that are rent with anger, sorrow, doubt and confusion (a very unsettling combination) is not so much to look at the victim’s heart or head, but at the heart of God instead. After all, after the moment of death, everything really lies at the heart of God.

Yes, suicide is indeed a moral issue at its core. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that for a sin to be mortal, three conditions have to be together met. This sin has to be one whose 1) object is a grave matter, which is 2) committed with full knowledge, and 3) with deliberate consent (free will).

And herein lies the crux of what many people have perhaps yet to fully appreciate. The mercy which lies at the heart of our God is so wide and expansive that it really is very difficult to commit a mortal sin in the actual sense of the word. It’s not that this is not possible, but it is very difficult. It is even more difficult to conclusively label a sin as mortal on this side of heaven. What is true is that every sin does separate us from God. The more serious it is, the wider the rift becomes. But perhaps even the suicides that we read about and encounter within our circles of friend and family may not fall into the “mortal sin” category, simply because in many instances, one’s freedom is very often never full.

A person suffering from depression, anxiety, fear (of being hurt by loan sharks, some scandal, habit, physical torture, suffering and pain caused by an illness, etc), and any combination of these, often result in his full freedom being impaired and compromised. When this happens, no one can say for sure that the three conditions are together met. We may have been far too quick as Church in the past to reach a conclusion that the death was a suicide, labeling it as mortal sin and denying a Funeral Mass for the victim. What we have now is much wisdom gained in the areas of psychology and sociology, where we know more about what we don’t know rather than stick with what we think we know. Often, the victim is very much in pain, suffering an illness, than someone who is in despair.

With this in mind, we can enter with a new vision and hope, into that place where closed minds cannot – which is deep in the heart of God. I believe, together with Ronald Rolheiser who writes and reflects very frequently on this important but difficult subject, that when we are helpless, God is not. Someone once asked him if God can unscramble an egg (referring to making right something as messy as perhaps a suicide), and he wisely said that perhaps one needn’t unscramble the egg in the first place. God’s love and God’s mercy reaches the depths that no human can. And it is there that the victim of suicide, together with the family that he or she leaves behind, will find great consolation and hope for redemption.


  1. Here I would say, if there is anyone on earth that you love, such as your parents, spouse or children, please do not commit suicide. If there is no one you love, love yourself that you are created for there is mission for everyone?

    My mother, a single parent, committed suicide leaving me and my younger sister, without any other relatives nor close friends. My sis was only 14 years old then. That caused us great pain, loss and hardship which last decades.
    It was only in recent years that I think God may have forgiven her.
    Yes, we live on but only with our Mother Mary. It never help when someone just leave this world without a proper goodbye. Li

  2. Thanks Father Luke! (: jonella

  3. my opinions of suicides changed when someone dear to me commited suicide. what broke my heart even more is not that she didnt WANT to live, it was that she didnt know HOW to continue living.
    let's cont to reach out to the pple ard us and not just look at ourselves in this society there it is easy to overlook others. :)

  4. Dear Padre

    If I may, in memory of the victims, dedicate this song to the victims' family.

    May the tormented souls rest in peace.


  5. My opinion of suicide also changed. Someone close to me too, my little cousin commited suicide... months ago. It was the big story on Facebook & Newspaper. Every youth knew her. It was depressing.
    She needed Love.
    But God, taught me many valuable life changing things throughout the entire wake & funeral.

    Praise the Father, Praise the Son!

  6. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for approaching this with great sensitivity. I'm glad you emphasised on God's divine mercy, even if it's hard to understand through the haze of confusion, anger and loss.

    I've experienced the aftermath of friends' friends and parents who have committed suicide and I have a hard time relating to God after that. Do you know why that is? I have my own theories but would love to hear yours. Like I said, you're gifted with being 'holy'. You're brilliant when you talk about God and I am in awe.

    Can't wait for your next entry. Do you have a regular time you release a new one?

  7. Dear Grace

    To answer you question in a short paragraph, I’d succinctly say that many have a rather difficult relationship with God after a suicide by someone close to them is possibly due to the belief or notion that God had ‘failed’ them. The basis of this thought probably comes from the hope that God is the one who comes to us in our darkest, most desperate moments in life. Since he is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, as he rightly is, then those who are beyond the help of mere mortals should rely on him. And he should respond. Yet, these people appear to have been given the silent treatment by him, and it resulted in their demise.

    So, it’s possibly a blame-related strained relationship with God that one could be grappling with, and it is hard to blame God, because with God, one has reached a ‘wall’. There is no higher recourse than he, is there?

    Many people tend to stop there, and let the relationship with God stagnate there. But perhaps it is one of the most difficult things to do that is needed here. To dare to go one step further – to dare to even hand this struggle in faith to God. In my experience with people with such struggles, some of them have come to see that the God of their expectations was precisely that – it was a God that they wanted that ‘failed’ them, rather than God himself. I think each of us go through this – we ‘fabricate’ God to be that superman, the one who can do it all no matter what the circumstances, and when he doesn’t, we stop or suspend our belief in him. I think the truth is often that we have stopped our belief in the God that we made up, rather than let him be the God he is. Maturity in spiritual growth would then be coming to terms with that ‘god’ that we made up, letting him ‘die’, and rediscovering who the real God of our lives is. And let our love for him take us in a new direction. For that matter, some of us really do worship ‘false’ gods without even realizing it.

    I try to be regular in my blog entries. The posting time is around 8am every Monday morning.

    God bless
    Fr Luke

  8. In this blog and your follow up comment, you have once again showed how much God loves us. You have asked us to re-sight ourselves. Instead of seeing how we should love God, you are asking us to envision how God loves us. In this lavishness of God's love lies the hope of redemption for misguided souls.

    To hold onto this vision of God's abundant mercy indeed gives a lot of hope to the living who may be confused, despaired and even angry when someone dear to them has committed suicide.

    And to those contemplating suicide, perhaps you have given them a reason to continue living now that they know our God has not abandoned them and is ever willing to be the prodigal father who gives abundantly.

  9. Dear Father Luke,
    Thank you for a very well written and thought through post. A lot of people are going to be very surprised when they eventually pass from this world, and discover then that God is far more merciful than they could ever imagine or hope for.
    The suicide of Judas Iscariot is something I used to think about a lot - how this person who was directly in the presence of the Lord for so many years, could come to the end he did. Though some in the early communities (and today still) consider Judas well and truly damned, I'm honestly not so sure. How can we hope to understand this when we are still not able to make mountains dump themselves in the sea on a regular basis?

  10. when my gf committed suicide, after months of depression, the one thing i learnt from the whole incident is that God's nature doesn't change. He is the same yesterday, today and tmr. He is still a good God even when bad things happen. and when i was finally able to grapple with that(amidst other issues), i was able to let go and move on..

    and when God didnt speak and seemed distant in this turbulent time, the only thing i had to rely on was my knowledge of his character from the bible.. and i knew that even tho He was quiet, doesnt mean He is not with me... that his nature doesnt change. hope this helps anyone going through a rough patch with God. Press in and press on, He will never leave us or forsake us.

  11. It is hard to succinctly talk about the impact/s of suicide and for each there is a different point of comprehension and hence action.

    My comment is that we would have to consider the people left behind always. One commenter here writes: "It was only in recent years that I think God may have forgiven her"
    Perhaps the things that we in the mortal world can do is to assist the ones left behind to forgive. God is forgiving as we know and time in itself has no real essence as God is immortal. That statement above reflects more what we are thinking and feeling rather than what God is thinking, feeling and/or doing.

    Please do not feel that I am disparaging the commenter at all. I am simply stating that we can only (with the love of God) assist the ones left behind, to help them find their peace.

  12. For the past ten months, I have been living with this urge to commit suicide. At times it was unbearable, to the point where I would cross a road hoping a reckless driver would end it for me. I don't know what it was that held me back. A combination of things, I suppose: not wanting my family to be hurt, the 'perpetrator' of my grief to be wracked with the guilt, a fear that what would come after death would only be an eternity with the pain that drove me to end my life.

    In even thinking of suicide I felt like a horrible person, a selfish, wretched jerk.

    I'd like to thank you for this post, Father Luke, reminding me that God doesn't condemn me even as I lost my faith in Him. It's been a struggle, and I finally hit my rock bottom and survived. I'm now climbing out of this pit I'm in, and even though I do not longer hear His voice, I now know He is with me.

  13. Thank you Maria, for your very courageous comment to share what you did. What held you back? I can only think of one thing - the grace of God. And his Grace comes through in many different ways. Perhaps at those hinge moments, grace came in the form of thinking about your loved ones more than you did yourself.

    As one of my readers, Robbie J said in today's comment, God NEVER distances himself from us. It is a flawed thinking that sees God this way. And seeing this as a flaw is yet another grace given to us. Just a love is a decision and not a feeling, may your decision to love God be your guiding light through your darkness. God bless.

    Fr Luke