Excerpts from Mike Hayes answer on Busted Halo:
Question: I know its a touchy subject but I was always taught that people who committed suicide would go to hell. I read a article that said the churches got together and literally started saying this to keep people from killing themselves because their lives were poor, etc. and thought they could just kill themselves and go to heaven to be in a better place. Does this make sense? So is this teaching untrue?
The Church’s teaching is ever evolving with new discoveries and her teaching on suicide is no different.
In today’s times, we know much more about mental illness than ever before. We now know that anyone who commits suicide is not in control over their own actions. For something to be sinful, by definition, it needs to be done willfully, meaning, we need to be free to make the choice to commit the act in the first place and we have to know that the act is sinful.
So therefore, if one is not in control over their own actions, they cannot be held responsible for what they have done, suicide included.
It’s also interesting to note that the Church has never definitively stated that anyone is in hell other than the fallen angels themselves. However, the Church also doesn’t deny the existence of that state of being either. Hell is a state of eternal separation from God, which means that a person has made a definitive judgement to separate themselves from God and to embrace sin instead of what God wishes.
So what happens with people who commit suicide?
We trust in God’s mercy and redemption. We don’t know definitively what happens when anyone dies. What we do know is that God’s mercy is offered to everyone. It is up to us to accept that mercy and forgiveness and to move toward greater unity with God in doing so.
Excerpt from Ronald Rolheiser regarding struggling to understand suicide
So what’s to be said about suicide? How can we move towards understanding it more empathically?
Understanding suicide more compassionately won’t take away its sting, nothing will, except time; but our own long-term healing and the redemption of the memory of the one died can be helped by keeping a number of things in mind.
- Suicide, in most cases, is a disease, not something freely willed. The person who dies in this way dies against his or her will, akin to those who jumped to their deaths from the Twin Towers after terrorist planes had set those buildings on fire on September 11, 2001. They were jumping to certain death, but only because they were already burning to death where they were standing. Death by suicide is analogous to death by cancer, stroke, or heart attack; except, in the case of suicide, it’s a question of emotional-cancer, emotional-stroke, or an emotional-heart attack.
Moreover, still to be more fully explored, is the potential role that biochemistry plays in suicide. Since some suicidal depressions are treatable by drugs, clearly then some suicides are caused by biochemical deficiencies, as are many other diseases that kill us.
- The person who dies in this way, almost invariably, is a very sensitive human being. Suicide is rarely done in arrogance, as an act of contempt. There are of course examples of persons, like Hitler, who are too proud to endure normal human contingency and kill themselves out of arrogance, but that’s a very different kind of suicide, not the kind that most of us have seen in a loved one. Generally our own experience with the loved ones that we’ve lost to suicide was that these persons were anything but arrogant. More accurately described, they were too bruised to touch and were wounded in some deep way that we couldn’t comprehend or help heal. Indeed, often times when sufficient time has passed after their deaths, in retrospect, we get some sense of their wound, one which we never clearly perceived while they were alive. Their suicide then no longer seems as surprising.
- Finally, we need not worry unduly about the eternal salvation of those who die in this way. God’s understanding and compassion infinitely surpass our own. Our lost loved ones are in safer hands than ours. If we, limited as we are, can already reach through this tragedy with some understanding and love, we can rest secure in the fact that, given the width and depth of God’s love, the one who dies through suicide meets, on the other side, a compassion that’s deeper than our own and a judgment that intuits the deepest motives of their heart.
Moreover, God’s love, as we are assured of in our scriptures and as is manifest in Jesus’ resurrection, is not as helpless as our own in dealing with this. We, in dealing with our loved ones, sometimes find ourselves helpless, without a strategy and without energy, standing outside an oak-like door, shutout because of someone’s fear, wound, sickness, or loneliness. Most persons who die by suicide are precisely locked inside this kind of private room by some cancerous wound through which we cannot reach and through which they themselves cannot reach. Our best efforts leave us still unable to penetrate that private hell. But, as we see in the resurrection appearances of Jesus, God’s love and compassion are not rendered helpless by locked doors. God’s love doesn’t stand outside, helplessly knocking. Rather it goes right through the locked doors, stands inside the huddle of fear and loneliness, and breathes out peace. So too for our loved ones who die by suicide. We find ourselves helpless, but God can, and does, go through those locked doors and, once there, breathes out peace inside a tortured, huddled heart.