By Tom Osanjo
An associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, USA, Jarrid Wislon, recently took to social media challenging the belief held by some Christians that those who commit suicide are automatically headed to hell.
According to the Religion News Service, Jarrid lamented that the same Christians would not tell someone with a physical illness like cancer they are going to hell because of their diagnosis. Neither should they assume it of people with mental illnesses, which can “lead many people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do if they didn’t struggle.”
“Those who say suicide automatically leads to hell obviously don’t understand the totality of mental health issues in today’s world, let alone understand the basic theology behind compassion and God’s all-consuming grace,” he said.
“We must do better at educating people on things they have a hard time wrapping their heads around. And mental health is definitely a topic Christians around the world must yearn to better understand.”
He then took to Twitter where he fired:
“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.”
Just days after this, Jarrid died by suicide, opening a huge debate in the World’s Christendom as people debating whether suicide was sin or not. Pastor Zainab Hassan of the Ongata Rongai-based Latter Glory Church disagrees with the departed Jarrid.
According to Pastor Hassan, suicide is killing, an act the Bible forbids in the fifth commandment. “The Fifth Commandment states clearly we should not kill. So anybody committing suicide is killing and no murderer will go to heaven,” she states with finality.
Nairobi-based journalist Michael Kamau, a Catholic, says that the church treats suicide as a serious thing. Most of the Catholics I spoke to on this topic revealed that in most cases the coffins bearing the remains of those who die by suicide are not allowed in church.
“In some cases the deceased’s name is not even mentioned by the one presiding over the service and you will only get to hear it when a family member rises to read the eulogy,” he says.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life…It is not ours to dispose of.
Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life…Suicide is contrary to love for the living God”
However, in a way of compromise, it says: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives”
It is this last part that resonates well with the thinking of Gibson Anduvate, Senior Pastor at the International Christian Centre (ICC), Nairobi. He says that human beings are quick at making conclusions even in matters they do not know much.
“When we pass judgement we are playing God. Judgment belongs to no any other person but God and He alone knows how He judges the people who will appear before Him. The best we can do is to pray for the departed soul and the loved ones left behind,” he says.
Apostle Kathy Kageni-Oganga, who runs the Sozo Church of God in Nairobi, is strongly opposed to suicide. Apostle Oganga, known for her hardline stance on many contemporary issues, says: Suicide is a sin, do not kill. We are taught that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and so our lives are not our own.”
Ms Mercy Musisi is the head of counselling services at the Retreat Rehab Centre in Tigoni. She explains that although some churches insist that suicide is a sin, there are various underlying issues that cannot be wished away.
“In most cases the person sees suicide as the way out of the suffering and he or she feels that the situation is hopeless.
They feel inadequate. The signs are always there and if one looked keenly they can be seen,” she said, adding that people who all of a sudden become extremely happy should be put on suicide watch. “They have settled that they are going to die so in a way they are bidding you farewell,” Musisi says.
Sheila Walsh, writing on the blog FaithGateway of September 14, said that she spoke at a church where she shared that after her father died from suicide, she was certain he was in heaven.
Then a young girl was brought to her crying. Finally, she told me about her father’s long battle with mental illness. She said that he was an amazing dad who loved Jesus and his family well, but one night he took his life.
Her next words were heartbreaking. “I was told that my dad is in hell because he took his life.”
Writing in Faithfull Newsletter, Jim Burgen says when you experience the dragon of depression, your entire world is seen only through the lens of sadness, hopelessness, mourning, loss, emptiness, grief, pain, anger, frustration, guilt and death. Death is always there, looming and lurking.”
He says Jesus himself must have gone through depression on the night he prayed until his sweat had beads of blood.
He says Peter must also have gone through depression when he denied Jesus three times and concludes that Judas’s depression saw him commit suicide.