Suicide and the Sovereignty of God

Question

If God is sovereign and has ordained all things, why should I attempt to stop someone from committing suicide?

Answer

While there are some suicides that are honorable (self-sacrifice, laying down one's life for another, taking a bullet for another, etc.) most are self-murder. As a former police detective, I have worked some suicide cases. None of them are pretty and most of them leave others asking, "why?" Most are actions of desperation. Most cries for help.

God does know all that has happened, is happening, and will happen (1 John 3:20). Likewise, he has ordained those things (though he is not the so-called author of sin). He even knows all the "what-ifs" that could have happened but never will (Matt. 11:23). He knows how all time works together. God's knowledge is infinite (Ps. 147:5), eternal (Acts 15:18; Is. 46:10), universal, extending to all persons, times, places and things (Heb. 4:13), and perfect, relating to what is past, present, and to come. He knows all, infallibly and perpetually (Jer. 10:6-7; Rom. 11:33).

All time belongs to God, though he is not limited by it. The secret things belong to the Lord (Deut. 29:29); however, our knowledge is limited. We don't know the day of God's appointment of death for a person (Heb. 9:27), therefore, the question above needs to be understood from our own perspective because we don't know God's mind on the matter yet. God will handle his end of things, but we are responsible for the biblical handling of our end of things. Our actions will not interfere with God's sovereignty in the issue. How could they? It would deny God being sovereign if they did.

Within the secret things that belong to the Lord is we do not know if God has ordained our individual efforts (as secondary causes) to bring about his primary cause of saving a person from killing himself. God uses prayer, our actions, our speech or lack thereof. He uses everything as secondary causes. God ordains the means and the ends. Secondary causes become causes only because of God's primary cause. The effectiveness of secondary causes is not cancelled by the primary cause, but requires God's primary cause. The Westminster Confession of Faith wisely says that God's decree does not cancel the reality and efficacy of secondary causes, but "establishes them." It is ALL worked into God's express purpose and will ALWAYS bring about his expressly decreed will. So, the point is not "if" we should do anything, but "what" we should do.

If someone is threatening to commit suicide, Christians are responsible to take actions such as, but not limited to, contacting the police, the person's family and pastor, a suicide hotline and/or mental health professionals, and doing it all while they PRAY. Do not panic, but pray and act! At times just saying some gentle heart-felt words will deter a suicide. Consider all of Paul's actions - prayer, praise, remaining to minister, speaking, etc., in Acts 16:16-34. While there may be several other things a person may do to intervene in a suicide, it would be wise as well to be aware of the "don'ts" such as fear (1 Sam. 31:1-5; 1 Chron. 10:1-5).

Suicide intervention and God's sovereignty do not negate one another. Rather, they complement each other.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).