The world was shocked when beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life back in August, and in the month since his tragic passing, fans all over the globe have taken time to reflect on his outstanding and inspirational career that spans decades. While most have mourned the actor’s death, others have condemned him for taking his own life, thus opening up the conversation of Christianity’s views on suicide.
In the weeks following Williams’ death, many Christians spoke openly about their belief that those who commit suicide will be condemned to hell. Frank Viola, an author, dedicates his life to applying Christian principles to the modern world, and when discussing Williams’ death, he says he is upset by the lack of sympathy that some Christians exhibit.
“I'm always saddened when people make outrageous claims, are insensitive to those grieving [e.g. the Williams family], and would say things about others that they would never want to be said to or about them,” says Frank Viola. “The purpose of "Christianity will depend on what one means by Christianity. I can tell you that the purpose of Jesus of Nazareth was to restore human beings to a relationship with God and to destroy the works of God's enemy. Jesus taught that human beings need forgiveness, a new life, and relationship with God. That's what we were created. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity. He took ours sin and shame when He died on the cross, paying its penalty in full on our behalf. His message was repent, trust in Him as Savior and Lord, and receive a new life. The nature of that new life is love -- which according to Jesus, is benefiting others at the expense of oneself. Or, as He put it in Matthew 7:12, to treat others as we want to be treated in every situation.”
Many people claim that the Bible itself condemns suicide, but not all Christian denominations believe that to be true. The United Methodist Church is one example of a sect that refuses to condemn those who commit suicide, and as their social principles states, “Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.”
So why is it that many Christians are so quick to condemn those who commit suicide to hell?
“The Bible doesn't make that statement,” says Viola. “Putting aside the nature of hell (Christians disagree on its exact nature), what brings God's judgment is not any particular sin. What brings God's judgment is the deliberate rejection of the salvation and forgiveness of sins that God has offered through trusting in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our sins.”
Still, some well-known Christians are adding fuel to the fire by criticizing Williams for the choice to end his life.
“You don't think that my life has been hell and I've had so many ups and downs now?” asked actor Todd Bridges. “If I did that [commit suicide], what am I showing my children [is] that when it gets tough, that's the way out. You gotta [sic] buckle down, ask God to help you. That's when prayer really comes into effect. Rest in peace Robin Williams, I hope you found what you were looking for.”
Many Catholics have outspokenly condemned Williams’ suicide, but the Catechism of the church actually states that members shouldn’t worry about what happens to those who take their own lives.
“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives,” reads a portion of the Catechism. “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.”
So as many Christians continue to condemn the act of suicide and speak openly of their beliefs that those who do it will go to hell, Viola says condemnation and criticism goes against the number one thing that Jesus taught.
“Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength,” Viola says. “And the second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. That means benefiting them at the expense of ourselves. Jesus is the human face of God and to know God and love with His love is to be fully human.”