8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,”
Declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Last week, a good acquaintance of my teenage son committed suicide. This boy was 17, and it appears, like many suicides of young people, there was not a lot of warning and it caught everyone off guard. Needless to say, there are many questions and even more anger, frustration and sadness over how this boy did not reach out for anyone’s help, nor did it appear that many people reached out to him during this time. My son is very distressed over this and has been, and still is, trying to make sense of this. It is one of his main concerns that will be the subject of this posting, as he has alluded to how the Catholic Church, at least in some of the comments he has heard, states people who suicide commit mortal sin, and thus are condemned to hell.
This is what the Church teaches about mortal sin:
1) Its subject must be a grave (or serious) matter.
2) It must be committed with full knowledge, both of the sin and of the gravity of the offense (no one is considered ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are inborn as part of human knowledge, but these principles can be misunderstood in a particular context).
3) It must be committed with deliberate and complete consent, enough for it to have been a personal decision to commit the sin.
Suicide is one of those matters in which the Church has debated over the centuries, and it has culminated with the most recent teachings by Blessed John Paul II that those committing suicide most likely have not committed a mortal sin, due to the person not necessarily being of the right mind, and thus, incapable of giving full consent to the action. We know through millennia of observation, that preservation of life is the strongest force known to mankind. To go against this innate knowledge in and of itself, is an act of insanity. Insanity precludes clarity of thought and full consent as these are quite absent with people in this condition.
This I can also verify personally. I’ve been in the mental health field for 26 years, and unfortunately, have had too many people I have known or personally worked with that have committed suicide. When a person becomes suicidal, he is absolutely convinced he has no other options and because the internal pain appears so intense and never ending, killing oneself seems like the ‘saner’ option between the two positions. It is not seeing other options that is at the crux of the problem for those who are feeling suicidal, and as long as they keep this to themselves, it is highly unlikely they will pull themselves out of this, as they are already biased towards no hope and cannot get to a place of hope on their own. They need to reach out, but by virtue of the nature of their condition, they do not, and thus, it becomes more of a ‘catch 22’ for these people.
Interestingly enough, those who failed at killing themselves most often report they are glad they did not succeed. They also report (those who have worked with me) that it was in the act of trying to take their own life that they found meaning in their life. Nearing death, it really dawned on them how much they were harming those they loved, and many report it was the first time they really thought about other people and their pain, and it gave them another perspective on life. Either way, they report how ‘insane’ their actions were and how distorted their thought processes were to convince themselves that they had no value to anyone.
I informed my son that no one knows where this boy is, and that the Church does in fact, teach we are not to judge where one may go, because frankly, we don’t know. Now there is no doubt that suicide is a grave matter, but one also must recognize that only God can see into matters of the heart, and knows what state this boy was in when he took his life. Unlike what many may think about God, it is most likely that God grieves for this boy even more than we do, as only God knows what mission this boy was to accomplish, and most likely, this mission will now be incomplete. This is why it is so important to fight these urges, and to talk to someone when feeling this way.
This is also why we need to withhold any judgments on people who commit suicide. I or really anyone cannot say with any certainty that this boy went to hell any more than I can say that my father, who lived an exemplary life, is now in heaven. Because God’s thoughts and actions are so superior to ours, it is a relief to me that I don’t need to concern myself with such matters, and as such, should no one else who claims to be a believer in God. We can only pray for the dead, and hope that God, in his perfect love, balances his divine mercy with divine justice and resolve such situations in a way that we are reunited with our loved ones at the end of time.