What do Mormons Believe About Suicide?


I was asked to speak today at the funeral of a friend’s daughter, who took her own life. The family asked me to deal directly with the issue of suicide and its effect on a person’s standing before God. I thought it might be of some value to put my thoughts here. Because these really are notes for a talk, I apologize in advance for this not being as tightly organized as perhaps it should be.

This is the fourth funeral I have attended where the departed took his or her own life. In each of the previous funerals, there was no mention whatsoever of what had happened. It was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to mention. But I think that was a mistake. I believe that when we name our monsters, they lose much of their power over us.

So, today I would like to spend a few moments to talk about suicide and the healing powers of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Nearly all religious traditions condemn suicide to one degree or another. I had always been taught that a person who commits suicide is automatically condemned to whatever place your religion reserves for really bad people. I think I understand why that is. We are taught that life is a sacred gift from God, and to throw it away is a great offense to God.

I have come to learn that such teachings are not only unnecessarily harsh, they are also untrue.

We begin with the need to better understand a few of the characteristics of our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ, as they are the ones who will be responsible for our final judgment. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches an important principle about the nature of our Father in Heaven. In the seventh chapter of Matthew, versus 9 through 11, He asks:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

To me, this conveys the principle that we can trust that our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, meet and significantly exceed our mortal capacity for mercy and love. If we as parents know how to be kind, we can trust that our Father in Heaven is kinder. If we know how to be compassionate, He knows even better how to be compassionate. If we are forgiving, He is more forgiving.

The Savior’s capacity for compassion is an essential part of His atoning sacrifice. Christ did not suffer merely so that we could be forgiven after this life, but he suffered so that he could understand our sufferings in this life perfectly, be able to comfort us in our trials as one who completely understands our experiences, and finally so that He could be a perfect judge, having walked a million miles in our shoes.

In words very similar to those used by the apostle Paul, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma said this about the infinite and eternal atonement of Christ (Alma 7:11-13):

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless, the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh…

This passage of scripture comes as a great comfort to me, because I am confident that a God who knows me perfectly will judge me with perfect justice.

We can know much in this life, but there are two things we can never know perfectly: Another person’s mind and another person’s heart. Because of those limitations, we are instructed by the Savior to judge no one. Why? Because we do not have sufficient information to make an informed judgment. Our views are clouded by our ignorance. The Savior has no such limitations.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote this about suicide: “Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 771; some italics added.)

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn teaches that all bad behavior is the result of suffering. It is the pain in our lives that leads to us behaving poorly, and if we could fully understand the suffering of others, we would not condemn their acts. To the extent that is true, we can rest assured that whatever struggles and suffering this sister was experiencing, the Lord Jesus Christ understood them perfectly and He did and does love her.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. … He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’. … We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, 1938, p. 218.)

I think it is both arrogant and undoctrinal to assume that we can look at a situation like suicide and pass judgment on what has happened. We do not have the capacity to do so. However, we can trust that the Lord is as good as His word, and that the power of an infinite and eternal atonement is just that: infinite and eternal. The atonement is big enough for anything, including this.

Truman G. Madsen has written: “[I]f there are some of you who have been tricked into the conviction that you have gone too far, that you have been weighed down the doubts on which you alone have a monopoly, that you have had the poison of sin which makes it impossible ever again to be what you could have been—then hear me. I bear testimony that you cannot sink farther than the light and sweeping intelligence of Jesus Christ can reach. I bear testimony that as long as there is one spark of the will to repent and to reach, he is there. He did not just descend to your condition; he descended below it, ‘that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.’ (D&C 88:6)” (Christ and the Inner Life, 1978, p. 14).

Now by way of more personal experience. I did not know this sister and therefore cannot presume to speak for her. But I have traveled down some very dark emotional pathways myself, and at one time seriously contemplated the option that has brought us here today. I am grateful that a series of events took me away from such thinking. However, I understand how blinded a person can become when faced with depression, self-judgment, and a loss of hope. Because of that, I strongly suspect that if this sister could talk to you now, freed from the physiological and psychological limitations she experienced while on Earth, there are a few things she doubtless would say.

One of those would be this:

There was nothing you could do.

In the darkness of depression, every word spoken to you passes judgment against you. Every glimmer of hope is dismissed as a mirage. Every act of kindness becomes an expression of loathing. Everything passes through the same dark filter and adds to your pain rather than reduces it. As Spencer W. Kimball once said, “No one in his ‘right mind,’ and especially if he has an understanding of the gospel, will permit himself to arrive at this ‘point of no return.’” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, p. 106; italics added.).

Whatever you said, she could not have heard.

Whatever you did, she could not have felt.

The atonement of Christ requires that we neither condemn this sister nor convict ourselves. We forgive both her and ourselves and trust that the Lord will make it right.

 

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13 Responses to “What do Mormons Believe About Suicide?”


  1. 1 Vance Roper February 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Yup, you should write a book. Vance

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  2. 2 grandpachet February 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    That was better than beautiful. It was correct. Doctrinally and logically. We do not worship a God who “makes everything better,” but a Father and an eldest Brother who knows who we are and why we fail when we fail.
    I deal with depression almost every day. The Gospel has saved me more than once. If anyone is reading this and feels Rob’s talk or my comments are some sort of “free ticket” out of a sense of hopelessness, let me testify that in the deepest, darkest, most alone times of your life, the brightest gift He brings to you is Hope.
    Trust me…it ain’t easy. But it gets a little easier every day.

  3. 4 A Gripping Life February 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Such beautiful and tender words. I know this is true. As someone who works with emotionally distressed individuals and has known many who have taken their lives, I can testify that the Savior knows our personal pain and suffering. He atoned for us. He will make it right. Never once have I felt anything but love for these people who have chosen to take their lives. If I feel love in my heart, imagine what the Savior feels.

  4. 5 Heather MacDonnell February 25, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    I’m glad you addressed the issue directly. I know that it helps Sis. T with the guilt for not doing enough, that she was holding onto. I didn’t get to hear all of your talk, but what I did hear was very powerful! Thanks for posting this!

    Heather MacDonell

  5. 6 tonybrigmon February 26, 2013 at 8:17 am

    You have a unique gift for addressing tough issues. Well done. Thank you.

  6. 7 Cassandra Smith February 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    When a neighbor-friend of mine committed suicide a year and a half ago, I was immensely overcome with grief and guilt. Guilt for not being a better friend. Guilt for not lifting up the hands that hang down. This wonderful message has very much helped me overcome the guilt, and–even more– better understand the doctrine of Jesus Christ’s loving atonement. Count me as a friend since you know the Bratton family. 😉

  7. 9 Jack Fisher February 27, 2013 at 8:50 am

    If you think about it, those who commit suicide are at a point in their life where they think it is the only thing that they have left to do – they have lost their “free agency.” Considering the fact that this is what mortal life is all about, that self-imposed belief in their situation would indeed be the ultimate state of depression. Likewise, your suggestion that the “victim” of suicide would have stated to those who loved her, “there is nothing you could have said or done” would be an echo of the thinking that got her there. I disagree that there is something that can be done, even if it is only sharing the content of your message at the funeral of another who took the last choice they thought they had left in life. It might make one contemplating suicide to consider that there are still choices left in life – and that is to turn to Christ.

    • 10 Gary May 14, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      I turned to Christ. He wasn’t there.

      • 11 R.S. "Rob" Ghio May 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

        Gary,

        Very sorry that you felt that way. I’m not naive. I know that there are people to reach out and don’t feel that they’ve connected with anything divine. Why that process seems easier for some people than others is a question that I can’t answer with any certainty. Sometimes there may be so many other voices screaming at you–doubt, pain, disappointment, anger–that it is hard to hear an answer. Other times there may be lessons to be learned from patience and repeated petitions. For some people, they go through the motions of asking, but their intent to follow a prompting may not be sufficiently sincere. I don’t know your situation and won’t presume to. But I will encourage you to try again. I am confident enough in His existence and His willingness to help to think that as you “wrestle” with God (a phrase I borrow from the Book of Mormon), answers will come. Wait for it.

  8. 12 Daniel Carter September 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I really feel there is an issue here not answered. Suicide and pain go hand in hand, I have dealt with Mental illness all of my adult life, along with a chronic pain problem. My wanting to take my life is the result of unbearable physical and emotional pain that can and will wear one down just as fast as a pair of cheap shoes at a thrift store.

    • 13 R.S. "Rob" Ghio September 27, 2013 at 10:12 am

      I certainly understand that. Any pain, regardless of the source or nature, compromises our ability to make dispassionate decisions. We have to rely on the atoning power of the Savior to be able to endure the challenges that would otherwise wear us down to nothing. Keep fighting.


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