Q. My friend committed suicide. I always thought that suicide was an unforgivable sin and people who did it would go to hell. What is the Church’s teachings about suicide? Can someone who commits the act get to heaven? Is there a Book of the Damned?
A. This is a very difficult, but important, topic to address. No doubt it is especially important to you as you mourn the loss of your friend. You and your friend will be in my prayers.
I think the place to start is with your last question. You ask, “Is there a “Book of the Damned?” I assume that this idea comes as a contrast to the Scriptural reference to the Book of Life. The Bible speaks very clearly of the Book of Life as God’s “list” of those who are in a state of grace. In contrast, it is important to note that neither the Bible nor the Church’s tradition speaks of a Book of the Damned. The Bible does speak clearly of those who may “go off to eternal punishment” where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” And our Church teaches that those who die in a state of unrepented mortal sin will have the same fate as the devil and the fallen angels. However, since God takes no delight in the loss of his children, it is not proper to speak of a Book of the Damned in the same way that we speak of the Book of Life.
With that said, I think your real question is this: “Is suicide always and in every case an unforgivable mortal sin that destines one to Hell?” The answer: definitely not! Yes, the act of suicide is always a wrong choice. But in order for us to assign personal guilt to a particular action, we would need to know all of the inner workings of that particular person’s conscience. So often there is so much hurt and pain present in the case of suicide. Only God has access to one’s conscience, which is the reason we can never know for certain who has committed an unforgivable mortal sin. Hell is certainly a real possibility for us all. But oftentimes there are circumstances that can diminish one’s personal guilt. I think this is especially true with suicide.
I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the suicide of your friend, but it is very important to note that factors such as depression, extreme emotional distress, mental illness, extreme anxiety, and the like could have so clouded her thinking that she was not fully responsible for her action. This doesn’t make the action itself good, or even neutral, but our Church does teach that these factors would have diminished her personal guilt if they were present.
Furthermore, we must never forget God’s unfathomable and infinite mercy God’s love for those who have committed suicide, including your friend, will never end. Remember God’s perfect love. It is this love that should help to sustain you and even give you hope at the loss of your friend.