Kayla Stoecklein, widow of late Inland Hills Church Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, who died after attempting suicide at his church last month, says she is confident her husband is in Heaven despite the enduring "myth" that suicide victims are condemned to Hell.
"This is a common misbelief about suicide and it breaks my heart. I'll be the first to admit prior to Andrew's death I may have actually believed it to be true," Kayla, 29, wrote on her family's God's Got This blog Tuesday.
"I remember leaning over to my mother in law, Carol, in the hospital room as my husband lay there dying, whispering through my tears, 'Will he go to heaven?' She quickly reassured me, as I am confident now: whether you are accepted into heaven or not has nothing to do with how you die. The only way we are accepted into heaven is through a personal relationship with Jesus," she said.
The Chino Police Department told The Christian Post that at 11:08 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 24, they received a call from the Chino, California, church about an attempted suicide. When they arrived, Pastor Stoecklein who had been battling anxiety and depression for months was identified as the victim. He died hours later at a local hospital and prompted a national discussion on mental health and the church, which Kayla vowed to continue.
"I believe with 100% of my soul that Andrew is in heaven. Andrew had a real, raw, authentic, and infectious relationship with Jesus. Thousands of people will be in heaven because of him," she noted Tuesday.
"Andrew got sick, he was given a diagnosis, much like any other deadly diagnosis. His illness grew worse over time. This illness caused him to lose his ability to make wise decisions, to think clearly, and to properly articulate his feelings. If Andrew were sitting here today, healthy and strong, I am confident he would want a redo. He did not want to die. I can rest assured that he is no longer in pain, he is completely healed in heaven; a place more beautiful and wonderful than any human mind could ever comprehend," she added.
Albert Y. Hsu, senior editor for IVP Books at InterVarsity Press who earned a Ph.D. in educational studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, agrees that the idea that Christians who commit suicide are condemned to Hell is a "misconception."
Hsu, who lost his own father to suicide, authored a book on the subject called Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort. He explained his position in a CT interview last fall.
"Christians often assume that suicide is an unforgivable sin and that those who die by suicide automatically go to hell. That's a misconception that believes in a transactional view of sin and forgiveness, where if we don't confess the sin of suicide after it takes place, it can't be forgiven. But that idea comes more from Augustine and medieval theology than the Bible," he said.
"Scripture doesn't actually say that suicide separates us from God for eternity. The unforgivable sin is never equated with suicide in Scripture. Somebody like Samson died at his own hand, but he's still included in Hebrews 11 among the Hall of the Faithful. And there's the promise in Romans 8 that 'neither life nor death,' not even death by suicide, could 'separate us from the love of God in Christ,'" Hsu explained.
He said instead of seeing suicide as the "unforgivable sin," he sees the act as more of a tragedy.
"There are seven suicides in Scripture from King Saul to Judas, and they're always depicted negatively. They are never God's plan for anybody's life. But it's also not the unforgivable sin that automatically condemns somebody for eternity," he said. "I put suicide in the literary category of tragedy. In Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, somebody is undone by an internal fatal flaw, and the tragic hero dies because something has gone wrong in their story. When we think of that and our loved ones that we lost in suicide, that helps us understand them. It doesn't excuse their action, but it helps us have compassion on and empathy for them."
Kay Warren, best-selling author and Bible teacher who co-founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, with her husband, Rick, also supports the view that suicide doesn't condemn a Christian to Hell.
Warren's son, Matthew, fatally shot himself at the age of 27 in April 2013, after a long and private struggle with mental illness.
"God's promised us that Matthew's salvation was safe and secure. Matthew gave his life to Jesus when he was a little boy. And so, I'm absolutely 100 percent confident based on the work of Jesus that Matthew is in Heaven," she told The Christian Post in an earlier interview.
She also had high praise for Hsu's book.
"Grieving a Suicide is one of the most helpful books I read after our son, Matthew, died by suicide. I scribbled notes and comments to myself on nearly every page of this revised and expanded edition, and I found Al Hsu's compassionate and practical words even more beneficial than before. He has walked this painful path and knows firsthand how to give hope and comfort to grieving people. Grieving a Suicide is on my list of must-read books for survivors of suicide loss," she wrote.