Is it a Sin to Ask for Death?
Dear Father John, When I am in great despair the temptation is to ask for death. Is that not a sin if despair drives me?
I think you may have an incomplete or inaccurate idea about the nature of despair. When understood as a sin and not simply an emotional experience, despair consists of giving up on God, of freely concluding that “I am such a horrible sinner that not even God can forgive me; I am so unlovable that he will never come to my aid with his grace.” You can see how that attitude can never come from the Holy Spirit, since God’s goodness, power, and mercy are limitless. His grace can always conquer sin and give us hope, just as the Resurrection followed the Crucifixion.
Despair or Anguish?
Here is how the Catechism defines the sin of despair (#2091):
The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption: By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.
We never have to give up hope in God, no matter how bad things get, because we know that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
From your brief question, I would surmise that you are not struggling with despair in that sense. Rather, it seems you are struggling with intense sorrow or suffering. It gets so intense that sometimes you wish God would just decide to take you home to heaven right now, so as to give you relief from the darkness. If this is the case, I would say you are experiencing deep and painful anguish, which is not the same thing as committing the sin of despair.
Job and Jonah Pray for Death
In the Scriptures, Job had a similar experience of anguish. He prayed to the Lord to end his life (Job 6:8-9):
Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant what I long for: Even that God would decide to crush me, that he would put forth his hand and cut me off!
The Prophet Jonah lifted up a similar prayer in the midst of his frustration, anger, and anguish (Jonah 4:3):
So now, Lord, please take my life from me;
for it is better for me to die than to live.
Job and Jonah found themselves in a similar emotional state, even though their experiences and triggers were different. You may find yourself in a similar emotional state, even though your triggers are different.
Pray from the Heart
I would suggest that you bring yourself to God in prayer just as you are, perhaps using these passages, or various ones of the Psalms that describe great suffering (like Psalm 88), to give voice to what you are experiencing. Trust that God has not abandoned you, and use that honest prayer as a way to counteract any temptation to despair that may begin to arise in your heart.
God knows how anguished life in this fallen world can become. But he also knows how to bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, holiness out of the crucible of suffering. This is why we always leave the moment of death up to God. Suicide and euthanasia don’t respect God’s wisdom and sovereignty as regards the true value and worth of every human life, no matter how fraught with suffering.
Don’t Go It Alone
I would also encourage you to seek support from real people whom you can meet with face-to-face and pray with and lean on. We are not meant to persevere in our Christian journey all alone. We are meant to walk with each other, to “bear each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Reach out. You may find support in fellowship, and then you will also be able to give support to others, perhaps in surprising ways.
I hope this helps. I will say a prayer for you.
Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Art for this post on whether it is a sin to ask for death: Job Rebuked by His Friends, William Blake, 1805, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.