Many people who are suffering from terminal illness, painful conditions, or intense sadness or emotional pain want to die. Those who are suffering wonder if they can just ask God to take their lives. Is this a form of suicide? Will God take us to heaven if we pray to die? The question that also arises is whether such a prayer is sinful.
Wanting to die and escape from suffering, whether emotional or physical, is a very human condition. Even the Lord Jesus Christ prayed, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). This was the humanity of Jesus speaking. Jesus knew what lay ahead at the cross, but notice that He submitted to God’s will. In all things, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father (John 5:30). In the Garden, Jesus verified that there are times when it is necessary to suffer, and He willingly suffered because it was the will of the Father.
As believers we are always to pray, “Your will be done.” None of us will die before it is our time, even if we want to die. David verifies the truth that all our days are planned out by God and nothing will shorten them outside of God’s will: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). Rather than praying to die, it is better to pray for God’s strength and grace to stand fast in whatever suffering we are experiencing and trust in God to determine the time and the details of our passing.
Suffering is hard, and sometimes the hardest part is the questions we have about why. Suffering is humbling, and as humans we don’t like being humbled or weak and dependent. But when we ask, “Why me, Lord?” the answer may just be “Why not you?” When born-again believers suffer on this earth, God has a purpose for that suffering, and His plans and purposes are perfect and holy, just as He is perfect and holy. The psalmist tells us, “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). If God’s ways are perfect, then we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. This may not seem possible to us, but our minds are not God’s mind, as He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8–9.
The apostle Paul suffered from a “thorn in his flesh”—some affliction that is not explained in the Bible—and three times he prayed for the Lord to remove that thorn. But God, who could have eased Paul’s suffering in an instant, chose not to do so. He reminded Paul that the “thorn” was to keep him from becoming proud and “exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations” he had been given, to keep him from exalting himself. But God did not leave Paul powerless to suffer alone. God assured him that the grace he had been given by God was “sufficient” and that God would be glorified by Paul’s reliance on His power to sustain him. Paul’s response to these truths was to be glad of his frailty and sufferings because in them God is glorified when the miracle of His power and strength are on display (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). Therefore, rather than seeking to escape from suffering of any kind through death, we depend upon God and rest in Him, for His purpose in suffering will always bring glory to Him and abound to our blessing.
When we are under the intense pressure of suffering, we sometimes feel like we simply can’t go on any longer. But God reminds us that there is no suffering or trial that comes upon a believer that someone else hasn’t gone through before us. Other believers have suffered pain that could not be alleviated by modern medicine. Other believers have suffered persecution and hideous deaths at the hands of God-haters. Other believers have been lonely and abandoned, some imprisoned for their testimony. So we are certainly not alone. But God is always faithful, and He will not allow us to suffer or be tested above what we can withstand and will also make a way to escape so that we are able to bear up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Finally, to answer the question of whether it is actually sinful to pray to die, quite simply it may come down to the principle “whatever is not of faith, is sin” (Romans 14:23). In other words, if our inner man says that it is sin, then to us it is sin. There is also the Scripture that says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). There is only one sin that keeps us out of heaven, and that is the sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. But praying to God to allow us to die can be sin because doing so indicates a lack of faith. A better prayer would be “God, you have promised to sustain me through any trial. I beg you to take away my hopelessness, comfort me with your presence, and uphold me with your strong right hand. But in all things, not my will but yours be done. Amen.”