Thursday, August 21, 2014
Response to the Culture and Suicide
Recently a popular comedian was found dead in his home. He had committed suicide. For reasons we may not fully comprehend, he was a man who was troubled to the point of ending his own life. It is not a subject I take lightly so I want to be careful not to sensationalize what has gripped the attention of the world. I also don’t want to minimize how deeply this has impacted survivors of this unfortunate tragedy.
Despite all the soul searching, I honestly cannot say I understand suicide. Nor do I pretend to. I’m not saying I don’t know what events that often lead to the thoughts of suicide. Most people can give typical reasons for why a person loses hope and eventually surrenders their life. The reasons can range from depression, terminal illness, chronic pain, alcohol and drug abuse, loneliness, failed marriages, loss of a job, and so on. It’s typically the missing piece of the puzzle that is the “one thing” that pushes a person over the edge.
It’s in times like this that people search for answers. Anything to explain how something like this can happen. However some deal with their problems, they often don’t let on to those who really know them how close they are to the edge.
This is also a time when Christians often try to offer words of encouragement. Pastors, leaders, and Christian counselors typically point people to Scripture and offer theological advice. Words, though, seem so inadequate. Sometimes they can come across as cold and distant. I am certain that is not the intention of any Christian. It’s only that Christians understand a truth that is relevant to these discussions and that is Jesus is the Answer.
As a Christian, I understand that suicide is not the answer. Let me say this again because it’s worth repeating. Suicide is not the answer. I don’t say this to belittle anyone who has had thoughts toward this end. It’s not something that can be easily explained away. Anything that can drive a person to the point of reaching the end is something that needs serious attention. The point is that in whatever situation a person finds himself or herself, Jesus is the only One who can turn that person’s life around.
In writing this post, I’m not trying to give the impression that I know more than Christian Scholars and Theologians. In fact, I think there are several posts and articles written by others on this subject that are more noteworthy. This blog found at Bible Gateway gives a scripturally based response to depression. It’s worth noting that God doesn't condemn anyone for his/her feelings, even depression. Can certain attitudes and behaviors, like anxiety, be wrong in God’s eyes? Sure. We may be self-absorbed or focused only on selfish wants and desires. But true feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression seems different. Certainly this is a multifaceted subject. There’s no one right answer because we’re all unique and we all have problems that are specific to our situations. One thing that I do see as a source of hope is God. He is the constant that we can rely on and He can be the anchor for our lives and our souls. One of the greatest needs in the life of someone who is contemplating his/her end is relationship. Human relationships may help in a temporal way. However, when God offers Himself to us we have access to a relationship that is much deeper, significant, and eternal.
In the same way, at Patheos there’s an article that backs up this idea of a relationship with God being the answer to man’s greatest need. Or as the author puts it, the Ultimate Christian Gift. The author emphasizes on what a relationship with God brings, and that’s unconditional love.
I agree with these writers that a relationship with God is a key element in combating these deep emotional issues. I say this in regards to those who are able to rationally think about the choices they are making. For the most part, that’s me. Though I can be an emotional wreck and believe that suicide would be a quick way out, I am also still able to rationally think about the choices before me. And I do. I think about God and what He would think about the choice I am about to make. Since God is my Creator, would He be okay with me circumventing His authority over my life by taking it myself?
The question, then, is what about those that do take their own life? Have they made the ultimate error and committed the unforgivable sin? This is a complex issue and I’m probably not qualified to answer this. But in my limited understanding about God and Scripture, there’s a time when we become accountable for our choices and lives. For example, a baby is born into this world with a sin nature. If a baby dies without being able to accept Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior, does that mean the baby doesn't go to heaven? There is a debate on this but I tend to follow John MacArthur’s logic on this issue. You’ll have to read it yourself to understand.
Now take this same argument and apply it to mental and emotional disabilities. My point being is that it’s possible that those who are not able to consciously make proper choices may not be held to the same level of accountability as someone with a sound mind and body. Let’s say a Christian develops Alzheimer’s. Obviously, this is a debilitating disease that leaves little doubt as to the ability of rational reason or thought. If this Christian commits suicide, is he/she then in sin and unable to reconcile with God? Or should we say a Christian can’t take their own life because of Alzheimer’s?
Again, I point to the fact that this is a complex issue. We’re not always talking about people making rational decisions. Often, there are those that are going through deeply emotional and psychological issues. It would be naive to think that these issues pertained only to nonbelievers. For certain, pain and sorrow and even illness are a part of life for the Christian as well.
People are sometimes diagnosed as clinically depressed. It’s a more severe form of depression. People are also diagnosed as having a wide range of mental and emotional disorders. With that being said, I’m not as certain to say that when a person is sick that he/she has the full mental capacity and clarity of choice. It’s possible this person could commit suicide. Believers and non-believers suffer alike, go through pain, and sometimes are not aware of the choices they are making. Can we say that one person was more fully aware of choice than another if there’s suicide? Maybe not. Does that somehow point to an obscure fact that this couldn't have been a Christian? I don’t think so. In my estimation, only God is able to determine that.
What is clear to me is that suicide is a problem the church and the community must deal with together. Anyone who is fully aware of his/her choice, it needs to be crystal clear that suicide is not the answer. For a person struggling with this on a conscious level needs to realize that there is a God who loves him/her. For the Christian, the relationship with God and knowing His Holy Spirit resides in us ought to give us hope and strength. Relationship is such a strong, emotional anchor that grounds us to reality. How much more impactful is a relationship with the Creator of the universe?
For the unbeliever, hope may be fleeting. Where can one go? You may be able to muster the strength to make it through the drudgery of life. However, a greater bet is to place your security in the One who holds the balance of your life, body and soul, in His hands. What a great tragedy it is for anyone to go through life without knowing how much God loves and the extent to what He will go through for us. And for someone to end their life without that hope and the knowledge of that truth is what is truly tragic.