Posts tagged ‘Suicide’

2018 in Review

new-year-happy-new-year-2019-beg.jpg

Another year is drawing to a close.  Here’s a look back at some of the stories that caught my attention in 2018.

January
President Trump sparks a controversy by making, behind closed doors, vulgar comments about places like Haiti and Africa, and expresses concern about accepting immigrants from nations like these.  His comments are part of a long-running debate and disagreement over the kind of immigration policy this country should pursue.

February
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is shot up by a gunman who kills 17 and wounds 14.  The shooting gives rise to rallies across the country that debate the efficacy of stricter gun control policies.

March
A mystery bomber sparks terror across the city of Austin by leaving and mailing package bombs to apparently randomly selected people across the city.  As law enforcement officials close in on the subject, he blows himself up, killing himself and injuring a police officer.

April
The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, travels to Washington DC to testify before Congress and answer questions about how his company protects users’ data and what it did to stop Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

May
The nation of Ireland, which has been historically informed by Roman Catholicism in its national stances on various moral issues, votes to legalize abortion-on-demand when it votes to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its Constitution.

June
Two celebrities, Kate Spade, an iconic fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a foodie and CNN adventurer, tragically take their own lives.  The suicide rate across the country continues to rise.

July
Justice Anthony Kennedy announces his retirement, effective the end of the month.  A so-called “swing” vote on the Supreme Court, his retirement sparks many questions and debate about who will replace him.

August
The New York Times publishes a bombshell report chronicling the abuse of over 1,000 children in the Dioceses of Pennsylvania by over 300 priests there.

September
Confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the man to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, explode after he is accused of sexually assaulting a woman while in high school.  He is eventually confirmed.

October
In the scope of one week, a bomber sends a series of explosive packages to public detractors of the president, and a gunman, armed with an AR-15 and three rifles, walks into a synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Sabbath and kills eleven.

November
The midterm elections are held.  Republicans keep and increase their lead in the Senate while Democrats flip the House of Representatives and give themselves a comfortable majority, leading many to describe the election as a “blue wave.”

December
The 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, passes away.  A state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington DC is held in his honor.

Needless to say, it’s been a busy year.  There were many more stories I wrote about that I didn’t include in this brief retrospective.  Along with the above stories, in 2018, the famed televangelist Billy Graham died, a columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, was brutally murdered, a famous evangelical pastor had to step down after accusations of sexual impropriety surfaced in the Chicago Tribune, two major hurricanes crashed into continental United States, the deadliest and most damaging wildfires ever ravaged the state of California, the Hawaiian volcano Kilaeua spewed lava and destroyed homes, the US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the stock market took us on a wild ride.

So, what can we learn from all of these stories?  Here are a few thoughts.

First, there is a lot outside of us we cannot control.  From volcanos that erupt to hurricanes that flood to wildfires that scorch, the year’s events remind us that, for all our technological achievements and manpower, there is plenty we cannot control.  Indeed, there are many natural disasters to which we cannot even adequately respond.  The limits of our power should keep us humble in the face of the cosmos.  It is big.  We are small.

Second, there is a lot inside of us we cannot control.  Mass shootings, dangerous bombings, accusations of sexual harassment, and tragic suicides have become commonplace events.  Evil is grimly efficient, it seems, at infecting and overtaking people.  It is difficult to stop tragedy when it turns out that the perpetrator of the tragedy is us.

Third, all this means we need something or someone bigger than the cosmos’s brokenness and bigger than human sinfulness.  We need a Crafter of the cosmos to step in and reorder what has gone wrong.  We need a Helper for humanity to step in and rescue us from our willingly wicked ways.  In short, we need Jesus.  2018 needed Jesus.

My guess is 2019 will need Him, too.  So let’s not only hope for a good new year, let’s pray for one.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your blessings in 2019. We ask You to guide us in righteousness in 2019 and guard us from sinfulness. Protect us from calamity, foster in us charity, and give us hearts that live in light of eternity.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Advertisements

December 31, 2018 at 5:15 am 2 comments

A Tragic Spate of Suicides

One week.  Two tragic deaths.

First, it was iconic fashion designer Kate Spade, who was found dead in her apartment Tuesday night after she had hung herself.  Then last Friday, it was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who, while working on an upcoming episode of his CNN show “Parts Unknown,” also hung himself at the hotel where he was staying in Kaysersberg, France.

We are facing nothing short of a suicide epidemic in our country.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide rates are up almost 30 percent nationwide since 1999.  During this time period, only one state saw a decrease in suicides: Nevada.  And Nevada’s rate decreased by only 1 percent.  In North Dakota, the suicide rate jumped more than 57 percent during this time period.  In 2016, nearly 45,000 people took their own lives across the United States, making suicide more than twice as common as homicide and the tenth leading cause of death overall.

We have a problem.

Mental illness certainly plays a role in many of these terrible deaths.  But more than half of the suicides in 27 states involved people who had no known mental health concerns.

Of course, no explanation, no matter how clinical or comprehensive it may be, can ever even begin to blunt the pain of a life lost on those left behind.  Mental health diagnoses of diseases like clinical depression often only leave people wondering why physicians weren’t able to help.  Suicide notes often raise more question than they answer.  It seems no explanation can really answer the furious and frustrated one-word interrogation of “why?”.  This is because this is an interrogation birthed by pain and bathed in pain. You see, there is a creeping realization that comes with death – a realization that a person who was once with us has now gone away from us and we will no longer be able to see them, talk to them, or hold them.  As many a grieving person has muttered after the suicide of a loved one: they were taken from us too soon.

The horror of suicide needs some sort of hope.  But hope is hard to find in something as final and gruesome as death.  This is why we need the gospel, for the gospel reminds us that there is a death that undoes death.  While suicide takes people we love from us, the gospel declares that Jesus, out of love, gave His life for us.  As the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Suicides may feel final, but the cross of Christ reminds us that they do not have to be.  The cross’s effects held on for three days before the cross was double-crossed by an empty tomb.  The effects of a dark moment of despair that leads to a tragic end by one’s own hand may hold on for a little longer, but their days too are numbered.  A resurrection is on its way.

And so, to anyone who is suffering, perhaps in silence, let me say simply this:  you do not have to escape despair through your own death, because despair has already been defeated by Jesus’ death.

He’s your reason to live.

If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, you are loved and there is help.  Talk to a counselor or a pastor at your church.  If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Do it now.  The life God has given you is far too valuable to lose.

June 11, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Who We Really Are

Euthanasia

Physician-assisted suicide has gained limited acceptance in many regions of the country because it has been peddled, in part, as an option for those suffering from the excruciating pain of certain types of terminal illnesses.  Supervised suicide was sold as a way to alleviate physical misery.  A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, however, suggests that the actual reasons people choose assisted suicide are quite different from that of physical suffering.   One of the researchers in the study, Madeline Li, explains that many people consider assisted suicide because of:

…what I call existential distress.  [For some people,] their quality of life is not what they want. They are mostly educated and affluent – people who are used to being successful and in control of their lives, and it’s how they want their death to be.

In one instance cited in this study, a marathon runner found herself confined to her bed because of cancer.  She wanted to take her own life because “that was not how she saw her identity,” Li explained.  In another case, a university professor wanted to die because, according to Li, “he had a brain tumor, and he didn’t want to get to the point of losing control of his own mind, [where he] couldn’t think clearly and couldn’t be present.”

This study reveals that physician-assisted suicide can turn out to be not so much a palliative response to physical pain, but an angry response to the loss of how we see ourselves.  A marathon runner wants to end her life when she can longer run marathons.  A university professor sees no reason to live if he is no longer able to think at the level he once was.  It turns out that when people lose what gives them their identities, they often lose the very will to live.

If nothing else, this study should serve as a warning concerning the dangers of finding your meaning, purpose, and identity in something you are or in something you do, for these types of identities can all too easily be shattered by the wily ravages of this world and this life.  This is why, as Christians, we are called to find who we are in Christ.

When a rich man comes to Jesus in Mark 10 and asks Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by citing a sampling of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”  When the man boasts to Jesus, “All these I have kept as a little boy,” Jesus responds, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”  The rich man, the story says, “went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  It turns out that this man found his meaning, purpose, and identity in his wealth.  And when Jesus asked him to give up the source of his earthly identity, he could not – even to follow Jesus eternally.  May we never make the same devastating mistake.

Physician-assisted suicide carries with it a whole host of ethical problems, including the temptation to place profits over people.  Just last week, The Washington Times reported on a doctor who claimed that some Nevada insurance companies refused to cover certain life-saving treatments he requested for his patients because they were too expensive.  Instead, these companies offered to help his patients end their lives.  If this story is true, such a practice is nothing short of appalling.  But sadly, far too many people do not need a creepy suggestion from a greedy insurance company to consider taking their own lives.  They only need to be so turned in on who they are in this life that they forget about who they are in Christ.

Suicide may be some people’s answer to a loss of identity.  But suicide cannot give someone a new identity.  It cannot give someone hope.  Only Jesus can do that.  So let us find ourselves in Him.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

June 5, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Leelah Alcorn: 1997-2014

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

It’s not easy being 17. I remember. And I’m sure it’s inconceivably harder when you’re a 17-year-old transgender girl whose parents cannot endorse your transgender self-identification because of their theological commitments. This is why Leelah Alcorn stepped out in front of a tractor-trailer on December 28, committing suicide.[1]

As a Christian, it probably comes as no surprise that I cannot in good conscience morally support the transgender lifestyle and movement. Indeed, I call Leelah, born as Joshua, “Leelah” not to endorse her lifestyle, but out of compassion for her as a person.

I find it fascinating that so many in our day and age reflexively use their emotional affections to define the core of their beings. In defining my identity, I define it first redemptively – I am a child of God, bought by Jesus’ blood – second, creationally – I am fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image – and third, vocationally – I am a husband to Melody, a father to Hope, and a pastor in Christ’s church. My emotions and desires simply do not enter into the way I define myself in any primary or particularly formative way.

But for Leelah, they did. And her emotions became a source of deep anguish for her. On her Tumblr page, she chronicled her agonizing journey in a heartbreaking note:

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

Responding to your son or daughter if they come out as transgender the way Leelah’s parents responded to her – if this is, in fact, the way Leelah’s parents responded to her – is not the wisest way to proceed. I would also hope that Christian counselors would offer guidance that is more thoughtful than what Leelah characterizes her therapists’ guidance as being. By the same token, it is hard for Christians to say nothing when, according to Scripture, our created gender is part of our identity as God’s image bearers: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

What, then, can a Christian say?

In Acts 8, Philip is on his way to Gaza when he encounters “an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27). In this day and age, it was common to emasculate high-ranking public officials so they could devote themselves completely to their civic duties and be free from the concerns that marriage and family inevitably bring. Thus, this eunuch traded his identity creationally as a male for his identity vocationally as a public official.

Importantly, the very next line says, “This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship.” This man, it seems, was a believer in the God of Israel. But his worship at the temple would have created quite a stir, considering the injunction of Deuteronomy 23:1: “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.” My guess is, this man was turned away at the door. And yet, he did not turn away from his faith: “On his way home [he] was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 8:28). This is where Philip enters the picture:

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so He did not open His mouth. In his humiliation He was deprived of justice. Who can speak of His descendants? For His life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:30-35)

The passage the eunuch is reading is from Isaiah 53:7-8, a prophecy of the suffering and death of Christ. Interestingly, when Philip explains to the eunuch this passage of Scripture, he does not stop there, he only begins there – at least according to verse 35. Thus, as the two of them continued studying together, they would have eventually come to Isaiah 56:4-5:

This is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose what pleases Me and hold fast to My covenant – to them I will give within My temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

Places in God’s kingdom, the prophet reminds us, are reserved even for those who alter their created gender identity. Because of what Jesus does in Isaiah 53, this eunuch is welcomed into God’s family in Isaiah 56.

Certainly, God created us male and female for His good purposes. And despising how God created us as male and female is sinful. But this does not mean God does not love people who are conflicted in their gender identity. Indeed, this is perhaps the saddest part of Leelah’s story. Leelah grounded her identity on something shifting: how she felt about who she was. When her emotions about her maleness became conflicted, and when she could not find the emotional endorsement she desperately desired from her parents, she sank into despair and took a terrible, irreversible, and heartbreaking course of action. Grounding our identities redemptively, however, can give us hope. For no matter how we may feel about ourselves, a redemptive identity reminds us we are loved by God. Period. God’s love does not shift like our emotions. Which is why His love is a great place – and a safe place – to find who we are.

I wish Leelah would have known this. It may have saved her life.

_________________

[1] Gillain Mohney, “Leelah Alcorn: Transgender Teen’s Reported Suicide Note Makes Dramatic Appeal,” ABC News (12.31.2014).

January 12, 2015 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

Robin Williams

Credit: Ticketmaster

I first heard of Robin Williams’ untimely death thanks to Facebook. My wife Melody was scrolling through her newsfeed when she let out a gasp of disbelief and exclaimed, “Robin Williams died?!” My immediate thought was, “That’s fake.” Celebrity death hoaxes are common, after all. On Facebook alone, I’ve learned of the Rock’s death while filming Fast and Furious 7. I’ve read of Sylvester Stallone’s demise in a snowboarding accident. And I’ve heard that Miley Cyrus took her own life. Of course, none of these death stories are true. But I found out very quickly that Robin Williams’ death story was.

As the world began to grieve, the gruesome details began to emerge. The Marin County, California Police Department held a press conference in which they offered up details – perhaps, too many details – on Williams’ demise. Whatever the gory specifics might be, the overarching cause of death is tragically clear. Robin Williams died by suicide.

Suicide.

Just the word makes people shudder. And ponder. And question.

There are two questions that people often ask me whenever an individual – or, in the case of Robin Williams, a culture – is confronted by the harsh realities of suicide. The first is an explicitly Christian question while the second is more generally transcendent.

First, people ask me, “Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?”

The short answer to this question is, simply, “yes.” From a theological perspective, all of us commit what I call “slow-motion suicide.” Scripture is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Do we know this? Yes. Do we still sin intentionally and willingly? Yes. Thus, we’re killing ourselves with sin. The only difference between what we do to ourselves and what Robin Williams did last Sunday evening is the speed with which he did it. He took his life quickly. We take our lives bit-by-bit, sin-by-sin. If the person who takes his life in an instant can’t be saved, neither can the person who takes his life over decades. News of a suicide, then, is never an opportunity for judgment, but a call to introspection.

I should add that, when Jesus speaks of His forgiveness, He never singles out suicide as some sort of an unforgivable sin. Jesus declares, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them” (Mark 3:28). How many sins does the word “all” include? All of them. Even suicide. Thus, a person who takes his own life can be forgiven by Jesus and saved by Jesus just as well as any other sinner can.  If you want to know more about suicide from a theological perspective, you can check out a blog I wrote a couple of years ago here.

Second, people ask me, “Why?” Why would a person who had so much going for him snuff out his life so recklessly?

The question of “why” has become especially acute in Robin Williams’ case because he left no note. Sadly, where facts are in short supply, gossip and speculation are plenty. I would point out, however, that even when a note is left, the question of “why” is still left unanswered. Even if a person writes of “having nothing left to live for,” or how “people will be better off without me,” those left behind still wonder: “Why didn’t he realize that he had so much to live for?” Or, “Why didn’t he realize what his death would do to us – how it would tear us apart?”

I have come to understand that the question of “why,” when it comes to suicide, has no answer – mainly because the suicidal person himself cannot answer the question. The darkness and confusion that surrounds a person when he takes his own life is so deep that genuine reasoning falters under the crushing weight of depression.

So where does all this leave us? Allow me to offer two parting thoughts.

First, a thought to those contemplating suicide: suicide is a lie of Satan. Satan entices people into suicide by making promises to “free you” or “fix you.” But he wants no such thing for you. He only wants to end you. This is why he seeks to either kill us slowly by enticing us into sin after sin or, if he can, he’ll be delighted to kill us quickly at the bottom of the barrel of a gun or by the brink of a blade. So, if you are contemplating suicide, remember: everything it promises is a lie. Get help from someone who will tell you the truth.

Second, a thought to those who have lost loved ones to suicide: life is the truth of our God. God is the master of snatching life out of the jaws of death. He did it with His Son. And He can do it with those who take their own lives. Indeed, on the Last Day, He will do it with all who trust in Him. Wherever Satan peddles his lies, God crushes them with His truth. And His truth is this: by faith in Christ, your loved one is not beyond hope. Suicidal sinners can be saved too.

I’m looking forward to seeing more than a few of them in heaven.

August 18, 2014 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Theological Look At Suicide

It’s never easy to lose a loved one.  Whether it’s an illness when someone is middle aged, a tragedy when someone is young, or even a so-called “natural” passing when someone is old, death brings tears and mourning.  People may sometimes quaintly call a funeral a “celebration,” but if it is, what a strange way to celebrate – with lowered heads and furrowed brows and muffled sobs.  Truth be told, death is sad.  And death is heartbreaking.

Death becomes especially heartbreaking when it is the result of suicide.  We will often speak of “preventable deaths” – those that could have been avoided if only he wouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel when he was drunk, or if only she would have gone to the doctor sooner after feeling a lump.  But suicide seems to be the ultimate example of a “preventable death.”  After all, the person who lost his life is the same person who took his life…voluntarily.  He held in his own hands the power to choose life or the power to choose death.  And he chose the unthinkable.

When suicide strikes, many questions inevitably arise.  People ask everything from, “How could he be so selfish?” to “Is killing oneself the unforgivable sin?”  Because of the many questions connected to suicide, I thought it would be worth it to take a look at suicide broadly from a theological perspective and seek to clear up some of the persistent misperceptions that surround this heartbreaking act.

In order to understand the Bible’s estimation suicide, we must begin a fundamental observation:  suicide is tragic.  Though this may seem self-evident to many, the reason this observation is necessary is because not everyone has believed this, nor does everyone now believe this.

The most famous suicide of the ancient world is that of Socrates.  After being convicted of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens by criticizing the city’s democratic government, the town’s officials sentenced Socrates to death by poisonous hemlock.  Plato, his close friend and pupil, recounts Socrates drinking the lethal cocktail:

[Socrates] took it, and very gently…without trembling or changing color or expression…Said Socrates, “But I may and must pray to the gods that my departure hence be a fortunate one; so I offer this prayer, and may it be granted.” With these words he raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it.[1]

Notice how nobly, stoically, and even, as Plato says, “cheerfully,” Socrates drinks his poison, more in control of his life – and death – than those who handed down his capital sentence.  It is this stately picture of Socrates’ suicide that gave rise to the opinion of the ancients that it is perfectly acceptable to take one’s own life.  Seneca, a well-known Stoic philosopher, says of suicide, “The best thing which eternal law ever ordained was that it allowed to us one entrance in life, but many exits…This is one reason why we cannot complain of life; it keeps no one against his will….Live, if you so desire; if not, you may return to the place from whence you came.”[2]  More recently, suicide has made headlines because of those who support “Death with Dignity,” a movement which maintains that doctor assisted suicide, in cases of grave and terminal illness, is justified and, yes, even dignified.[3]  For some, suicide is moral and noble.  The Bible, however, paints a starkly different picture of suicide.  Suicide, according to the Bible, is unambiguously proscribed.  Consider the reasons why below.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in death.  Death is deeply evil.  Indeed, the apostle Paul calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), ultimately to be defeated at Christ’s Second Coming.  Death is so evil because it is utterly incompatible with God’s original creative intent.  As we confess in the Nicene Creed, our God is “the Lord and giver of life.”  God is in the business of life, not death!  However, sin introduced what God never intended.  Therefore, we are to hate death rather than embracing it as suicide does.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in murder.  Most famously, murder is prohibited by the Fifth Commandment:  “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).  But long before Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to Israel, murder was outlawed as a heinous ill.  Immediately following the great flood of Noah’s day, God commands, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6).  Notice the general nature of both of these prohibitions.  Moses’ prohibition against murder is a blanket one without so much as a direct object to specify who should not be murdered.  God’s prohibition to Noah does contain a direct object – “man” – but this direct object is a general one, referring to mankind.  The killing of humans by other humans, then, is clearly and consistently forbidden in the Scriptures.  Thus, even the killing of oneself breaks the command of God.

The Bible prohibits suicide because it results in abuse.  It is difficult to think of a more dire abuse of one’s body than the taking of one’s life.  Because God created our bodies, redeems our bodies through His Son Jesus Christ, and will raise our bodies on the Last Day, our bodies – and what we do with them – matter to God!  As Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Killing one’s body can hardly be considered an honorable way to treat one’s body.

It is important to note that honoring God with one’s body precludes not only suicide, but anything that damages the body.  There are many people who refuse to honor God with their bodies in countless ways and for countless reasons.  Some do not eat well.  Some do not exercise.  Some do not visit their physicians.  When these people sometimes die prematurely, they do so to everyone’s sorrow, but not necessarily to everyone’s shock.  After all, we know that abuse can eventually result in death.  So often, we confine our definition of “suicide” to a one-time act that ends in the loss of life.  But far too many people are willing to commit what I call “slow-motion suicide” by abusing their bodies over months, years, and decades.  This too is prohibited by Paul’s injunction in 1 Corinthians 6.

Though the Bible flatly condemns suicide, even something as seemingly final as the taking of one’s life is not unsalvageable for the Christian.  People will sometimes refer to suicide as “the unforgivable sin.”  The thinking goes like this:  because a person who commits suicide cannot repent of his sin, he cannot be forgiven and will therefore be eternally damned.  This thinking, however, is flawed on two counts.  First, this thinking does not take into account the extenuating circumstances that often accompany suicide, for a person who takes his own life often does so during a moment of deep despair, depression, or even insanity.  This can hardly be considered to be a belligerent and unrepentant sin against God.  Rather, the person who takes his life in this kind of an instance may not even understand what he is doing.  Second, the thinking that calls suicide “unforgivable” assumes repentance is a cognitive act of sorrow that feels remorse over a specific sin and that this remorse is necessary to offset a sin’s damnable effect.  This, however, is not a true picture of biblical repentance.  For if a person had to feel cognitive remorse for every sin specifically, none could be saved, for we all commit sins that we either do not remember or do not even notice in the first place.  This is why the Psalmist pleads with God, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).  Notice that the Psalmist makes a distinction between “hidden faults” and “willful sins.”  The “hidden faults” are those sins unknown to the Psalmist whereas the “willful sins” are those sins which the Psalmist has intentionally and knowingly committed.  The Psalmist believes that God will forgive both types of sins – both his known and unknown sins.

Martin Luther says of repentance, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Repent, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”[4]  Like the Psalmist, Luther believes that repentance is more than just specific remorse over a specific sin; rather, repentance is part and parcel of the posture of a Christian’s heart, for a repentant Christian continually believes that he is a person who continually sins and is thereby continually in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Thus, just because a person does not express remorse for committing suicide specifically does not mean that he is not living a life of repentance generally.

Some people may still ask, “But what about Judas?  Didn’t Judas commit suicide and didn’t he go to hell?”  Though it is true that Scripture implies Judas’ ultimate eternal damnation (cf. Acts 1:25), we must understand that Judas did not go to hell because he committed suicide, but because he refused to trust in Jesus to forgive his sin.  Matthew tells us, “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse” (Matthew 27:3).  The Greek word for “remorse” is metamelomai. Though there is some semantic overlap, this word is nevertheless distinct from the Greek word for “repentance,” which is metanoia.  Thus, even though Judas seems to experience some level of remorse over his terrible wickedness, he does not seem to repent of his sin and turn to Christ for forgiveness.  Tragically, Judas’ remorse leads only to despair which leads only to his eventual suicide.  The stain of human sin cannot be absolved by feeling bad about oneself through remorse.  It can only be absolved by turning to Jesus in repentance.

Finally, it is important that we support and encourage those who have lost loved ones to suicide and seek immediate help for those who may be considering suicide.  As Christians, we are called to remind everyone that, through faith in Christ, despair and death do not need to have the final say.  God’s plan of eternal, joyous life for us can ultimately prevail.  As the apostle Paul exclaims:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)

Despair and death are no match for the victory and life that Jesus brings.  Of this we can be sure!  And in this we can take comfort.


[1] Plato, Phaedo 117b-117c.

[2] Seneca, Epistulae Morales 70.

[3] In 1994, Measure 16 established the state of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.”  This allows terminally ill Oregonians to end their lives by means of a doctor-assisted suicide.

[4] Martin Luther, “95 Thesis,” Thesis 1.

August 13, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,987 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Calendar

January 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

%d bloggers like this: