Feel Trapped? A Biblical Perspective on Suicide
Some 23,000 people are murdered in the United States each year, and 32,000 Americans commit suicide. Children ages 10–15 are now twice as likely to commit suicide as they were 15 years ago.
A ten-year-old boy, a successful executive, a recent retiree, a pastor’s wife and mother, a brilliant teacher who struggled with depression, a college coed and minister’s daughter, an individual with a terminal illness—each of these people took his or her own life, leaving behind family and friends who still grieve. Most people have been touched by suicide in one way or another—a friend, a family member, a coworker, a neighbor. Many have even considered it themselves.
“Not to be fortified with good ideas is to be victimized by bad ones,” said Carl F. H. Henry, describing the chaos in many people’s lives and in our culture. Ideas have consequences, privately and publicly; truth begets truth and error begets error. One bad idea, prevalent today, is the glorification of suicide in all its forms (self-murder, euthanasia, physician-assisted). Right-to-die proponents encourage the decision to terminate life in philosophical, medical, and legal arenas. The courts then fortify and finally popularize it in euphemistic terms for social acceptance.
“Why?” The question echoes through the canyon of grief. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide painfully faces this question innumerable times after the death. Yet there is no single answer as to why people kill themselves; many circumstances can serve as the catalyst. Those who commit suicide often mistakenly believe that it does not matter if they die, that no one will miss them, that friends and family will be better off without them, and that suicide is the only way to escape their misery. For most suicidal people, the goal is not death, but stopping emotional pain. Comments such as, “It hurts so much,” “I can’t stand it any longer,” and “I just want peace,” are common. Ultimately, suicide is not about death, but about living. It is about exaggeration of fears and circumstances that leads to emotional tunnel vision that makes one erroneously think death is preferable to life. They view suicide as a means of escape, and it becomes a permanent solution to a temporary problem or series of problems. Regrettably, those who choose suicide are either unwilling or unable to see the terrible consequences of their act in the lives of families and friends. Suicide always creates more pain than it alleviates.
We must take seriously Peter’s warning, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9a, NASB). When we struggle with Satan’s destructive efforts, we must refuse to sink beneath the waves of doubt or depression. We must each keep vigil, regularly resolving the normal pressures of work and family vocation. The struggle against the acceptance of suicide in our society must begin with the safeguarding of one’s own soul. The solution to life’s complexities lies in the simplicity of the gospel and rests on the message of the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul emphasizes the importance of the resurrection: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (v. 17).
Helpless, hopeless, and worthless are words the suicidal often use to describe their feelings. Yet an understanding and daily application of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides hope. With Christ there is always hope. Christ’s resurrection offers present and eternal hope. Pain, fear, frustration, uncertainty, loneliness, and discouragement are all real, but the reality of Christ’s resurrection is equally real. Jesus offers to all who respond a hope for living—a hope beyond suffering, pain, and despair.
The crises that push people toward suicide are real, and we must never demean or diminish them. But just as real are the solutions—medically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our lives are not our own; rather, life is a gift from God. The Bible writers repeatedly emphasize the dignity and worth of every human life. Dr. Kevorkian does not have the answer to life’s problems, but Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, does. He offers to each of us abundant life (John 10:10), in this world and the next, if we come to Him in faith.
If you have lost someone you loved to suicide, remember the psalmist’s words: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). In the midst of tears, trauma, and tragedy, we find assurance that God hears our prayers and petitions. God knows our emotions, fears, and circumstances and will be faithful if we turn to Him. Healing takes time, but it will come. Don’t be afraid to cry, for in your tears you will begin to recover. The choice that was made was not yours. You experience the pain, but you are not to blame for what has happened. You can survive this tragedy and move beyond it. Look to God for strength and help to know that He will give you sufficient grace each day as you journey ahead.
If you personally are discouraged or suicidal, talk with someone about your feelings and get appropriate medical and pastoral care immediately. Find a friend, family member, pastor, physician, or suicide hotline and talk. Feelings of loneliness, discouragement, depression, and hopelessness can be resolved. They are temporary, and help is available. Your life is too important to God and to others for you to commit suicide.
If you think someone is suicidal, don’t watch and wait. Talk to them, listen, and encourage them to get help. Offer assistance and solicit from them a promise that they won’t kill themselves “now,” “today” or “tonight.” Then, don’t leave them alone nor hesitate to call for help or emergency services. Most suicidal people give warning signs that are cries for help. The situation you encounter may well be one of life and death, and your response is critical.
In all our actions, regardless of the circumstances, we are to affirm life because we have the assurance of God’s presence and love. We also have the certainty that one day God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, NASB).
When the torrents of life crash over us and the gales of change shriek through our culture, we must cling to the truths of Scripture and rest in the peace and plan of God. We lack the wisdom to make decisions without Him. God set two ways before Israel which are ultimately set before humanity—one of life in Him and one of death: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days” (Deut. 30:19–20, NKJV).
Tim Demy (Th.M. 81, Th.D. 90) is a military chaplain who has authored numerous books. He served as coeditor of Suicide: A Christian Perspective.