It was recently the fourth anniversary of the suicide of a good friend of mine – the husband of one of my dearest friends, and the father of their two young boys. Suicide is accompanied by so many emotions from the survivors. As a friend, I have experienced just a fraction of the sadness and despair that Joe’s wife and their children have. However, the feelings are there – the deep, intense unbelief; the sadness for myself, for my friend, for his family. It is a sadness unlike any other because it comes with so much lack of understanding – the “why ?” , the “couldn’t-you-hold-on ?”, the “your-family-and-friends-love-you”, the “but-you-had-help”, the “but-you-were-so-young-and-had-so-much-to-live-for”, the “God-loves-you-and-will-help-you-through-this”. My unbelief. That he is gone. Often from survivors, particularly of a Christian suicide victim, come niggling questions about his faith, or lack of it. Did his faith fail him? Did he commit an unforgiveable sin and not make it to heaven? These are not questions I had but they are questions I hear coming from the mouths of many Christians, at times like this. They are questions, I believe, that come from an ignorance of depression and addiction, an ignorance of true despair, and indeed, an ignorance of the truth of the Gospel.
I believe that most suicides occur in the depths of despair – induced by depression and/or addiction. If you have ever been truly depressed, you know that clear-thinking is not an option. You become trapped in a dark, bottomless pit, that only gets darker and darker and darker. I think it becomes so dark, sometimes, that while you may continue to pray for relief from God, you can no longer see even a glimmer of light. You see yourself as not worthy, as God not wanting to help. As some people who suffer from depression seek solace in drugs, as they once found solace in God, the downward spiral intensifies. People with a mental disease, do not have the freedom to make a choice to move away from or to God…the mental disease makes you incapable of moving anywhere but down. Imagine being stuck in a frozen river or lake. You want to get out. Initially, you know you have to get out, but slowly, the cold slows your body down, your mind ceases to function coherently, and starts to hallucinate. Eventually you can not move…you can not even think about getting out of the situation you are in. I think depression that leads to suicide may be something like this.
I do not mean to pretend that I know the ins-and-outs of suicide. I do not even mean to pretend I know what it is to be in a truly deep depression but I have known personally what depression is; I have seen in my family and friends a degree of anxiety, depression, and mental illness that is so disabling that thoughts of God can not penetrate the despair. This is not to say that God is not with them. This is not to say that God can not help them. I am just saying that I believe that their mental condition is such that they can not reach out to God any longer. They can not see the hope that is in God. As Frederick Buechner says in Whistling in the Dark, “…If you’re burning alive with a loaded pistol in your hand, it’s hard to see how anyone can seriously hold it against you for pulling the trigger.”
Jesus died for our sins….He did not say He would die just for the little sins, like eating your brother’s pancake…He said He was dying for ALL our sins. He himself went to the Cross, enduring excruciating death…does that not show the depths of forgiveness we will be graced with…a pain and agony such as that must lead to a HUGE forgiveness. I realise I am a sinner. I know I sin all the time but I also know that I am not even aware of half the time I sin against God. However, because I have taken Jesus into my heart and because I know He died for my sins…Jesus lives in me and I am always trying to do my best, to live a life as close to Him as possible. And I know, that even if I am not aware of a sin I commit, Jesus is aware, and He forgives that…whatever that sin is, unless it is against Him, personally. Are we to say, that because we do not like the idea of suicide that it is an unforgiveable sin? I do not think that is for us to decide.
It is interesting to note, that while suicide does occur in the Bible, it is never judged morally. It never states, that so-and-so is evil and going to hell. In 1 Samuel 31:2-5, Saul commits suicide. You could interpret this action as Saul being afraid of being attacked by the enemy but I see it more as an act of courage, to prevent the enemy getting information from him, and them priding themselves on killing Saul. I think too, when Saul’s armor-bearer killed himself, he was not doing so out of fear but out of honor for his king. Saul’s men bury them both properly and mourn him for seven days. No moral judgement is even made of Judas, after he betrayed Jesus. That said, betraying Jesus is the ultimate sin, is it not? However, even Judas, before he killed himself, realized that he had sinned by betraying Jesus, and tried to change the outcome of his actions, by returning the money (Matthew 27:3-5). But again, in an act of despair, Judas killed himself, likely thinking that he was not worthy to live, having betrayed His Father.
So, is suicide a selfish act? Is it an unforgiveable sin? From what I have read in Scripture and from a variety of Christian theologians, I think not. Yes, suicide is a sin…but so is idolising your iPhone. Jesus forgives both of these sins. And we, as the survivors, rather than judging and being filled with anger and regret, should be filled with love and compassion, and understanding. No one, in their right mind, wants to kill themselves. A Christian person has to be in a place of utmost despair in which there seems no hope. To leave family and friends and to place on them the pain and suffering of their loss, is to be in a place in which their mental state no longer allows them to feel the loving presence of God. I believe they are forgiven. They are free. At last.