“Your packing a suitcase to a place that none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen.”
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
I have needed to write this ever since the death of Robin Williams. Every public suicide gets to me. Well . . . every suicide I hear about gets to me, public or not. I wish it didn’t. I wish it was some distant thing that was as familiar to me as plane crashes, getting struck by lightening, or the death penalty. Sure, I have heard about those things and they are tragic, but they are what happens to those on the other side of the world, not to me. Suicide is different since, as many of you know, my sister killed herself in 2004.
These are suicidal thoughts on suicide because when I think about this subject or put some thoughts to paper, it is almost more than I can bear. To think this world affords us the pain and suffering that it must take to pull the proverbial trigger makes me quite troubled.
Statistics on Suicide
Here are some basic statistics on suicide:
- A suicide occurs every 15 minutes in USA
- 35,000 per year
- Fourth leading cause of death of people ages 18-65
- There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but twice as many females as males attempt suicide.
- Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.
- More active duty soldiers die from suicide than from combat
“Hold me now . . . Cause I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking, maybe six feet ain’t that far down.”
“One Last Breath”
Suicides in the Bible
It might be interesting to note that there are quite a few suicides recorded in the Bible. Here is what I found.
1. Abimelech – Judges 9:54
2. Samson – Judges 16:30
3. King Saul – 1 Sam. 31:4
4. King Saul’s armour-bearer – 1 Sam 31:5
5. Ahithophel – 2 Sam. 17:23
6. Zimri – 1 Kings 16:18
7. Judas – Matt. 27:5
Questions About Suicide
1. Can Christians Kill Themselves?
The simple answer to this question is “yes.” To somehow make suicide as an unforgivable sin is not only unbiblical but destroys the essence of the Gospel. Despite this, there are many Christians who have been led to believe that suicide cannot be forgiven. Where does this come from?
More than likely it comes from bad theology of the past. Before the Reformation we used to distinguish between two types of sin: mortal and venial. A mortal sin was that which destroys the grace of God in our soul. Anyone who committed a mortal sin was no longer saved. A venial sin was the type which does not destroy God’s grace, but one that we would have to suffer for in this life or in Purgatory. Murder was considered a mortal sin. Suicide is self-murder. And since there was no way to repent of this sin in this life, suicide was thought to be unforgivable.
In the sixteenth century, the Reformers rejected this mortal/venial distinction of sin. There is simply no justification for saying that certain types of sins were so bad that they needed a special dispensation of the grace of God in order to be or remain saved. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin immediately and forever not just the ones that are not quite as bad (1 John 1:7).
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Could you imagine if this verse needed to be qualified by suicide? “Nothing (ahem . . . except suicide) can separate you from the love of God. . . ” Death—even suicide—cannot separate you from God’s love.
Unfortunately, Christians do kill themselves. But fortunately, they are still in God’s loving merciful hands and we will see them again in glory.
2. Why do Christians Kill Themselves?
This is a more difficult question to answer. Not so much because it is hard to find the answer but because people think that being a Christian somehow shields us from such thoughts. This is not the case. In answer to the question “Why do Christians kill themselves?” it is quite simple: for the same reasons non-Christians kill themselves. Life’s circumstances fare no better for believers than for others. The divorce rate is the same, cancer rate is the same, just as many Christians find themselves out of work as non-Christians, and tragedy is no less likely to enter our lives than others.
In fact, one might make the case that Christians have much more temptation to do so (at least from the outside) than non-Christians. We believe that we are in a hostile world that is filled with evil and evil powers that have every intention of combating our love for God. Satan approached Job because he had a faith unlike any other on earth. And after Satan was allowed to inflict tragedy upon tragedy on Job, there are many time that I see Job as having a death wish. It was a miracle that he did not kill himself.
And from what I can see from Scripture, whenever Satan gains maximum influence upon a person, they are suicidal. I think of the demoniac who sought to hurt himself (Mark 5:5) and the boy who continually was throwing himself in the fire and water trying to “destroy” himself (Mark 9:22). Even the pigs into whom the demons where cast could think of nothing but suicide (Luke 8:33). So it seems clear that when the hostility of our world is personified, suicide is his main agenda.
One of the questions that my sister continually asked me during her depression was if I was sure that Christians who commit suicide go to heaven. That was a difficult question to answer, knowing what she was planning. Since then I have often wondered if suicide was not more of a temptation for Christians (in one respect) due to the fact that we know we will be out of pain and with God.
In short, the circumstances that cause one to be so distraught with life that they are willing to take their own life exist just as much (if not more so) with Christians as they do with non-Christians.
3. Who does it Affect?
Ten years after the death of Angie, this is where I pause and take the deepest breath. Why? Because I don’t know how to communicate this to those of you who are considering suicide more passionately. Angie used to say that we would all forget about her death after a year or two. She said we would get on with our lives and everyone would be okay. Nothing has been further from the truth.
They say that living with suicide cannot be compared to anything else. Like murder, it leaves a mark of darkness that more natural deaths do not. Since the death of my sister our family has experienced a roller-coaster of terrible events that I don’t think would have taken place otherwise. My father immediately started drinking heavily again. His guilt put him on a road that he never came back from—a road only for those with a death wish. He died last November at 66, the official cause being pneumonia. The actual cause was guilt. The type of guilt that hopes for death and does not care about physical health and refuses to check into a hospital when pneumonia is about to kill. My mother could not come out of her depression after Angie’s death. She cried for two years as her blood pressure rose. Finally an aneurysm ruptured and left her paralyzed; a different person. Me and my sisters have experienced significant depression since Angie’s death. We have all learned to live with it but her death provides an ambient static background noise to our entire lives. It never leaves us.
So, if you think your death will cause very little ripples in the lives of your loved ones, I beg you to think again. It will cripple them in so many ways for the rest of their lives. Christ redeems all things, including suicide, but we would all trade your death for your life a thousand times over.
4. How do we Prevent it?
I wish I knew how to prevent this. I don’t. Of course, first and foremost, we need to help people open up about their problems, both to themselves and others. This is a non-negotiable. Then they can seek help. But beyond that, I don’t know how to prevent it. I don’t know what I would do differently with my sister. So often, there is no way to prevent it. We just place these brokenhearted souls in the hands of our merciful and gracious God and reserve any judgement. This is a really tough world and, for some, it is a lot tougher than others.
But I would like to think that if Angie read this she would at least know how far reaching her decision would be. Would that have prevented her from doing what she did? I doubt it . . . but maybe. Maybe it would have given her one more day and her brain would have, as she put it, stop trying to kill her. Maybe it would have motivated her to check herself into a place more long term. Maybe it would have let her see past her own pain just for long enough to see the total wave of pain it would bring about.
This all makes me long for the day when pain will be no more. I am forever brokenhearted for those who desire death this much and for those who have had loved ones that desired death this much.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]