Suicide

Copy_of_man_with_hands_in_despair-248x156This week I received news of a minister who in his retirement years took his own life. A friend emailed me and asked my thoughts about the soul that commits suicide.  The following is my reply.

I’m so sorry to hear this news. It is sad to see a deeply troubled soul. I grieve for his family and friends. The questions are many and any answer or explanation is inadequate. I am aware of several ministers, godly men, who ended their life tragically like this. We grieve over his soul’s lack of hope, his overwhelming despair, and his inability to seeing anything worth living for. We can only surmise the mental and emotional pain he must have been experiencing.

As you know, there are many different reasons/causes for a soul in despair. Depression and other mental illnesses may be due to an absence of certain chemicals in the brain, trauma, unmet expectations, pain, sin, or poor self identity. The list is lengthy. We are complex beings and our body, soul, and spirit interact in mysterious and marvelous ways. Brain research is just beginning to scratch the surface on the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. If I have an imbalance of important chemicals in my brain, no matter how hard I try, I can’t control the mental and emotional aspects of my being. Sometimes doctors are able to formulate the right concoction of drugs to replace the missing chemicals in our body. Unfortunately, sometimes the side effects of such prescriptions are worse than the symptoms and themselves lead a person to end life. Whatever the underlying causes for this act, it impaired his ability to hear the voice of God and to find peace. Or in a strange way, maybe his trust in God and his faith in heaven, resulted in the decision to escape the present pain for an everlasting joy.

Some of our curiosity to know how people died or why they suffered from a mental illness may have to do with our desire to control our destiny. If we eat the right food, or if we exercise and not drink alcohol, read our Bible each day and pray, or believe the right things, then maybe we will not come down with that same affliction. What is bothering about individuals, like your friend, is that he was committed to Christ, did all the right things, and still came to a disturbing conclusion.

While each of us can determine certain things and through self-control improve our quality of life, much of life is out of our control. We can’t control our genetic predispositions, circumstances, or other people. We can’t control the aging process, or changing hormones. We can’t control the economy. We just can’t control life. Because of the BRCA1 genetic mutation I inherited from my ancestors, if I live long enough, I will get pancreatic cancer. There is nothing I can do about it. We can either accept the fact that we can’t control life and put our trust in God, or continue our pursuit of control. Suicide bothers us because we view it as playing God. In a sense, suicide is a final act of control.

Before we are too quick to judge him, each day we all play God when we assume control of life. So, as in other things that we cannot control or explain, we trust God to be good and to be Lord. He fashioned us before the world began and knows each one of us intimately. He understands the reasons for this person’s agony, and sees the totality of his life, not just this one selfish, desperate act. We are comforted in knowing that this troubled soul is now at peace. This is grace. And maybe our remembrance of this person will help us to surrender our control of life and trust God regardless of the circumstance or season of life.

Looking forward,

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2 responses to “Suicide

  1. This article is well written. I have just a few other thoughts.
    The Scriptures are remarkably silent on suicide. It documents that it happens, but it also says nothing explicit.
    However, there is the understanding that life is a treasure to God the creator. It is not much of a leap in our belief system to even call suicide, the most selfish action a person can commit, a sin. Note, there is no Scriptural evidence that suicide is the unforgiveable sin, but sin none the less.
    Suicide is the act of a person focused solely on self. Mental illness, extreme pain, and the myriad other causes of hopeless thinking are not unknown to God, He understands.
    In short, suicide is disobedience. As in all disobedience, the desire of God’s heart is for use to be blessed, not disobedient.
    It is wrong to place suicide in a conversation about salvation. It belongs in a conversation about trust and living in a trusting relationship. Therein lies hope.

  2. Linda McGillivray

    Having experienced the loss of a grandfather to suicide when I was 16, I can speak firsthand to the effects of such an act on loved ones nearby. My grandfather was known for his Christian walk, for his selfless service and his care of my grandmother for years who suffered from hardening of the arteries.

    To say that his act took over our lives would be an understatement. Other details in this “murder-suicide” situation are too painful to share, let alone recall for very long. However, my point is that the negative effect on those of us who observed his spiritual walk and then disappearance into depression and grief after my grandmother’s death can only be described as anguish on his behalf and horror after his death. We could only cling to our own beliefs by the merest thread until time and perspective gave us the exact viewpoint that you expressed.

    To serve a God who would only focus on our last, desperate act after a lifetime of journeying faithfully with Christ is beyond comprehension. God is a just God and mighty to save. I thank you, Dr. Eldridge, for the generosity of spirit that lets you comfort the family of this pastor. Your words validating the life of this man while recognizing his human frailty will keep some member of that family from slipping into the abyss of unbelief because of a lonely hurting soul who lost his way for a moment, but was loved by the Savior of all mankind. It took me years and much study to reach your conclusion. Maybe your words will help one of those in his family get there a little sooner.

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