This 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.