One of TV’s most popular show in the 1970’s was a Korean War army hospital show called MASH. The theme tune that played was called ‘Suicide is painless’. I thought of that line as the NZ Herald on 26 February this year focused on NZ’s appalling statistics on youth deaths, and the role suicide played in those statistics. These numbers for NZ are a national shame. No only amongst our youth but amongst middle aged, men in both categories in particular. Though the incidence of women attempting suicide is higher, the ‘success rate’ (what a vile way to think of it) among men is much much higher.
We have the worst statistics in the ‘developed world’. For far far too many, death is preferable to life.
How do we reconcile this with the knowledge that NZ is an educated, wealthy, peaceful beautiful country? Something is devastatingly wrong with the message too many of our people are hearing.
It is often said that suicide is selfish. In the eyes and lives of those who are affected by it, it is. For those who lose loved ones, work colleagues and friends in this way, it is devastating. It leaves people laden with guilt, it leaves questions unanswered, it leaves unimaginable pain.
The NZ Mental Health Organisation says this: ‘Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want their pain to end or can’t see another way out of their situation’. And Rick Warren, a world renowned Christian author and pastor says this: ‘‘suicide is a permanent irreversible attempt to solve a temporary problem.’ (Rick lost a son to suicide).
Suicide is an action taken out of pain. It isn’t the act of the selfish, it is the act of the broken. Broken by loneliness, financial pressure, confusion, not conforming to expectations, being bullied – in each case a sense of hopelessness.
Suicide affects a wide range of people – good people, Christian people, successful people, lost people damaged people. Young, old, men and women.
It should be seen and is as a national crisis. What then is the church’s response?
There are a number of biblical responses that can be made to suicide, I won’t cover them all.
Firstly – it is a sin. The derivative of the word is self-murder. And murder is condemned in the bible; this includes murder of self. Suicide is the intentional taking of a life, even if it is your own. 1. It’s a breach of God’s command, it fails to acknowledge the beauty the power the value of life, even your own – it disregards the sanctity of human life, it is a stain on the creative work of God.
Secondly – it feeds into a narrative that says suffering is to be avoided at all costs. That isn’t a scriptural view of the world this side of eternity. We are reminded through scripture time and time again that we are in a world that is fallen, that suffering is a part of the world we are in. In the West in particular we are increasingly failing to see value in suffering. Where as many parts of the world acknowledges that suffering can be an integral part of finding value in life. For a Christian, the way we respond to suffering is one of our most valuable forms of witness.
Thirdly – it can show us that we have our love priorities out of order. The things that are defining us when they are removed from us, cause us such pain that we feel we need to escape. Money, health, looks, popularity, success, these become the most important things in life. But we are called to love God above everything.
Fourthly – suicide is an indication that we have lost hope. In the Christian view, this means we have lost trust in God. We have failed to see that God is always with us, knows us, understands us, cares for us, loves us and will never ever leave us. We have forgotten to remind ourselves over and over again that we are loved by God and that he is faithful to his promises to us.
Suicide is an evil.
What is our response?
We need to acknowledge that there are people who are hurting, and we need to be looking out for them. And if we are hurting we need to acknowledge that we are and reach out. People don’t know what they don’t know.
Men particularly bottle things up. Worried about appearing weak. But asking for help isn’t weakness. Not seeking it is. Ambrose (Bishop of Milan in the 4th century) wrote , ‘Not all weeping proceeds from unbelief or weakness’, after all Jesus wept. Be vulnerable, reach out.
In our community no one should be alone.
Helmut Thielicke (a German theologian) wrote, “There are many suicides — not because people have too little money or suffer disappointments in love but because they lost the meaning of life and see themselves confronted by a black wall.” There appears to be no solution for the problems they face. Overcome with intolerable despair the individual feels trapped in a “no exit” situation. Suicide seems the only way out.
It is the erosion of hope that makes suffering unbearable. But dear friends there is hope. We are not alone in feeling despair. Scripture is full of those who felt it, who felt alone and afraid. David, King of Israel , expressed his in the Psalms frequently. This man who was called a friend of God.
There is hope. The gospel, God’s story is good news. That Gospel is a Gospel of Hope. That is God’s story from Genesis to Revelation. The world is screwed up, our lives can feel screwed up – this agonising sense of aloneness, loneliness , not been understood and seeing no way out.
There is hope !!! It is into that despair that God steps. He looked at broken world, he looks at broken us, and says, ‘I’m doing something about it’, I’m not leaving you alone.
In Psalm 23:4 David writes, ‘ Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me’.
David writes that he does not fear because God is with him. He relies on God’s presence, and it brings him strength and comfort. The picture here is David in a valley, the mountains are casting a shadow plunging him into darkness. But for there to be a shadow, there has to be a light. I don’t know what your “valley of the shadow of death” is, but I do know who the Light is that is walking with you in that valley – you are never alone.
We can’t determine God’s love for us based on good or bad circumstances. We determine his love based on the cross and what he did for us on it. And what does that cross mean? It means that it isn’t the end because the story didn’t finish there. We are children of the resurrected Christ – we have hope based on that resurrection. Our future is one of perfect unhindered, uninterrupted love, love with God and with others.
If you are feeling desperate, if your energy is getting low, if you are feeling lonely, afraid or hopeless. Talk to me, talk to the elders. We are here for you. Let us pray for you, the Bible says in James 5 ‘ Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results’.
Remind yourself of the promises of God. Rely on his word, and speak his words to yourself. Listen to these verses for example:
- Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
- Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.
- Nehemiah 8:10 Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
And there are so many more.
Remind yourself of God’s great love for you. You are valued. Don’t you understand that ? The creator God has made you, he knows you, he loves you and has plans for you for your good. He will never leave you, you are always safe in his arms.
Psalms 86.5 ‘You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you’
Psalms 86.15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. –
Psalms 136.26 ‘Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever’.
Zephaniah 3.17 ‘The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing’.
1 John 4.9-11 ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’.
Romans 8.37-39 ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Godin Christ Jesus our Lord’.
May you know God’s deep deep love and his hope