Suicide: How Jesus Christ Keeps Us From It
Have you ever felt the urge to end it all? To just be done with all the pain and disappointments of life, the selfish and mean people you have to deal with, the seemingly impossible circumstances of each day, and most of all, the hopeless horror of your own dark thoughts? Many people have; I believe most have had at least a fleeting thought that it might be a good idea. It seems an easy answer. Just do it, run from my problems and kill myself; whatever awaits must be better than what I am dealing with.
It seems an easy answer. But, it is a lie. The one whispering to us to kill ourselves is the devil himself, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. Puritan Thomas Watson believed that the sudden impulse to murder oneself to be one of the devil’s fiery darts.
Why are we tempted to take our own lives? There a many reasons, some seemingly rational and others completely irrational.*
1. People. People are sinners, just like me. And because of that, even at their best, they will do and say things that hurt or disappoint us. People are far from perfect and they often fail us despite good intentions. But, it is much worse than this. Many have experienced unspeakable abuse at the hands of parents, spouses, children, or friends. Many have been unnaturally abandoned, whether physically or emotionally, by those they trusted. Broken promises, painful words, and despicable deeds all injure our souls. It is enough at times for some to want to take their own lives.
2. Circumstances. In the midst of great adversity, hardship, and suffering, we can be convinced that suicide is the way to peace and the escape from our troubles. People with painful or terminal physical illness, those in mental anguish, those who are in great physical need, or those who are in a seemingly hopeless social situation are easily persuaded to end their own lives.
3. Myself. I am my main problem. We can each be filled with high-intensity self-loathing. We may hate ourselves for our failures, whether moral, physical, relational or financial. We may hate ourselves for our lack of discipline, for our glaring sins, for our perceived failure to achieve even a minuscule amount of greatness. We often lacerate ourselves for our own foolishness and stupidity, and we frequently are filled with regret and remorse. We are often crippled by our own sense of guilt. It may be specific, or it may be free-floating. We feel guilty because we are truly guilty: we have offended God and other humans in many intentional and unintentional ways. Yet, we often are loaded down with false guilt we should never take on. We know we need to be relieved of the guilt and the guilty feelings we have. If we believe we can never objectively and really be rid of our guilt, suicide seems a reasonable solution. We need forgiveness from God and others.
4. My thoughts. Sometimes, we can be wracked with hopeless or horrible thoughts that we cannot shake. Sometimes my mind can be a frightening place to inhabit. Sometimes, I can be obsessed by terrible thoughts that come unbidden. And self-murder may seem a plausible escape.
The common theme, description, and expression connecting all of these reasons is despair. When we are hopeless and desperate enough, for any reason, death seems to be a very welcome option, and we can be drawn to it easily. And the devil is there encouraging us to go ahead and get it over with. This is a mercy killing, we are told. I am being merciful to myself if I put myself out of my misery.
So, why not kill myself?
1. It is wrong. “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) This commandment includes all human life, even my own.
2. Suicide destroys the image of God placed in me by virtue of my being human. I am an image-bearer of God, no matter how marred and defaced. I have no right to destroy myself.
3. Only the sovereignly good God has the power of life and death. To take my own life is to take God’s glory and prerogative for myself; it is idolatry.
4. Suicide leaves no room for God to work. It circumvents God’s active rescue. God is patient with me; why cannot I be patient with God, hoping in him, waiting for him to act? God acts in his own timeframe, according to his own will, and his plans are never thwarted. His plans, actions and timing are always perfect. But, in suicide, I am giving up on God. I am saying that he is not good, he is not able to deliver me, he does not keep his promises. I am saying he is bad, powerless, or a liar. I am saying that all is utterly hopeless. I am saying that there is no God of the Bible.
5. Ultimate despair contains ultimate faithlessness, and it will always lead to suicide or death by some other means. God graciously and lovingly desires, even requires, that we trust him no matter what, and he will give us the ability to believe him so that we can hang on.
6. Do I really want to face Jesus immediately after my final act on earth of killing myself, one of the most God-dishonoring acts possible?
7. My greatest need is to be at peace with the God who made me and loves me. My greatest need, to put it another way, is to have my sins forgiven, for it is my sins that keep me from God and a full, open relationship with him. Jesus offers us forgiveness of any sin; he made it possible through his death and shed blood on the cross. Have you ever had the perverse and terrifying thought that God can never forgive you for your sins, or for a particular sin? This thought is from hell. Jesus is accepting, humble and gentle, and he offers forgiveness to any who will come to him and ask. Jesus would have forgiven Judas if he had only asked. Here on earth, in the time we inhabit, Jesus gives us the peace and forgiveness that we need.
8. Jesus Christ loves me and he has promised to never leave me. He has promised to deliver me, to save me, to rescue me, to bless me,to lead me, and to use me. And he always keeps his promises because he is good and he is all-powerful. The love of Jesus Christ for me is enough to keep me from euthanizing myself. He proved to me that he loved me by his death on the cross for me while I was a sinner and his enemy. He proves to me that he loves me by the Holy Spirit he has given me to remind me of his love. And his plans for me are always for his glory and my good.
John Bunyan understood the overwhelming power of despair and doubt. He discusses it at length in his allegory, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Christian and Hopeful are caught by the Giant Despair and taken to his stronghold, Doubting Castle. Here is what Bunyan says:
“Now there was, not far from the place where they lay, a castle, called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair, and it was in his grounds they now were sleeping…..So they were forced to go, because he was stronger than they. They also had but little to say, for they knew themselves in a fault. The giant, therefore, drove them before him, and put them into his castle, into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking to the spirits of these two men. Here, then, they lay from Wednesday morning till Saturday night, without one bit of bread, or drop of drink, or light, or any to ask how they did; they were, therefore, here in evil case, and were far from friends and acquaintance. Now in this place Christian had double sorrow, because it was through his unadvised counsel that they were brought into this distress.
Now Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence: so when he was gone to bed he told his wife what he had done, to wit, that he had taken a couple of prisoners, and cast them into his dungeon for trespassing on his grounds. Then he asked her also what he had best do further to them. So she asked him what they were, whence they came, and whither they were bound, and he told her. Then she counseled him, that when he arose in the morning he should beat them without mercy. So when he arose, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to rating of them as if they were dogs, although they gave him never a word of distaste. Then he falls upon them, and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or to turn them upon the floor. This done, he withdraws and leaves them there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress: so all that day they spent the time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations. The next night, she, talking with her husband further about them, and understanding that they were yet alive, did advise him to counsel them to make away with themselves. So when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner, as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison; for why, said he, should you choose to live, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness? But they desired him to let them go. With that he looked ugly upon them, and rushing to them, had doubtless made an end of them himself, but that he fell into one of his fits, (for he sometimes in sunshiny weather fell into fits,) and lost for a time the use of his hands; wherefore he withdrew, and left them as before to consider what to do. Then did the prisoners consult between themselves whether it was best to take his counsel or no; and thus they began to discourse:
Christian: Brother, said Christian, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part, I know not whether it is best to live thus, or to die out of hand. My soul chooseth strangling rather than life, and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon. Shall we be ruled by the giant?
Hopeful: Indeed our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me than thus for ever to abide; but yet, let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going hath said, “Thou shalt do no murder,” no, not to another man’s person; much more, then, are we forbidden to take his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another, can but commit murder upon his body; but for one to kill himself, is to kill body and soul at once. And moreover, my brother, thou talkest of ease in the grave; but hast thou forgotten the hell whither for certain the murderers go? for “no murderer hath eternal life,” etc. And let us consider again, that all the law is not in the hand of Giant Despair: others, so far as I can understand, have been taken by him as well as we, and yet have escaped out of his hands. Who knows but that God, who made the world, may cause that Giant Despair may die; or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in; or that he may, in a short time, have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? And if ever that should come to pass again, for my part, I am resolved to pluck up the heart of a man, and to try my utmost to get from under his hand. I was a fool that I did not try to do it before. But, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while: the time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers. With these words Hopeful at present did moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together in the dark that day, in their sad and doleful condition.
Well, towards evening the giant goes down into the dungeon again, to see if his prisoners had taken his counsel. But when he came there he found them alive; and truly, alive was all; for now, what for want of bread and water, and by reason of the wounds they received when he beat them, they could do little but breathe. But I say, he found them alive; at which he fell into a grievous rage, and told them, that seeing they had disobeyed his counsel, it should be worse with them than if they had never been born.
At this they trembled greatly, and I think that Christian fell into a swoon; but coming a little to himself again, they renewed their discourse about the giant’s counsel, and whether yet they had best take it or no. Now Christian again seemed for doing it; but Hopeful made his second reply as followeth:
Hopeful: My brother, said he, rememberest thou not how valiant thou hast been heretofore? Apollyon could not crush thee, nor could all that thou didst hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror, and amazement hast thou already gone through; and art thou now nothing but fears! Thou seest that I am in the dungeon with thee, a far weaker man by nature than thou art. Also this giant hath wounded me as well as thee, and hath also cut off the bread and water from my mouth, and with thee I mourn without the light. But let us exercise a little more patience. Remember how thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and wast neither afraid of the chain nor cage, nor yet of bloody death: wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame that it becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.
Now night being come again, and the giant and his wife being in bed, she asked him concerning the prisoners, and if they had taken his counsel: to which he replied, They are sturdy rogues; they choose rather to bear all hardships than to make away with themselves. Then said she, Take them into the castle-yard to-morrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that thou hast already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, thou wilt tear them in pieces, as thou hast done their fellows before them.
So when the morning was come, the giant goes to them again, and takes them into the castle-yard, and shows them as his wife had bidden him. These, said he, were pilgrims, as you are, once, and they trespassed on my grounds, as you have done; and when I thought fit I tore them in pieces; and so within ten days I will do you: get you down to your den again. And with that he beat them all the way thither. They lay, therefore, all day on Saturday in a lamentable case, as before. Now, when night was come, and when Mrs. Diffidence and her husband the giant was got to bed, they began to renew their discourse of their prisoners; and withal, the old giant wondered that he could neither by his blows nor counsel bring them to an end. And with that his wife replied, I fear, said she, that they live in hopes that some will come to relieve them; or that they have picklocks about them, by the means of which they hope to escape. And sayest thou so, my dear? said the giant; I will therefore search them in the morning.
Well, on Saturday, about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day.
Now, a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That is good news; good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.
Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the dungeon-door, whose bolt, as he turned the key, gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the castle-yard, and with his key opened that door also. After he went to the iron gate, for that must be opened too; but that lock went desperately hard, yet the key did open it. They then thrust open the gate to make their escape with speed; but that gate, as it opened, made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s highway, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.”
For John Bunyan, the key that released Christian from Despair and Doubting Castle was something he had possessed all along: the promises of God. God’s promises are given to us for our good. He pledges himself to us, and he always delivers on his promises because he can and he is good. We must know, love, and find stability in the promises God makes to us in Scripture. God’s Word drips with his promises to us. His promises are real, they are external to us, and they are objective.
Despair is an awful human condition; it leads to death. And suicide is the demonic, counterfeit answer to our despair. The real cure for despair is outside of us: hoping in Jesus Christ is the only cure. If it were not for Jesus Christ, what ultimate reason would any of us really have to keep living? But, with him, we have every reason to live with hope, joy, and peace.
Never give in to the urge to self-murder. Rest and hope in Jesus Christ, and believe the solid promises your loving Savior has made to you. He is ever faithful and ever true. And he never fails or deserts us.
* Here is another reason some take the road to suicide: our culture. We live in a culture in which human life is not highly valued. Abortion and euthanasia are discussed as rational options. So, why not suicide? Besides, suicide has a certain cachet, an aura of being cool. It is fashionable. It is a dramatic last statement declaring to all who know us that we are in the throes of misery. It can also be a way of seeking revenge, an effort to heap lifelong guilt upon those who have loved us.
Copyright 2010 Jerry A. Miller Jr. All rights reserved.