News headlines carry heartbreaking stories of suicide. Of some 400,000 attempts each year by adolescents, some 5,000 succeed. Attempts have continued to escalate year after year. Many suicides are reported as accidental deaths.
In considering this subject we should never pass judgment on anyone, either victims or survivors. None of us know all the facts or feelings involved. The matters of responsibility, accountability and judgment of eternal destiny belong to God who gave the law, not to us whose job is to be doers of the law: James 4:11-12; Rom. 14:4, 12-13.
We should never judge irresponsibly and harshly those who struggle to cope with grief. No community, congregation, family or institution is really immune to ripples of hurt caused by such tragedies. We must be ready to help "bear burdens" –not increase them by attaching punitive isolation or heaping guilt.
I. A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ABOUT THE MATTER OF SUICIDE
A. Some cultures have considered suicide praiseworthy: Ex.: suttee [faithful widows cremated themselves on funeral pyres of husbands]; harikiri and jihad; some set themselves on fire to protest some cause, etc. Cf. Fanatical terrorism and self-destruction in assumed "holy wars".
B. Some countries have regarded suicide as a crime, with property confiscated, burial only at night with denial of "Christian burial'", sometimes with indignity to corpse. A case is reported on record in England of one who attempted suicide, but was unsuccessful. He was then jailed, tried and hanged upon conviction of his attempt! C. In America, the completed act is not considered criminal (calling for confiscation of property, etc.) but in some jurisdictions attempted suicide has been classed as a felony and at one time as a crime in four states. In some states, one can be prosecuted for advising another to kill himself.
D. A few patterns may be changing, but generally, the following have been true:
1. Highest rates have been in Japan, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Chechoslavakia and Switzerland. Lower rates have been in Northern Ireland and Spain.
2. More whites than blacks, though rates for blacks are increasing
3. More men than women, about 3 times more
4. More older people than young, though youth rate is increasing
5. More single men than married men
6. More in cities than in rural areas
7. More in Spring of year: Rises from Jan. to peak in May then declines to low in Dec. More unsuccessful attempts on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays; more successful attempts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
8. More among wealthy than lower class, but within the lower class, concentration was near the poverty level.
II. IDENTIFYING CAUSES / CONTRIBUTING FACTORS
A. Dr. Ronald Maris, University of South Carolina,identifies these contributing factors for increases in teenage suicides: increase in divorce (7I% of youth suicides come from divorced homes), added pressure of working mothers, sense of hopelessness, increased use of drugs and alcohol, pressure of educational process, social tension and stress, promiscuity in the schools which produced tremendous guilt, and moral confusion and weak self-esteem.
B. I recently read five different sources, involving quotes from experts dealing with suicide. ALL FIVE used the SAME WORD to identify a cause: the word was EMPTINESS in describing their lives! Think how this reinforces Jesus' statement: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it MORE ABUNDANTLY!" (John 10:10)
C. The reasons USUALLY GIVEN include: hardships, unemployment, poverty, hunger, ill health, mental instability, pain, deformity,jealousy, marital difficulty or family discord, infidelity, desertion, sexual difficulty, failure in some aim or attempt, losses, such as loss of loved one, honor, position, wealth, freedom, etc. [Ordinarily these could be accepted by a well-adjusted person without resort to such a drastic measure unless some deeper underlying problem exists. [Ex.: During the gasoline shortage of the '70's, a man shot himself in the restroom of a filling station when there was no gas for his new Lincoln!]
D. The DEEPER reasons [rooted in that EMPTINESS 0F LIFE] are more pivotal: Fear, anxiety, feelings of inferiority or inadequacy, hatred, aggressiveness, guilt, vengeful motives and other mental disorders. Note how a balanced, sensible commitment to the gospel of Christ will enable one to cope with EVERY ONE OF THESE!
III. SOME BIBLE PRINCIPLES THAT NEED TO BE CONSIDERED
A. Suicide is not consistent with wisdom and the example of humanity's best in all ages. This explains the keen hurt and sadness felt by those closest to a victim.
It may well be that the great majority of those who take their lives are not rational or accountable at the time.
The "track record" and circumstances of suicides recorded in the Bible [when the total context is considered] do not give encouragement for imitation:
1. King Saul and
2. …..his armorbearer : 1 Sam. 31
3. Samson : Judges 16
4. Zimri : 1 Kings 16
5. Ahithophel : 2 Sam. 17
6. Abimelech : Judges 9:50-57
7. Judas : Matt. 27:5
B. Suicide ignores the greater option for victory over life's problems, instead of giving in to them. Cf. Acts 16:25-33 : The best of the jailer's life lay ahead! Even if the law of man did not prohibit (which is a factor to be considered, Rom. 13:1ff), Paul gave a command of God: "Do not harm yourself."
C. Suicide violates the concept of the sanctity of human life as a gift from God :
1. Job 1:21 The Lord gave and the Lord takes away
2. Eph. 5:28-29 No man is to hate his own flesh but cherish it
3. 1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 6:19-20 Christians are bought with a price; they are not their own; they are vessels used by God
4. 1 Tim. 4:12-16 Christians are to be an example of fortitude to others:
1 Tim. 4:16 16* Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
D. Suicide violates the will of God for us, that we continue in submission and service as He wills, not us:
1. 2 Cor. 12 Paul accepted God's grace as "sufficient" to cope with his "thorn in the flesh."
2. James 4:7-10 "Submit yourselves unto the will of God…"
3. Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:20-25; The life we live, we live unto God and in usefulness to the church and the outside world
E. Suicide ignores God's promises of adequate, continuing providential care, to provide even when we may see no solution:
1. 1 Kings 7 The lepers and others saw no solution, but God provided it. Elijah wanted to die [1 Kings 19:4], but God provided. Cf. also 1 Kings 17:12.
2. Matt. 6:33 "all of these things shall be provided"
3. Phil. 2:12-16 God works in us. He did not say all would be good, but it can work for good, Rom. 8:28.
F. Suicide is not a solution. One may say, "I cannot go on. I'm going to end it all!" But it is not the end. We will continue to exist and must face God in Eternity. We still exist in the world to come and all must answer to God concerning the things we "do in the body", 2 Cor. 5:10. The best way to end unbearable suffering and pain is to be faithful in submission and obedience to God, to go to Heaven where they will really be absent: Rev. 21:1-4
IV. SOME GENERAL SUGGESTIONS FOR ALL OF US TODAY
A. Let us work on our own spiritual growth, to be more submissive and adaptable to the changing conditions of life, remembering also that "time changes things" for us, too.
B. Let us be more sensitive to those who have hurts, especially the hidden hurts, that they keep bottled up. Let us be more considerate and outgoing in advance to those who feel inadequacies. Let us be kind and understanding with all who have suffered losses.
C. Let us be more alert to the "signals" or "clues" that suggest a "cry for help": Some are verbal, some are suggested by variations in behavior, and some will have to be detected by our observance of situations that are stressful.
D. Parents: Let your children see contentment and fulfillment in your lives, provide a wholesome, sensible, consistent religious anchor to replace emptiness.
Take the initiative to communicate with your children: Hug and ask frequently, "Are you happy?" Pursue discreet investigation of any answer that they are not.
Initiate and encourage open discussion about emotions, love, sex, peer pressure, school pressures, death, religion. life's purpose –even pimples!
While keeping expectations high, realize that they may place different interpretations from yours on any topic!
At the same time, do not so intensely probe and prod until YOU cause the pressure you are seeking to alleviate.
The gospel really can change things for us, just as it did for the Philippian jailer. If we will accept it and live sensibly as Christians are taught, we will ALWAYS be "too young to die!" –until God, at the time of His choosing, invites us to share something better!