STARING INTO SUICIDE



Three years ago, a friend of our church hung himself.  Bob had some difficulties and very few understood how much he was hurting.

Two years ago, Susan drove her motorized wheelchair into the Detroit River.  It was a couple months before her body washed up.  She had mental health issues, but no-one knew what she had planned to do. 

Last year, Paul’s health took a turn for the worse and he required oxygen to stay alive.  With his condition deteriorating, he made an informed choice to go off the oxygen in the hospital and be administered morphine to keep him comfortable while his body shut down.


Today, there are many who struggle in isolation with the reoccurring temptation to end their lives.  Perhaps that one is you and you need some help to live again.

There may have been half a dozen times in my life when I was greatly discouraged and yearned to be done with living, but those feelings were fleeting.  I want to live a long life.  Suicide has never been an option for me.  The thought of intentionally ending my life has never been a fixation.

I am more inclined to be anxious about how I might die.  Hardly a road trip goes by without flashing thoughts of experiencing an uncontrolled fatal crash.  Gas pains make me think about how quickly a heart attack could dramatically change my existence.  If I allow myself, I can think of horribly, painful ways to leave the living world.  But, I do not ever plan my own demise.  I plan on living.

Jesus was not suicidal.  He did have a growing awareness that the end was coming, but He preferred life.  If there were another way, He would have taken it, but not at the expense of what would be lost.  He could only face His death by looking at the good that would come from His sacrifice.  In the dark despair of Gethsemane-- sweating drops of blood before His arrest, He cherished His life.

Think about the word ‘disease’.  The prefix ‘dis’ indicates that there is a lack of that described.  There is a lack of ease.  Disease is not easy, but extremely challenging.  It is helpful to understand suicidal ideation as a state of ‘dis-ease’. 

Do you hate yourself?  It may not be self-hatred, but actually self-love in some cases.  Because you love yourself, you are overwhelmed by disconnect, depression and a sense that all is wrong.  Something inside you screams out that life is broken and you do not know how to fix it. 

The thought of this horrible state coming to an end brings a feeling of closure.  Life should not be like this and you will stop it from hurting.  You cannot control your circumstances or feelings, but will control this one final act.

What part does human will and the power of choice play in one’s decision to terminate their life?  In this regard, suicide can be the epitome of self-centeredness.  The ending of my pain is more important than the true feelings and perspective of those around me.  It is the mistaken belief that their lives will be incredibly improved if I end my life.  The depression will not hear another voice but isolate into its own.  That is why drastic steps must be taken to share your feelings and enter into helping relationships.

Historically many Christians have viewed suicide as an unpardonable sin because it cannot be repented of following its successful completion.

Augustine’s viewpoint on suicide has heavily influenced both Roman Catholics and Protestants.   Thomas Aquinas, the most outstanding of Catholic theologians, gave three succinct arguments why suicide is a sin against self, neighbor and God.  First, suicide is contrary to nature: every living organism naturally desires to preserve its life. Second, it is contrary to our social obligations: the whole human community is injured by self-killing. Third, suicide is contrary to our religious rights: God alone should decide when a person will live or die. Aquinas reasoned: "To bring death upon oneself in order to escape the other afflictions of this life is to adopt a greater evil in order to avoid a lesser. . . . Suicide is the most fatal of sins because it cannot be repented of" (Summa Theologica 2-2, q. 64,5).  The poet Dante, following Aquinas’s theology, placed those who take their own lives on the seventh level of hell, below the greedy and the murderous (Inferno 13).  For centuries those who committed the unconfessed and therefore unforgivable sin of suicide were not buried in cemeteries that Catholic priests had consecrated.[i]

It is easy to develop theological positions on suicide, but quite another to weigh in after it happens to a close family member or friend.  All of a sudden, the passionate argument for why it is wrong is tempered by a hope for the loved one’s eternal salvation.  If I am to err on this matter, I would like to be too generous in applying the mercy of God to my loved one.  I need a God who saves broken people who still possess a mustard seed of faith at the darkest, loneliest hour.  

Suicide is certainly a failure to live and less than God’s best for a person’s life.  But in its sinfulness, I do not believe it trumps a bleeding faith in the dark night of the soul.



[i] Christian Perspectives on Suicide by William E. Phipps.  Dr. Phipps is professor of religion and philosophy at Davis and Elkins College, Elkins, West Virginia. His forthcoming book Before and After Death (John Knox) contains a chapter on suicide. This article appeared in The Christian Century, October 30, 1985, pp. 970-972. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

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