Counter-Cultural Christianity: Suicide
February 7, 2015 | Brian Bill
We’re completing our four-part series called “Counter-Cultural Christianity” as we focus on suicide. Frankly, the topics we’ve already covered – the pain of abortion, homosexuality and racism – can lead some people to consider suicide. As we’ve seen in each sermon, the gospel is the answer to all these issues. I like how David Platt puts it: “The message of the gospel has always been countercultural, and the need for the gospel has always been urgent in every culture.”
Suicide has been front and center in our society for quite some time and only seems to be increasing.
- The family of Robin Williams, who committed suicide this past August, is currently fighting over who is entitled to his memorabilia and knick-knacks.
- 29-year old Brittany Maynard was in the headlines in November when she decided to take her own life in Oregon. Many in our culture made her a hero of sorts when she committed suicide. This story ignited a nationwide debate about assisted suicide and so-called “death with dignity.”
- Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Whitney Houston, who died three years ago around this same time, was found unconscious and facedown in a bathtub filled with water this week.
- Both chambers of Congress unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act this week. This bill was named in honor of Marine Corporal Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart. He was a dedicated suicide prevention advocate who tragically took his own life. Are you aware that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the military? Some studies show that there are 22 attempted suicides every day among Veterans.
I listened to a sermon by D. James Kennedy this week that he first preached almost 25 years ago. What he said then certainly applies even more so now: “Death is stalking our country like a ghastly giant.” But suicide has not only clobbered our culture; it has hit very close to home for some of you. Let me just say that I can’t imagine the pain you are experiencing and the courage it took for you to come today.
I just finished a book called, “Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors,” and learned that within two years of a suicide, at least 80 percent of survivors will either leave the church they were attending and join another or just stop attending altogether. The two most common reasons are (1) disappointment due to unmet expectations and (2) criticism or judgmental attitudes and treatment. I hope that you have found Edgewood to be a safe place of grace and healing.
Here are some of the most recent statistics.
- Nearly 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year, making it the 10th highest killer.
- An average of one person dies by suicide every 13 minutes. Statistically, nearly 6 people will take their lives during our 75-minute service.
- In 2013 there were 447 suicides in Iowa and nearly three times as many in Illinois.
- In 2012, the highest suicide rate was among those 45 to 59 years old. The second highest rate is among those over 65.
- For young people 15-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidents). The rate among teenagers has tripled since 1960. In a recent survey 9% of teens have tried to take their lives at least once and 60% have thought about doing so.
- Risk factors for suicide include substance abuse and depression.
- Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people. One family member said that it’s like carrying a book bag full of boulders every day. The weight stays the same but one day the boulders are regret and failure and the next day the boulders are guilt and anger.
- Studies show that 20 percent of us will have a suicide within our immediate family and 60 percent of us will know someone who dies of suicide.
While the dynamics of suicide are complex and beyond my training and expertise, it’s essential to see what the Scriptures have to say.
Suicide and Scripture
While the Bible is clear that killing is wrong (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), the word suicide itself is not used in the Bible. We do, however, have a record in the Scriptures of seven people who committed suicide.
- Abimelech (Judges 9:54). This is technically an assisted suicide because his servant delivered the fatal blow. The reason given is that the son of Gideon didn’t want it known that he was killed by a woman.
- Samson (Judges 16:30). Technically, it could be argued that his death was an act of war or revenge but he did take his life.
- Saul (1 Samuel 31:4). He was wounded and couldn’t get someone else to kill him so he ended up falling on his own sword.
- Saul’s Armor Bearer (1 Samuel 31:5). Since King Saul took his life, he decided to die as well.
- Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23). He saw his rebellion failing, put his house in order and hung himself. Bitterness really got the better of him.
- Zimri (1 Kings 16:18). He reigned as king for only seven days and knew he was about to be killed so he committed suicide.
- Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5). After betraying Jesus, he took his life out of intense guilt.
These individuals represent some common reasons for suicide:
- Avoiding embarrassment (Abimilech)
- Revenge (Samson)
- Avoiding pain (Saul)
- Following someone else (Saul’s Armor Bearer)
- Failure and bitterness (Ahithophel)
- Feeling alone (Zimri)
- Guilt and hopelessness (Judas)
When suicide is brought up, many want to know what the Bible teaches about the destiny of believers who take their own lives. The question is often framed this way: “Do Christians who commit suicide go to heaven?” Many ask this question because they’ve heard that suicide is the unforgivable sin. Catholic theology refers to suicide as a “mortal” sin, meaning that unless its confessed and forgiven the person cannot go to heaven.
By A.D. 563, the Catholic Church prohibited funerals for any suicide and by 1284 refused burials in a consecrated cemetery. Thomas Aquinas wrote that it was the worst sin ever because a person could not repent of it. What I say to that is that people die all the time with sins that have not been confessed. I could steal a purse right now, jump in my car and collide with a tree and die…and still go to heaven even though I never repented of my sin.
But more important than what I think is what the Bible teaches. I was faced with this question several years ago when a man named Dave from our church in Pontiac committed suicide. This is what I shared at his funeral.
Here’s the bottom line: God’s amazing grace covers all of our sins, even those we think are unforgivable. Some of you may be asking a question that goes something like this: “Is Dave in heaven because of how he died?” I’d like to give a biblical answer to that question. “No, Dave is not in heaven because of how he died. He’s in heaven because of how Jesus died.”
The only way to get there is to follow the plan and that plan is wrapped up in a person. And since David put his trust in Jesus he has the promise of eternal peace in a place that has been prepared for him. I love the closing verses of Romans 8: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Here are some other passages to ponder.
John 5:24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Biblical Reasons Why Suicide is Wrong
Please don’t get the impression that because suicide cannot separate the believer from Jesus Christ, that it’s somehow OK to take your life. Here are ten biblical reasons why suicide is a sin.
- You have intrinsic worth even if you feel utterly unworthy. We’ve come back to Genesis 1:27 throughout this series because it is the basis of the sanctity of life and the ultimate antidote to suicide: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Since you are made in the image of God you matter to Him!
- Life itself is a gift from God. Job 1:21: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” We’re not to throw away the gift of life that God has given to us.
- God is the only one who is to give and take life. 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.” Ecclesiastes 7:17 cautions us against taking our life: “Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?”
- Suicide is self-murder. Exodus 20:13 says it clearly and concisely: “You shall not murder.”
- God loves you more than you know. Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you with His love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” God loves you even though you don’t feel like He does.
- You belong to God, not to yourself. Isaiah 43:1: “I have called you by your name; you are Mine.”
- Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
- God wants you to choose life. Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…”
- Suicide ends up hurting and harming others. Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
- You have a purpose in life even if you feel presently purposeless. Psalm 139:16: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Edgewood member Mary Peterson passed along a quote that I found helpful: “Suicide does not end the chances of life getting worse, suicide eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.”
I would add that it’s important to not play the blame game. Some of you may be wondering if you could have done more. Maybe you have some regrets and find yourself saying, “if only I would have done this…if only I would have done that.” Perhaps you’re blaming someone else or maybe you’re even mad at God. Let me encourage you to not participate in the blame game. It will wipe you out. Others of you are searching for answers to the “why” question. You might not ever find a satisfactory answer but you can hold on to verses like these – Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” and 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
From Despair to Deliverance
As I was preparing this week God led me to a passage of Scripture that I can’t get out of my mind. The Apostle Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel and ran into some problems. In Acts 16:23 they end up getting whipped and then thrown into prison. The jailer is commanded to keep them securely so in verse 24, he puts “them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.” This inner prison is like a dungeon. It’s dark, damp, cold and filled with human waste. Their legs are locked into painful positions by wooden stocks, which were instruments of torture.
Let’s see what we can learn from Paul and Silas.
- Live your faith out loud. In the midst of the mess they are in, verse 25 says that they started praying and praising at midnight. Other prisoners were listening. Friends, when we live out our faith people will notice. When we praise Him even when we have problems it will get the attention of others.
- Trust God to purposely put you where He wants you. God arranges an earthquake and all the prison doors fly open and everyone’s chains fall off. God orchestrated events to put Paul and Silas face to face with the jailer. In verse 27, we read that the jailer wakes up and when he sees the prison doors open he supposes that the prisoners have fled so he “drew his sword and was about to kill himself.” Jailers were held personally responsible for any escaped prisoners at the cost of their lives.
Friends, let me just pause here to say that we have no idea who is planning to kill themselves right now in this room or at our workplace, on our campus or in our homes. But God puts us where he wants us on purpose.
When I was at my previous church, I met a teenager at a Super Bowl party and found out that she had planned to take her life that very night. I sent her a message this week to refresh my memory…I remember that she and a friend had made a suicide pact. He had called off the plan but a few days later took his life. This tormented her. Listen to what she says…
“…The next year I had a plan and the means to take my life and was going to the church Super Bowl party to tell a friend good bye and was then planning on going home and taking my life, but God stepped in at that party and stopped me.”
When I asked for more details I was struck with how God used a simple act of kindness to stop a suicide: “It was the hug of two girls I had never met before. I was sitting by myself with a broken ankle and these two girls came up to me and asked me to play basketball with them. They told me I could stand in one place and just shoot the ball when they passed it to me. I made a basket and they both tackled me in a big hug. I look back now and think that God was showing me his love through these two girls. I went home that night and got rid of anything I could use to kill myself.”
BTW, she’s now a Mental Health Therapist in Pekin!
- Intentionally intervene if necessary. These girls had no idea that their actions had such an impact but there are other times when we’re called upon to boldly intervene. When Paul sees the jailer pull out a sword because he wants to commit suicide, listen to what he says in a loud voice in verse 28: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Paul didn’t leave the prison but instead stayed and then he said something, which ended up preventing the suicide.
Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren, spoke at a conference on suicide recently. As you may know, their son took his own life last year. This is what she said: “Prevention is a matter of a caring person with the right knowledge being available at the right time.”
I want to come back to suicides among the military for a moment because with the Arsenal in our community, there are a lot of military personnel in the QCA. David Cannon told me about a program the Army has called the Army Suicide Prevention Program. They use the acrostic ACE.
- A stands for ASK. Recognize warning signs and ask directly to see if a person is thinking about suicide.
- C refers to CARE. Actively listen and offer to help.
- E stands for ESCORT. Stay with the person until you can get them some help.
Paul didn’t use ACE but he was an “Ace” at what He did use.
- Give the gospel. The jailer is now even more terrified then he was during the earthquake or when he was contemplating his own death. Now he’s face to face with his own sin and alarmed at his spiritual state. We read in verses 29-30 that he “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” Friends, this is the question of life. If you’ve never asked it, you need to start doing so.
I love their answer. Instead of telling him to perform a bunch of tasks or go to church or clean up his act, this is what they said in verse 31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The solution to sin and to suicide is the Savior! The word “believe” means to “trust in and to rely on, to be firmly persuaded.”
Let’s think about the jailer for a moment. He’s just doing his job when he suddenly hears praying and praising going on from two guys who’ve just been beaten and thrown in a dungeon. A crisis comes in the form of an earthquake and he’s on the verge of committing suicide because he wants to escape difficulty and the possible consequences. He drops his sword when Paul intentionally intervenes. And then he falls down trembling and asks how to be saved.
Notice what happens next.
- He gets saved.
- He starts serving. Verse 33: “And he took them at the same hour of the night and washed their stripes.”
- He surrenders in baptism: We see this in the last part of verse 34: “And immediately he and all his family were baptized.”
- He finds satisfaction. Look at verse 34: “Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced…”
- He takes spiritual leadership in his home. Check out the last phrase in verse 34: “…having believed in God with all his household.”
What’s happened? He has moved from hopelessness to hope. He’s gone from a purposeless life to a life filled with purpose. God can do that in your life as well. Psalm 40:1-2: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.”
Remember that Satan is a murderer and wants people to take their lives. John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” Satan steals life, he kills life and he destroys life. Everything he touches turns to death. Satan loves suicide. He even tried to tempt Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple. I love the last half of this verse because it shows that our Lord is the life-giver: “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” The only life worth living is the life that has found Jesus Christ.
Friend, what must you do to be saved? If you do nothing, you won’t be saved. Jared Wilson puts it like this: “The frightening thing is that, to enter Hell, all one has to do is nothing.” Listen. If you take your life, you don’t cease to exist. You will live forever in one of two destinations. Hell is far worse than any difficulty you are experiencing right now. We say to you what Paul said to the jailer: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
Are you ready right now to believe and receive Jesus Christ into your life so that you can go to heaven when it’s God’s time for you to die? Jesus died for you, shedding His blood on the Cross, so that you can be free from your sins and be given a reason for living.
Invitation: The King of All of Me
Search my heart so that you can be king of all of me
Cleanse my heart so you can be king of all sufficiency
Grace has filled this empty soul