Today I’m going to talk about suicide.
I have no doubt that, sadly, each person reading these words knows someone who has been personally affected by suicide. I write these words with the utmost compassion.
The CDC keeps nationwide statistics on suicide, with the most recent numbers from 2014. But mere statistics miss the point. Statistics are bare numbers, detached from the grieving; those same statistics paint a grim picture. Self-harm is the second-most-frequent cause of death among all people ages 10-34, and only surpassed by accidental injury. (And statistically, male suicide outnumbers female four-to-one.)
If that doesn’t shock & sadden, I don’t know what would. And, to say the least – the Christian response has not always been very good.
Whenever this sobering topic comes up, we Christians need to walk a delicate tightrope. Previous generations may have said too much with the coarse, oversimplistic statement that suicide automatically results in hell. The current wave of “God is only, ever, always love” falls the other way by overconfidently asserting eternal rest for the deceased.
And we exacerbate the problem by shunning any frank discussion about suicide – or speaking of the deceased as merely a victim of his or her mental illness.
How do we walk the delicate tightrope of truthfulness and love – the narrow path of compassion, empathy, and frankness?
As a Lutheran pastor, the answer is straightforward; please do not understand that to mean “easy.” The road back from the brink of suicide, as well as the efforts of a community to discourage suicide, is a long road indeed.
As a Christian, I try to connect this person to Jesus. Whatever s/he may be feeling – whether bullying, loneliness, shame, depression – the heart of the answer will only be found in Jesus Christ. Yes, therapy is helpful; yes, secular community involvement is needed and also helps prevent suicide.
But the final answer will only be found in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus Christ. In him was no deceit, or lies, or gossip, or indecent thought; yet he carried our sins upon himself to win forgiveness for you. You are forgiven, because Jesus died & rose for the sins of the whole world; and you, friend, are part of that world.
That is the central message of Christianity. Christianity is not about leading a moral life, or seven steps to a better life now, or patting ourselves on the back for kicking a habit, or some system of earthly rewards for godly living. Christianity is about Jesus Christ for you. The only way you can talk about the love & empathy of God (who, BTW, is the only limitless source of empathy) is by talking about the physical death & resurrection of Jesus Christ – which means your complete forgiveness, free of charge.
Yes, we absolutely discourage suicide. God alone has the right to end a life. Taking matters into our own hands may be an act of unbelief, and unbelief results in eternal hell. Christians also understand that the sin of suicide may have been carried out rashly while the person was obviously not in his right mind.
Practically speaking, however, our work as Christians and pastors is with the living. Our community needs to value life – in all its stages, in all its forms. The value of life does not hinge on our subjective analysis of “value.” Life is a gift, given by God himself; life is biological fact, and using a “quality of life” matrix is unscientific, merciless, and hateful.
What else can we do? Our congregation offers free, secure counselling via an internet video feed. A person can be confidentially & securely connected to a Christian, licensed clinical therapist at no cost to themselves. If you’d like to use this program, let me know via (507) 236-9572. (This program is called the MAP & available through WLCFS. See their website for more info!)
There’s also a national suicide helpline: (800) 273-TALK (8255) available 24/7.
As Christians, we need to not shirk back from asking questions & speaking with the young people in our lives. Suicide is a permanent non-solution for a temporary problem. Let us find a way, in love, to speak frankly about the danger – and to converse compassionately about the help.