September is Suicide Prevention Month. This observance is a much needed reminder of the overwhelming sorrow that crushes many in our community. It also calls us to be a comfort, encouragement and help to these neighbors. Suicide often involves a loss of the sense of the special honor of human life and the duty we have to protect it including our own.
That human life is radically different from all other forms of life is self-evident. The specially revealed reason for this distinctiveness is that man is created in the image of God. Therefore, human life is cherished in our culture and protected by law. Murder is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments, The Sermon on the Mount and in the statutes of nations.
Suicide, by definition, is self-murder and therefore explicitly prohibited by these ancient laws. It is prohibited implicitly by the duty we owe to God as our Creator, the obligations we have to our community and the stewardship of our own persons. The Great Commandment summarizes all of these things: you shall love God, your neighbor and yourself by cherishing and nurturing your life rather than, in suicide, dishonoring God, defrauding your community and defaming yourself.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all reject suicide. Many other religions do as well. All examples of suicide in the Bible are the final step of a life characterized by rebellion against God. Judas Iscariot is the most notorious example. Early Christianity rejected suicide but was sympathetic to the desperation that was often involved. Augustine was vigorous in his rejection of suicide, insisting that everyone who committed suicide was destined to hell. Aquinas followed him in this strong view. Harsh civil and ecclesiastical penalties were enforced on suicides and their families even into the modern era. Eventually, however, the Christian church in general recognized that suicide is sometimes a contradiction of an otherwise faithful life that, like other sin, is forgiven in faith-union with Christ.
Suicide should be rejected because distinctly personal human life, even our own, is not under our discretion. We did not create ourselves. We did not conceive, carry, give birth, nurture or raise ourselves. Even as adults, we are dependent on Providence and on His many intermediate means for life, liberty and happiness. If we are Christians, we have a further obligation to nurture and preserve our lives because we are not our own but were bought with the redemption price of the Only Begotten Son of God. We owe it to God, our neighbors and ourselves to persevere in life.
But we face dilemmas that are new to our modern era. When do medical procedures prolong life and when do they protract death? Is choosing to end treatment taking our life in selfishness or giving our life in service? Is choosing death according to our will or according to the clear leading of God’s providence? Is going to war suicide or service? Jesus went up to Jerusalem knowing that He would be crucified. This was a willing sacrifice in obedience to His Father, not suicide. These decisions require great wisdom and much counsel from people who love us and whose judgment we trust.
We should also remember that not all difficulties should be avoided. Sometimes there is meaning and value in persevering through hardship. Often, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem that, if endured, would have led to resolution and blessing. Sometimes, suicide ends a life prematurely when there was much to be gained through a season of trial. I had a friend who suffered greatly from ALS but, in courageously enduring the suffering, he was able to witness his daughter’s wedding in his hospital room. This was a great blessing to him, to her and to their entire family. But, again, these are difficult decisions that require great wisdom and good counsel.
In summary, don’t kill yourself. Trust God to take care of you in life and in death. Your death is the consequence of your sin but, even in justice, God remembers mercy (Habb.3:2). He knows the best time and the best way for you to die and has His purposes in all things, even in your death. Sickness, suffering and death are finishing school for heaven because “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1Pt.4:1). The apostle Paul said, “we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2Cor.4:16-18)
For those who love God, He takes special care of them because even their death is meaningful to Him (Ps.116:15). God promises to be with His people always, especially in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). For those without God, there often is, and always ought to be, fear of entrance into the outer darkness where there is great and unending suffering. But, even in that fear, there is a final and urgent invitation to turn to Christ for eternal life. Give yourself to God in faith and obedience, for His glory and your good. Trust Him now, trust Him in death and trust Him for eternity.
By Kit Swartz, Pastor Emeritus RPC Oswego, NY; Ruling Elder RPC Fulton, NY