Handling With Humility the 5 Most Difficult Suicide-related Situations
A young, exuberant minister was applauded as he held his head high ascending the steps to the speaker’s platform. Overly confident, self-assured and quite impressed with himself, he was certain the crowd would be captivated by his message.
Less than thirty minutes later, he dropped his head and descended the steps utterly discouraged and perplexed as to why his sermon fell flat. The tepid response was the equivalent of a golf clap as he slouched into his seat embarrassed and deflated.
“What happened?” he whispered to his wife in the seat beside him.
Anticipating he would ask the question, she gently clasped his hand and said, “Honey, I think if you had walked up the way you came down, you probably would have come down the way you walked up.”
Humility is the flipside of pride, which is like halitosis – people usually don’t know they’ve got it! It’s a rare and precious jewel in Christian character and the one trait Jesus Himself highlighted in describing Himself. “I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29).
Someone once told me, “There’s no such thing as a humble young man.” It’s an overstatement (there are lots of prideful older folks as well!), but usually it takes a number of humbling and even humiliating experiences to produce this quality in our lives.
Here’s the deal: discussing death-related questions to give clear, compassionate and reasonable explanations usually leaves us groping internally for answers and should leave us more humble and dependent on God. If you’re not currently facing them, get ready because as pressures increase at the end of the age we’ll be faced with more of them.
I just returned from a ministry trip in North Carolina where an elderly pastor apparently shot his wife and then committed suicide. “They were a happy couple who loved life,” said a relative.
This morning the first item I saw on the news was from my former hometown in Atlanta where senior leader David Huskins reportedly shot himself after a long series of medical problems mixed with medications and overwhelming ministry demands. The report echoes recent comments from Ben Stein warning of antidepressants and how they almost did him in.
Our Tennessean newspaper emblazoned this front-page headline just today, “Teen Suicides Spur Firings.” And tonight one of my family members overseas a youth outreach that began after the tragic suicide of a young man.
Suicides are increasing and we need to be equipped with biblical answers, plus recognize them as God-ordained opportunities to cultivate humility, provide comfort and connect with the lost and unchurched.
Five Suicide-related Situations
In the aftermath of Robin William’s suicide, I did a commentary last week that I commend for your reading. Let’s go deeper as situations arise requiring the “wisdom of Solomon.” Remember “It is the glory of God to conceal things, it is the glory of kings to search things out” (Prv. 25:2).
1. Intentional Suicide
In America there is a suicide every 13 minutes. Many of these tragedies involve people who intentionally, deliberately and willingly take their own life.
Suicide is not the will of God and although it is not the unpardonable sin (unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ), it is a grave transgression against our Creator who commands us not to murder (suicide is equivalent to murder). He is the Author of life, who ever remains “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19).
The eternal destiny of someone in deep depression and deception, communicating remorsefully to God in closing minutes, repenting of sins and truly putting his trust in Jesus Christ alone as his Lord and Savior (which is what the Bible teaches is essential for salvation [Rom. 10:9]), is a matter we must entrust to a just and loving God. In these most difficult situations, we must never presume on God or communicate an image of God that is not aligned with scripture.
“My God would never send a person to hell!”
Actually, your “God” is a product of your own imagination, inconsistent with the holy and merciful God revealed in the Bible. Hell, created for the devil and his demons, is real and it is the eternal destination for all who reject the gospel (good news) – the “free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
In this particular situation, we do well to avoid speculation but should look to the Lord for ways to communicate genuine comfort and practical assistance to family and friends. Some people do cry out in their anguish, but only God knows what transpires in those final seconds.
2. Mentally Impaired Suicide
“I fear for the future”…”I’m afraid what’s going to happen”…”I’m so stressed out and depressed. I’m fearful all the time. It’s getting worse!”
Jesus described the end of the age with “men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth;” (Lk. 21:26).
Those of us who are spiritually, emotionally and mentally healthy easily declare, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment.” (1Jn. 4:18). We add: “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
What if someone does not have that “sound mind?” What should we do when we encounter situations where someone committed suicide after battling tormenting fears, debilitating depression, biological disorders and forms of mental illness that clouded their judgment so they weren’t thinking clearly and rationally in the throes of their crisis?
• Military with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Women with severe postpartum or menopausal depression
• Fragile individuals experiencing multiple surgeries and “cocktail” meds resulting in chemical imbalances, confusion and dark depression.
• Godly people like Rick Warren’s 27 year old son, Matthew, who was rescued many times from the brink of suicide but killed himself after a lifelong battle with mental illness. Rick put it this way, “My son took his life. It was his choice. He was a young man with a tender heart and a tortured mind.”
What does God mean when he instructs us to “comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient towards all men” (1 Thess.5:14)?
We must be careful not to oversimplify or spiritualize. “Just pray it away!”… “Cast that thing out!”…”Confess the Word!”…”Man up, wimp!”…”Go put your big girl pants on, girl!”
Don’t hear what I’m not saying here. God does tell us to renew our minds, confess His Word, lay hold of His promises and persevere amidst life’s adversities. Yet sometimes folks face such overwhelming and life–threatening hardships that they declare with Paul and his team, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor.1:8-9).
Paul did go on to state, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Cor. 9b-10).
The challenge is moving from point A to point B without succumbing to hopelessness. A key ingredient is what Paul stated, “as you will help us by your prayers”(v11) and compassionate support.
If you can stand the pull, He will pull you through! Corrie Ten Boom’s sister told her in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”
“We wait and hope for the Lord; He is our help and shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy Name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you” (Ps.33:20-22).
“Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
A long time colleague of mine, Jim, gives out his personal testimony tract entitled, “Snatched From the Brink of Suicide!”
Sheila Walsh, an internationally known singer at Billy Graham Crusades and former co-host of the 700 Club, says, “In the morning I was seen across the nation on TV and that night I was locked in a ward of a psychiatric hospital at the age of 34.” She honestly believed that her life was over and things were hopeless as she spiraled into darkness and a nervous breakdown.
But like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, God brought her back from the brink and today she’s the author of “Life is Tough but God is Faithful” speaking at conferences and ministering hope to multitudes who may be right on life’s edge.
Famous Christian leaders like Charles Spurgeon, David Brainerd, J.B. Phillips, Abraham Lincoln and C.S. Lewis battled depression. When Mr. Lewis’s beloved wife died he wrote “A Grief Observed” under a pseudonym lest anybody discover his near despair.
In these perilous times, may we nurture a culture of transparency so no one has to hide the struggles within. And as caring Christians, may we be ambassadors of hope and understanding in these sensitive areas.
3. Accidental Suicide
A movie currently in your multiplex is, “Sin City.” It’s based on extremely dark, graphic novels featuring people being slaughtered sadistically. Their slogan is “Sin City. Come for the fun – stay for your funeral.” This is the sad reality for scores of pleasure-seekers today.
A few days ago I spoke with a young man in his mid-20s who is married with a little daughter. Inquiring how he met his mate, he told me that both of them were committed into a psych ward after each had attempted suicide. Between the two of them there were five divorces among parents and sinful patterns that brought them to the point of despair. God miraculously saved them and after they were married they embraced the call of God on their lives for ministry to reach young people.
What about multitudes, especially young people, who are seduced by the allurements of our culture and before they hear the gospel (or having responded previously are drifting) spiral off into drugs, alcohol, recklessness and deviant sexual practices that destroy lives? Burdened by guilt, shame and the inevitable consequences of sin, they attempt suicide to escape.
This is a delicate one. As a child had they experienced a genuine conversion and now were in a wayward state? [Don’t dismiss childhood conversions as our son who is currently pastoring in Georgia came to Christ when he was three!]
With drug experimentation, did things go awry and an overdose occurred that was not really a suicide at all?
Was a son, daughter or spouse attempting to get the attention of loved ones and their threat became a tragic, accidental reality? I thank God that He spared a dear friend whose marriage I officiated years after she had been rescued by God after ingesting 90 Advils in a moment of foolish desperation.
Was it a prank that backfired? A father once told me that his son viewed “Schindler’s List” and later decided to scare his brother by reenacting a hanging. Tragically his brother found him hanging by the noose, which suffocated him.
Because of pornography and rampant perversion in our culture, some people are found in suicidal hangings or at least that’s what observers initially conclude. Actually they’ve engaged in erotic asphyxiation that backfired. You may recall David Carradine the actor who was found hanging in the closet in an apparent suicide but later it was ruled “accidental erotic asp.”
In situations like these, one should be very tenderhearted and careful with what is communicated. While we don’t want to give false assurance, we mustn’t alienate grieving friends and relatives either. I
usually state something like this: “In this painful time of grieving, let’s reflect on the positives, in his/her life. We can trust God who is all-loving and just. What is critical now is what we can individually learn from the situation plus make sure our relationship is right with the living God. If the deceased could return, that would be their top concern, I’m sure.”
4. Avoidance Suicide
Approaching this area, let me state up front that I am NOT advocating anything, but simply addressing something that happens and shouldn’t be avoided in this topic. Consider an example.
Some who have concussions and find themselves in highly stressful situations may not respond ideally. They can exhibit dramatic mood swings, confusion, sleep deprivation and act out of character.
“Pressure reveals the person” but if the person is in a weakened state they may choose avoidance at a critical time. My appeal is that we don’t heartlessly condemn people to eternal damnation when God calls us to be understanding. My friend and prophetic teacher James Goll told me regarding suicide questions, “My views have adjusted some in recent years. They used to be pretty black and white but I’ve adjusted some. Only God ultimately knows.”
Peter denied the Lord three times but was not disqualified. He later was designated to preach the Pentecost sermon birthing the church!
Let’s proceed knowing “our God is able” in every circumstance; the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame” remains an inspiration; and, no one is suggesting the “easy way out” (like Saul) when faced with imminent death.
After the Bible, one of the classics that has profoundly influenced Christians for centuries is “Fox’s Book of Martyrs.” Reading the accounts of believers undergoing unbelievable persecution and yet shining as beacon lights inspires leaders in every generation.
Knowing “Dying grace does not come until the dying hour” and that “God’s grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), this fourth situation requires acute sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. May we never have to face the persecution others do in the world, but it’s important we be prepared even as we believe God can supernaturally rescue anyone in any circumstance at any time.
If someone faces extreme, brutal savagery leading to an inevitable, torturous death, might God in His all-encompassing mercy make allowance for somebody bringing his life to an end? For those who believe that suicide is always murder warranting eternal damnation,
please consider the following.
Last week in Virginia I had a meeting with a long-standing Christian leader. He related to me the unbelievable persecution Christians face in North Korea. I will be discreet but he described imprisoned Christians brought out into the open and raped, giving birth and having their newborns thrown to the dogs before their eyes.
“Voice of the Martyrs” publication has communicated scenes like the following: Christians are martyred in one nation by being made to lie down on the pavement and slowly and systematically having their feet then legs then torso crushed by heavy vehicles in hard-to-imagine, agonizing killings.
With ISIS in Iraq where individuals are openly beheaded, women and children are hacked to death and men face unfathomable, torturous deaths if they will not convert to Islam, do you think God extends mercy to some who fall on a sword, drink poison or flee knowing they will be immediately gunned down?
If someone is overwhelmed by terror dreading a savage, inevitable death and cries out to God in repentance for ending their life, do you really believe God would sentence them to hell? Can the God who forgave Moses, David and Paul for their participation in murder extend mercy in these types of extenuating and excruciating circumstances?
Islamic suicide-bombers who believe in Jihad believe they have automatic assurance of heaven and 72 virgins for their suicide. This is deception.
I for one don’t believe it’s deception to believe that persecuted and incapacitated Christians in certain circumstances can be reprieved for hastening inevitable death to be ushered into the presence of the living God.
5. Physician Assisted Suicide
In 1976 I got married. That same year I also had a book in my possession by Dr. Francis Schaeffer entitled, “How Should We Then Live?” The title comes from Ezekiel 33:10 which is an urgent prophetic warning for America today.
The book changed my life. For over 42 years in full-time vocational ministry I have lived its message. The frightening part is that the warning given by Francis Schaeffer is unfolding before our eyes yet more people know about the marriage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie than this reality.
Here’s the deal: As we remove God and His commands from our culture and fail to uphold the sanctity of life (everyone is created in the image of God), we are on a slippery slope to our demise. Our only hope is for a genuine spiritual awakening and that is something I give my life for each and every day.
Euthanasia comes from the Greek words meaning “good death.” Alternative and equally misleading terms used for actively taking someone’s life are “mercy killing,” “death with dignity” and “physician assisted suicide.”
Scripture tells us that all life is sacred and the command is clear, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). The seriousness of this is seen when David ordered capital punishment for the man who assisted Saul in his suicide act (2 Sam.1:1-16). Yet euthanasia proponents like Dr. Phillip Nitchkie say, “Many people I meet and argue with believe that human life is sacred. I do not…”
The further our Western civilization drifts from our Judeo Christian foundations, the more countries embrace euthanasia coupled with abortion and infanticide. Euthanasia is now legal in Belgium, Columbia, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico and the Netherlands (with the Netherlands small population they still euthanize 2000 people yearly plus now have guidelines for infant euthanasia). 73% of French doctors admit using drugs to end an infant’s life.
Like homosexual “marriage” it is gaining ground in America as we now see physician assisted suicide legal in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Barring revival, it is coming to a neighborhood near you!
With economic debt skyrocketing, the baby boom population aging (78 million strong) and socialized medicine becoming more and more a reality, we need to make preparation now for end-of-life decisions as “death panels” will slowly be introduced like they are in Canada and elsewhere.
When my wife and I worked on our “Living Will” (ps: You need one and should address it now lest you lose savings and possessions in probate court plus others will make dying decisions for you!) we incorporated end-of-life guidelines that can be obtained from “The National Right to Life.”
The smooth and seductive reasoning presented by advocates of euthanasia needs to be exposed and resisted vigorously by people of faith. Doctors helping “suffering” elderly people or those with dementia, depression or severe injuries be “put out of their misery” with lethal doses of medicine is contrary to the will of God.
Now there is a clear difference between actively killing someone and passively allowing a person to yield to inevitable death as we see in the Bible with Jesus, Stephen, Jacob and others. This is not suicide. Also, our Christian faith requires us to compassionately care for all people approaching death as well as those with reasonable hope of recovery. Even King David nearing death was granted a young, beautiful virgin to lie in bed next to him and keep him warm (with no romantic intimacy)!
When it is obvious to all that death is at hand; there is no reasonable hope of recovery; extraordinary life support measures aren’t advisable; and, the dying individual desires (ideally with family) to be allowed to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” then the appointed time has arrived to meet one’s Maker!
Consider Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, and how she concluded her days on earth. Valiantly battling persistent infirmities plus struggling with pneumonia and being bedridden, “At her request and in concert with her family, she stopped receiving nutrients through a feeding tube for her last few days hastening her death.”
Sometimes an individual refuses chemotherapy when told they are in stage 4 terminal cancer. While not refusing minimal nourishment, others refuse a feeding tube and other extraordinary measures so as not to delay but hasten their homegoing experience.
My 74-year-old father attended a Sunday morning church service and then came home, sat in a chair and begin to read a devotional book when he lowered his head and passed into the presence of the Lord.
My 87-year-old mother was flanked by my sister and me as we swabbed her lips, gently encouraged her to let go, and as I read the 91st Psalm she yielded her spirit as I said these words, “For He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands…”
“She’s gone!” exclaimed my sister.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”
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