– David Gernetzky
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 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.” – Romans 8:35-39
Have you ever found yourself so disappointed with life that you secretly wondered, “What’s the point of going on?” Have you felt so discouraged, so confused, so full of pain and shame that you didn’t know whether you wanted to live or die?
Do those thoughts sometimes get such a grip on you that you find yourself obsessed with the thought of ending it all? If so, you need to know that your despair may actually have brought you to the threshold of a new beginning. It may have prepared you for something far better than anything you have ever known before.
Suicide has been said to be a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
At least one suicide is committed every hour in South Africa and 20 more unsuccessful attempts are made in the same time span.
Suicide has risen 48% over the past 10 years in South Africa and one third of all non-fatal attempts were recorded among children. Up to 8000 South Africans commit suicide annually.
Between 6893 and 8000 South Africans commit suicide every year, which translates into 667 deaths a month, 154 every week, and 23 every day. The investigation also found that the most suicides occur between the ages of 25 and 29 and that whites (26.7%) are the group in which the most suicides are committed.
Over 20% of teens in South Africa have thought about suicide. Approximately one third of all patients admitted to hospital after attempted suicide are children or teens.
According to SADAG, 23 people commit suicide every day countrywide and a further 230 attempt to.
While the Bible itself does not include the actual word suicide, there are different times in Scripture where a person took his or her own life.
ABIMELECH (Son of Gideon) – Judges 9
In Judges 9, the son of Gideon named Abimelech committed suicide. As a wicked ruler, he killed his seventy brothers in order to rule Israel, and during a revolt a woman dropped a millstone on his head from a tower above.
Before he was to die, Abimelech called his armour-bearer over and asked him to kill him because he didn’t want it said about him that a woman killed him.
SAMSON – Judges 16
In Judges 16, we remember the story of the powerful Samson, who fell in love with Delilah, and eventually allowed her and the Philistines to know that God granted him strength through his hair. After the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, they chained him to the pillars as they held a great sacrifice to the god Dagon.
In one last thrust of power granted by God, Samson pushed the pillars with all his might and collapsed the entire structure. Just before he died, Samson prayed to God, “Let me die with the Philistines!”
SAUL – 1 Samuel 31
In 1 Samuel 31, Saul and his men were also fighting the Philistines and when the effort grew fierce, the archers wounded him critically.
Saul then asked his armour-bearer to draw his sword and run him through, but when his armour-bearer refused, Saul took his own sword and fell on it. And when his armour-bearer saw what had happened, in a state of hopelessness he too fell on his sword and died.
AHITHOPHEL – 2 Samuel 17:23
There are also stories of Ahithophel and Zimri. In 2 Samuel 17:23 when Ahithophel realised his advice had of not been followed as a respected prophet and so he saddled his donkey, went to his hometown, put his house in order, and then hanged himself.
ZIMRI – 1 Kings 16
In 1 Kings 16, Zimri murdered the king of Israel Elah and took his place. When the rest of Israel learned what had happened, they pursued him, and Zimri retreated to the king’s palace. There he set it on fire, and remained inside.
JUDAS – Matthews 27
Probably the most memorable to us of all the suicide accounts is the story of Judas, the disciple of Jesus who sold him out to the Roman authorities for his arrest. Matthew 27 tells us that when Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and went away and hung himself in his despair.
And so from those in Scripture who committed suicide, we are able to gain a window into some of the thoughts and expressions experienced by a person contemplating suicide.
Feelings of hopelessness, despair, utter disappointment, pride, anger, and frustration can all be present. When a person commits suicide, it can be a very selfish, unthinking act – designed only to gratify themselves and cause remorse for those around them. In those circumstances, a person does not consider God or His plan for their life. But there are also other times, when suicide is the result of a mental illness, or incapacity of rational thought.
Some people who go through the difficulty of bi-polar disorders, or suffer from severe depression, can be dangerously susceptible to suicide, especially if they are not receiving medical treatment or counselling.
WHAT IS THE SUICIDAL PERSON TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?
Everything we do is done for a reason. Even the distorted choices of a suicidal person have a purpose. The two common reasons for suicide are rescue and revenge.
What we need to see, however, is:
Taking your own life never does what you want it to. Anytime we are in pain, it is only natural to do all we can to ease the hurt. Yet pain is inevitable. Pain is an unavoidable reality in this fallen world of sin and broken relationships.
Therefore, we all want to rescue ourselves from the pain we bear. For the suicidal person, nothing seems to have worked. He mistakenly thinks he is out of options. Problems seem insurmountable.
“I’m tired of hurting, I can’t take any more, I just want out.”
Death now seems reasonable, even attractive.
No more pain – or so we think. But death is not the end. It is only another threshold – the threshold to eternity. The suicidal person may also want to rescue others from the pain he is causing them.
A father who has lost his job says, “My wife and kids are better off without me, I’ve got enough insurance to provide for them. My wife can remarry and maybe this time she won’t get stuck with such a loser.”
(Note: Most insurance companies have a suicide exception clause in their policies. They do not pay in cases of suicide)
An elderly grandmother who is slowly withering away in a rest home rationalises, “I’ve lived a full life. My mate is gone. If I take my life, my children and grandchildren will have the rest of the estate to enjoy. They deserve it.”
In reality, though, suicide only multiplies the pain and grief of loved ones.
Revenge is also a powerful motive for suicide.
The individual seeks to retaliate against whose who have disappointed him. He has thoughts like: “You can’t get away with treating me that way. I’ll show you. I’ll make you pay!”
Suicide is said to be the ultimate personal rejection.
“I prefer death to living with you for the rest of my life.”
“I’ll stain you with a shame you’ll never wash off.”
But suicide for revenge always backfires.
It may hurt others, but it doesn’t destroy them. It’s more destructive to you and brings you face to face with God.
By following the common threads of revenge and rescue, we conclude that the ultimate motivation of suicide is selfishness. There is a selfish preoccupation with “me and my world” to the exclusion of caring about others.
The BIG question: Is the act of suicide unforgivable?
There is a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and actions that are present in suicide, which leads us to our question “Is suicide unforgivable?” Of course, it’s important to point out at the very beginning that this is a slanted question.
For many years, the conventional thought of many in the church is that suicide is an unforgivable sin. Augustine argued in the fifth century that suicide was a violation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Later, Thomas Aquinas, being catholic and believing that confession of sin must be made prior to departure from one world to the next, he taught that suicide was the most fatal of all sins because the victim could not repent of it.
This is based on the fact that if a person dies while they are committing a sinful act, they are unable then to confess that sin and ask for forgiveness. The intro of purgatory: to accommodate suicide = pray for, penance. These are incredibly damaging and unbiblical views. Merely from my own personal standpoint, these ideas can be easily refuted. All I need to do is ask you two questions.
First of all, do you sin? The obvious answer is yes.
And secondly, have you confessed each and every sin that you have committed in your life? The obvious answer is no.
There are sins we forget, there are even sins that we commit that we are not aware of. And so by that logic, each of us would still be susceptible to the eternal fires of hell and still unable to receive the grace given through Jesus Christ.
But Scripture tells us that is not the case. John 5:24 informs us, “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 judgement, but has passed from death into life.”
You see, the problem with the view that suicide is unforgivable is that it represents a gross misunderstanding of eternal security. We are saved by the grace of God, not by works.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not and from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” And we are told in Romans that God has the ultimate ability to bridge the separation between us and Him.
Romans 8:38-39 says, “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 Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Those who want to say that suicide is unforgivable attempt to make suicide an elevated sin – a sin that is heightened to a status that even God Himself cannot forgive. There are two problems with this.
First, such a stance limits the conditions by which God can or cannot forgive someone – resulting in us essentially placing God in a box.
Secondly, there is only one unpardonable sin that is ever mentioned within the Bible. In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Sometimes in our desire to have things cut and dry, black and white, we run head long into extremist views without allowing compassion and mercy to be present. And unfortunately, the church has frequently erred on the side of judgement rather than mercy.
I’ve known churches that have refused to host a funeral service for someone who has committed suicide. In years past, people who committed suicide were not allowed to be buried in the church cemetery next to their family or brothers and sisters in Christ. In those instances, the church has lost critical opportunities to minister and has unfortunately turned people away from the loving presence of Jesus Christ.
IT’S OK THAT YOU FEEL ALONE
Many people struggle daily with the same feelings that are tormenting you. We know this because the problem of suicide is of epidemic proportions in our society. This means that you are not among those who have made their problems far worse through an irreversible act of self-destruction.
Elijah – “I am the only one left.” God corrected that.
IT’S OKAY, YOU STILL HAVE OTHER OPTIONS
You may think you have run out of options, but you haven’t. You still have good choices that can bring meaning, purpose, and eventually even joy to the core of your soul.
You have choices that can bring you from darkness into light, from anger into love, and from loneliness into the most important of all relationships.
You might feel trapped. But you’re not as trapped as you think. You just need to find that hidden passage, that blind doorway that has been eluding you.
How can you find that doorway?
Well, one way is to follow your pain.
“Be still and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10
“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Oh my Strength, I sing praise to you; you O God are my fortress my loving God.” – Psalm 59:16-17
You need to realise that:
– When you are at the end of your tither, there is God.
– God is your all-needed option.
If you ask anyone who has defeated the desire to commit suicide – they will tell you – There is another option!
IT’S OKAY TO FEEL PAIN
It’s all right to experience deep, soul-tearing pain.
Pain, as terrible as it feels, is meant to be a messenger of mercy.
Pain in our bodies alerts us to injury or sickness.
Pain in our souls alerts us to spiritual needs.
You may be trying to escape that pain without hearing what it is trying to tell you.
But that’s like disconnecting the warning light on your car dashboard instead of finding out why it keeps coming on.
Because this is such an important point, let’s spend some more time with it. People contemplating suicide are people in deep emotional pain.
They are saying, “If this is what life has to offer, I don’t want it. It just hurts too much to go on.”
Unfortunately, the intensity of your pain not only signals trouble inside, but it also can cause you to lash out at others – whether they have hurt you or not.
A car hit the neighbour’s dog. The pup, normally so friendly was blinded by the agony of his broken hind legs. He lashed out at those who were trying to help. He acted like we often do when we hurt. We tend to lash out at everyone, God and man included.
Because of their deep pain, suicidal persons are not thinking clearly. Their hurt distorts their vision. The result is similar to what we experienced as children when we looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. The world we saw was very different. We saw only a small part of a world that had suddenly become distorted by the lens.
Perspective was lost. If we tried to walk around like that, we found ourselves walking into walls that still looked far away.
In looking through the wrong end of the binoculars, the result was the pain of a bumped head or bruised shins. But when it comes to the agonising pain of despair it means that the hurt/pain needs to be recognised.
“Cast your care upon the Lord, He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8
You are not wrong to hurt – but allow your hurt to work for you and not against you.
IT’S OKAY TO COUNT ON GOD
It is at the point of hopelessness that we have the opportunity to discover the very purpose for which we have been created. We weren’t made to count on people
We weren’t made to be satisfied by another human being. No mere mortal could ever pour enough love into us to fill up the deep sinkholes of our soul. No human relationship could ever satisfy our deep needs for security, significance, and satisfaction. We were designed by our Creator to experience Him as the ultimate Lover of our souls.
We were made to know the deep joys of David, the musician-king, who wrote, “Keep me safe, Oh God, for in You I take refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing” – Psalm 16:1-2
David’s experience was very much like that of Asaph, another Psalm writer. He wrote of his deep struggle with discouragement and hopelessness by saying,”…as for me, my feet had almost slipped, I had nearly lost my foothold.” – Psalm 73:2
In other words, he now recognised that he had almost made a terrible mistake as he bitterly and resentfully reflected on the pains and injustices of life. One day this man went into the house of the Lord and saw things in a new light. Suddenly he saw more than the present. Now he could see “forever”. Temporary pains and injustices looked altogether different as he said,
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:21-26.
David, the songwriter-king of Israel, knew the meaning of deep despair. He often felt alone and unloved. However, instead of resorting to suicide, he repeatedly turned to the only Person he knew he could trust.
“I cry aloud to the Lord…When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way…for I am in desperate need.” – Psalm 142:1,3,6
The soul (think/feel/decide) part of you must be overpowered by what your spirit part of you says. The spirit part is your contact with God and His Word. This must override what you feel and think.
“I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” – Psalm 40:1-3
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10.
David Gernetzky is the senior pastor of City Life Church in East London.