On Memorial Day flags fly at half-staff in remembrance of armed forces killed by the enemy. Every day we could well lower the flag in memory of those who lost the will to live and died by their own hands.
There are probably as many causes for suicide as there are victims. From the victims come the painful cries of hopelessness, loneliness, and self-will. Each of us face these painful experiences. “Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted” (
No one is exempt from the temptations of hopelessness, loneliness, and self-will. Only our faith in Christ offers release and life for each of these needs. Were it not for the grace of God in Christ there would be even more suicides.
Hopelessness Kills the Will to Live
I grew up hearing, “Where there is life, there’s hope.” It should be, “Where there is hope, there is life.”
A person without hope loses the will to live. Helmut Thielicke says, “There are many suicides — not because people have too little money or suffer disappointments in love but because they lost the meaning of life and see themselves confronted by a black wall.”1 There appears to be no solution for the problems they face. Overcome with intolerable despair the individual feels trapped in a “no exit” situation. Suicide seems the only way out.
Albert Camus said, “Killing oneself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it.”2
When life is woe
And hope is dumb
The world says ‘Go!’
The grave says ‘Come!’
This is the deadly lure of suicide. It offers a door out of hopelessness.
Paul stopped a suicide: “Do not harm yourself, we are all here.” Seeing the apostles could have escaped but stayed the jailer realized these Christians had something he needed.
“What must I do to be saved?”, he eagerly inquired. The jailed moved from a hopeless, no-exit situation to hope in Jesus Christ. Saved from hopelessness!
The tragedy of suicide deepens because it involves misdirected hope. A teenager overdoses because her boyfriend ends their relationship. A senior citizen ends it all after hearing the news of cancer. A prominent businessman goes bankrupt and shoots himself. Each faced a significant loss. What was lost had become the bank into which all their hopes were deposited. Misdirected hope breeds hopelessness.
Ted Koppel reminded Duke University graduates:
There have always been imperfect role models; false gods of material success and shallow fame, now their influence is magnified by television. I caution you — as one who performs daily on that flickering altar, to set your sights beyond what you can see.4
Koppel went on to challenge the graduates to faith in God and the moral guidance of the ten commandments.
Set your sights on the God whom we know in Jesus Christ. His stabilizing hope is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (
My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Hope gives the will to live. Jesus Christ is the only sure hope.
Loneliness Kills the Will to Live
Isolation is lethal. Pastoral psychologist Wayne Oates says, “Having observed many, many cases of suicide, I am singularly impressed that each person died alone, all alone.”5 Scripture affirms, “None of us lives to himself, none of us dies to himself” (
God said it is not good for man to be alone (
A few years ago New England had the highest suicide rate in the nation. Some mental health experts attributed it to the “Yankee version of the ‘stiff upper lip.’ They try to keep it all in, try to be strong; hide their feelings, until they do something drastic — like kill themselves.”6
Refuse to incubate with your problems. It will only produce the debilitating mildew of depression. Loneliness — including emotional isolation — kills the will to live.
Guilt-laden Judas returned to religious leaders and tried to get a refund on his betrayal. His colleagues in sin rebuffed the offer. “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (
Our God overcomes loneliness. The Psalmist affirmed, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (
The nation saw a picture of the Lord’s comforting presence following the bombing of the USS Stark. One young widow sent a Bible and a letter of forgiveness to the Iraqi pilot. She responded with faith in God. She has the will to live because she knows the living Lord.
Our Lord calls us to minister to the lonely and help impart His will to live. Garrison Keillor writes about Ella:
She thinks about visitors. Loneliness is too dramatic. It makes troubles seem tragic, and hers are quite ordinary old-lady troubles, she thinks, and would seem more ordinary if she had some ordinary visitors.7
Ordinary visiting ministers the will to live. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …” (
The church offers the best opportunity to give this support. Sunday School classes, Christian care groups, choir, and other church groups can be life-preserving fellowship experiences. Love overcomes loneliness and strengthens the will to live.
Self-Will Kills the Will to Live
Some un-Christian moralists describe suicide as heroic. Honestly, isn’t it selfish? It is the ultimate result of the self turned inward. Suicide is selfishness distilled down to its purest lethal poison.8
The selfishness of the act impacts the life of the survivors. Suicide is a “singular act with a plural effect.”‘
The person who commits suicide puts his psychological skeleton in the survivor’s emotional closet — he sentences the survivor to deal with many negative feelings … to become obsessed with the thoughts regarding his own actual or possible role in having precipitated the suicidal act or having failed to abort it. It can be a heavy load.10
When self is in control, others aren’t considered.
The ego can be deadly. “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (
Jesus came to save us from ourselves. Left alone we self-destruct. Some do it by suicide; others by alcohol, drugs, work — selfishness.
Some regard low self-esteem as a contributing factor in many suicides.11 Like misdirected hope, the self fails to find direction and fulfillment. Refusal to accept self or accepting the false self-image imposed by others feeds destructive feelings to the ego.
Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (
Lofton Hudson tells of an alcoholic who called him on the phone at 11:00 p.m.:
“‘I am standing here with a gun in my hand, already cocked. When I hang up from talking to you, I’m going to blow my brains out.’
“I sincerely halted as I tried to respond honestly to that challenge.
“Finally I said, ‘You can do that. I know you can. You’ve got guts enough to pull it off. Now listen carefully to what I have to say to you. I probably won’t say it but once. If you blow your brains out, you will certainly leave one person behind who cares. I will really hate it if you do that. Will you remember that?’ His reply was, ‘Okay. Thank you, Doc.’
“It has been 16 years since that night. He has joined A.A., gone back to church, and is enjoying a good living as a house painter.”12
The man found the will to live. Someone showed him hope and love. He surrendered himself. What about you?
1. Helmut Thielicke, The Faith Letters. Waco: Word Books, 1978, p. 7.
2. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955, pp. 3-5.
3. In R. Lofton Hudson, Persons in Crises. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969, p. 10.
4. Duke University Commencement Address, May 10, 1987.
5. Wayne Oates, Pastor’s Handbook, Vol. 1. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980, p. 83.
6. Courier-Journal, March 26, 1978.
7. Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days. New York: Penguin Books, 1985, p. 355.
8. The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953, p. 1040.
9. John H. Hewitt, After Suicide. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980, p. 51.
10. Hewitt, p. 12
11. John Q. Baucom, Fatal Choice. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986, p. 127.
12. Hudson, p. 69.