She was concerned. She knew her mother was working as a nurse at a hospital, some thirty minutes’ drive away. But her elderly retired father had not answered her calls, and she knew he was supposed to be home. She finally drove to her parents’ home. She knew something was wrong when she found the door unlocked, but no one had answered her knocks. The master bedroom where her father usually stayed was empty. Then she looked in the hallway towards the bathroom. That was when she saw him. His body was lying crumpled on the bathroom floor. There was a recently fired pistol on the floor beside him, and my grandfather was dead.
The police had considered that it might have been a robbery, or even a revenge murder. But the circumstances led them to finally conclude that he had taken his own life. I can remember my father saying that the old man had probably had some kind of stroke, and, realizing that it would debilitate him further, decided to end it all.
In less than the fifty-or-so seconds it has taken you to read the above paragraphs, at least one more person has died by suicide somewhere in the world. It amounts to over a million people every year. 1.8% of all deaths in the world are intentionally self-inflicted. I read recently of a seminary professor who took his life after his name had been leaked as part of the Ashley Madison list. I saw a documentary on the suicide of the brilliant comedian and actor, Robin Williams. I remember one horrible Christmas day that I spent with a family whose son had killed himself on Christmas Eve. Suicide is a tragic reality that keeps interrupting all our lives. If the trend continues, we can expect more of the same, as global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.
The Bible highlights seven suicide stories,1 most of them about people who are overcome by the shame of personal failure. Saul and Judas are the most memorable. The only suicide the Bible describes in a somewhat positive light is Samson’s – whose sacrifice led to the death of so many of the Philistines. But even Samson’s death story describes the end of a tragic life, and the message of the book of Judges seems to be that God is sovereign and his will accomplished in spite of Samson’s failures – including his death.
The Bible does not justify suicide as a way to end it all. Death is the wages of sin,2 but God wants to give us life – abundant and eternal.3 The Bible does not promise a life without sorrow, suffering, failure and shame, but encourages us to look with hope to a future without such problems. In fact, the Bible says “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV). So, the recourse we have when we face the transient shame of failures and falling short is to remember the permanent success we have waiting for us when our Lord returns. Compared to that permanent glory, no pain or shame we experience today is significant. Nothing is worth ending your life for.
Some people will take their own lives when overcome by suffering, or the idea of suffering to come. They have not committed the unpardonable sin. We need not fear that Christ will reject these simply because they could no longer bear to live. But, if you ever feel that way, I urge you to seek counsel and help. Don’t let a momentary affliction rob you of God’s precious gift of life. Also, think of those you would leave behind. Your death would certainly not end it all for them.
It has been decades, but I still miss grandpa.
- Judges 9:52-54; 16:25-30; 1 Samuel 31:4-5; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:15-20; Matthew 27:3-5
- Romans 6:23
- John 10:10; John 3:16; Romans 6:23