A Complicated grief
Recently, I learned of two suicides that impacted the lives of people I know and love. While it felt like suicide seemed more prevalent, I had no idea just how prevalent until I did some research. I was shocked to learn that in 2015 alone 44,000 Americans took their own lives. That’s one death every 12 minutes! The overall suicide rate in our country has grown by almost 30 percent in the last 15 years. How do we, as Christians, respond to what some are calling a new public health crisis? There is not space here to adequately discuss the subject, but I would like to offer a few answers to that question.
First, I would say to anyone who fights depression or entertains suicidal thoughts to get help immediately--you are not alone! Tremendous resources and professional help are available and there is community support within the body of Christ. As a church we are committed to helping one another, and anyone else who lives within the desperate tension between the desire to die and the desire to live. We would certainly encourage any person in our church family who is dealing with this kind of anxiety to reach out for help. There is always hope, and you can be rescued from your despair.
Secondly, I would encourage all of our members to pray for those who battle depression or exhibit suicidal tendencies. Learn as much as you can about suicide. A number of excellent books deal with the subject and provide scriptural answers and insights. I also do not believe that we should shrink back from recommending professional help or therapy to friends and loved ones, as long as that treatment recognizes the authority of scripture and is in line with a Christian worldview.
Thirdly, as much as possible, be there for those who have suffered the loss of a friend or loved one to suicide. On average, every suicide leaves 6 to 10 people—spouses, parents, siblings, children—devastated in its ugly wake. That represents hundreds of thousands of people in America who are dealing with a litany of painful emotions. These victims experience what’s been called “a complicated grief” because they’re coming to grips with the trauma, guilt, shame, anguish, and even anger that accompanies suicide. What they need most is your presence. Resist the urge to offer pat answers because there is no quick fix for such devastating loss. Sometimes words are inadequate and the best we can offer is “the sacrament of silence.”
Finally, we need to understand what the Bible teaches about the sin of suicide. And yes, it is indeed a sin, but it is never presented as an unforgiveable sin. There are seven suicides recorded in scripture and not one of them is presented in a positive light. Yet sadly, some entertain the erroneous idea that committing suicide automatically condemns a person to hell. Nowhere is that taught in the Bible. There is a sense in which people who die from a sick mind are no different than those who die from a sick body.
Some entertain the erroneous idea that committing suicide automatically condemns a person to hell. Nowhere is that taught in the Bible.
Many years ago, I lost a very dear friend to suicide. It was difficult to process and I still hurt whenever I think of him. I think of the good man his grandchildren will never know. I regret the loss of the positive impact he could have had on others. I resent the horrible pain his death brought to his family. I also mourn the loss of fellowship with a brother in Christ. Even as I write these words the pain becomes real all over again. Still, I believe I will see him again. He was a flawed man but a man who had trusted Christ as Savior.
Suicide rates are increasing in every demographic. I cannot help but wonder how much of this terrible trend reflects the hopelessness inherent in a secular worldview. It behooves us as followers of Jesus Christ to share the hope of the gospel wherever and whenever we can. By the grace of God, let us endeavor to stand at the tomb of this world’s dead hope and proclaim the promise of resurrection and eternal life through him who conquered death.
I’ve been a pastor for over 30 years and currently am the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Finksburg, Maryland, a small town near Baltimore.