Monday, September 8, 2014

Suicide Isn't Painless No Matter what the MASH Theme Song Says

Suicide is a topic of considerable interest today in  view of Robin Williams demise.  I wrote a post on this issue several days back.  It is a very interesting issue.  It is an important issue.

One of my all-time favorite sermons I have given was on the topic of death for Christians. Death is an entirely different issue for Christians than for agnostics or other religions. Death is a positive for us, if we really have faith.

Right after the sermon I had two inquiries about suicide. Suicide? Yeah, I guess there is a certain logic to connecting a positive view of death with suicide, but I honestly wasn't expecting that.

Gil Chesterton had a bit to say about suicide in his book, Orthodoxy,

"Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. ...The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. ... The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront."

I have a simpler argument that I made to the inquirers after the sermon. If our life was solely ours, we would be able to take it. BUT, we have been bought with a price (I Corinth 6:20), we are NOT our own.

But keep in mind that is true for our lives as well. The poet William Henley was wrong,
"I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul".
I am neither master nor captain. And neither are you.


  1. Being a therapist for about a hundred years, I know a lot about suicide. Unless a person is just doing the attention seeking thing, a person has to be "beyond" any rational thinking. They are in incredible pain, and can't see anything but the darkness that surrounds them. Many survivors of suicide attempts will tell you it seems to be the only solution at that time. When I talked to suicidal folks, I tried to get them to see what they were doing to their family, something that would forever change the way their children looked at themselves, and at the way others looked at them. It's a horrible thing. I wish I could stop every single person from doing this.

  2. Well said, Kathi. For me, the blending of what you said and what Phil said is that sin breaks and poisons. Whether it is the brokenness of a mind from birth or a life of broken choices, sin destroys.

    I like Chesterton a lot, but he got big parts of this one wrong. When people believe suicide is a "refusal to take and interest in existence" they fundamentally misunderstand suicide. Many people that struggle with suicide have spent years forcing themselves to care about existence even though their own mind is telling them not to. They have often white-knuckled it for years, maybe decades, to stay alive because they don't want to hurt other people. They are often keenly aware of the pain they will cause, but just don't have fight left in them.

    And here is where we, maybe, should hate sin the most. It not only turns brother against brother, but turns a person against themselves in self-hatred. With suicide the torturer, executioner and victim are often all the same person. Maranatha!!

    There are no deaths that cause me more grief than suicide. My compassion for those who struggle with it grows with every person I hear talk about their struggle. And compassion is what Chesterton seems to be missing in describing suicide as a refusal and a deliberate crime. Who knows, maybe he was trying to convince himself.

    By the way, Phil Bishop is one of the most deceptively compassionate people I know. And by that I mean that he often claims to be the heartless and cold professor gleefully handing out F's. But, in truth, his capacity and practice of compassion are extraordinary. It is obvious that Brenda's hard work on him has paid off. :-)

  3. Wes, thanks for your perspective. Suicide isn't painless, and I should have stuck to that point. Apologies to all.