Earlier in 2014, we mourned the loss of a beloved comedic and cinematic icon, Robin Williams, who tragically took his own life on August 11 inside his home in Paradise Cay, California.
Then, suicide, once again, made the news with the passing of a 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who decided to medically end her life on November 1, 2014.
Brittany was suffering from a rare form of terminal brain cancer called glioblastoma. Her doctors had given her only months to live, and advised her that the last few months of her life were going to be filled with extreme pain and sickness. Not wanting her family and friends to watch her slowly wither away like that, she made the decision to “die with dignity” by allowing a doctor to end her life with a combination of drugs.
One of the greatest misconceptions about suicide is that it is a selfish act, and that the person who’s taking their own life is taking the easy way out. Oftentimes, they’re labeled as cowards. I actually used to believe this myself. Not only was I quick to label them a coward, but I was was also quick to condemn them to hell for the act that they committed.
My pappaw committed suicide when I was just 7-years-old. While the exact reasons why he took his own life are not known, we do know that he suffered from severe depression. It’s also my understanding that he had a severe fear of cancer, and he was utterly convinced that he had it. If he did have cancer, he didn’t want his wife and six daughters to have the burden of caring for him as he slowly died. He also didn’t want to leave behind a burden of thousands of dollars in medical debt. So he decided to take his own life. He did it alone, in his bedroom, with a shotgun. In his mind, he was doing it for the good of the family.
This is most often the mindset of someone who commits suicide. Rarely are they thinking of themselves. They are thinking of others. For them it’s an act of love.
A friend of mine, Chaplain Chris Linzey, wrote a really great article on Brittany Maynard and suicide from a Biblical perspective. In his article, Burn, Baby, Burn—Christianity and Suicide, Chris brilliantly points out that when it comes to the issue of suicide, the Bible is relatively silent.
Now there are stories in the Bible where people committed suicide, with the most famous one being Judas, the disciple who sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. After his betrayal of Christ, Judas hung himself from a tree.
And while the Bible doesn’t have much to say about suicide, the one thing the Bible certainly never comes out and says is that suicide is a sin.
Yet traditionally, Christianity teaches that suicide is. But not only that, it also teaches that it is more or less an unforgivable sin. Chris elegantly states in his article the reason why traditional Christianity teaches this:
“So why do we tell people that those who commit suicide are hell-bound for eternity? The human logic behind it is this: suicide is murder and, since that grievous sin is the last thing you do before eternity, there is no chance to confess and repent. Thus you are doomed to hell.
That is simply attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This means that everything else that we do is forgivable.
How is God able to forgive suicide? I honestly don’t have an answer for you. But I do know this: I’m not going to be the one to limit his grace, his mercy, his sovereignty, or his power. God can do whatever it is he wants. I just believe that God is able to somehow forgive suicide, and I believe that he does.
I believe that Jesus Christ knows the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12-13).
I believe Jesus sees the motivation behind every single thing that we do. Even the motivation behind someone taking their own life.
I believe also that Jesus knows the mental health of the person who took their life.
Most of us have no idea of the depth of depression or the utter darkness that someone is in when they reach the point when they decide to end it all. To put it plainly: They are sick. Nobody knows this more than Jesus.
Jesus knows the reasons why Robin Williams took his life.
Jesus knows the reasons why Brittany Maynard took her life.
Jesus knows the reasons why my Pappaw took his life.
Jesus knows the reasons why a soldier jumps on a grenade, or deliberately draws enemy fire.
Jesus knows the reason why a police officer would willingly walk onto a high school campus, right into the line of fire during a school shooting.
Jesus knows the reasons why a fireman would walk into a skyscraper, knowing that any minute the whole entire building will collapse.
And I believe that Jesus would be the very last one to lift a condemning stone against any of them. Why? Because Jesus himself laid down his life to save others once.
And that’s what ties all these people together. In the thoughts and intents of their heart, they are saving someone. In a sense, they are all martyrs.
In John 15:13, Jesus says this: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
As a matter of fact as I open up my Bible and read the New Testament, I can’t help but see an overarching theme of sacrifice, taking up one’s cross, denying oneself, and laying down one’s life. We’re supposed to be living sacrifices!
Perhaps that this is the reason why the Bible is relatively silent on the subject of suicide? Perhaps it’s that all Christians are called in some way, shape, or form to be somewhat suicidal? After all, aren’t we supposed to die to ourselves and crucify the flesh? Isn’t that what the Word says?
Let me even take it one step further by asking you this question: If the Bible said that suicide was a sin would Jesus have been able to die on the cross? After all he did have a way out, right? According to Jesus in Matthew 26:53, he could have called for twelve legions of angels who would have rescued him at any time!
Just like anyone committing suicide, Jesus wrestled with thought of laying down his own life. Read Matthew 26:36-46. Three times Jesus cried out to Father God, “…Let this cup pass from me! But nevertheless, not My will be done, but Your will be done!” It’s the only time we see in the Word of God where Jesus’ will was contrary to that of the Father. Still, there was no other way around this. If humanity was to be saved, then Jesus had to lay down his life.
Am I championing someone purposefully taking their own life?
Heck no! I have seen the effects and the aftermath of what suicide does to a family. I have watched first-hand my Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins try to cope and come to terms with my Pappaw’s death, none of whom supported my Pappaw taking his own life.
As a matter of fact I don’t support anyone taking their own life. I agree 100% with Chris Linzey. In his article he said,
“Suicide is the human attempt to exercise ultimate sovereignty over life. This is the wrong attitude. God is sovereign, not us. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Or next week. Or next year. There’s no way to know that your life situation will stay on the setting “SUCK” for your entire life. It could change at any moment.”
That’s right. It could change at any moment.
Don’t give up on God!
But, can I understand some of the reasons someone would want to take their own life? Yes, I can.
I remember one time when my Mom was lying in the hospital room. She had been fighting Stage 4 lung cancer for almost two years. A few of my family and I were there in the room with her— nobody saying a word.
All of a sudden my Mom screams, “STOP STARING AT ME!!!!”
I thought she was just being grouchy. I really couldn’t understand why she was so bothered, until four months after her passing—and I found myself in a hospital bed, being treated for cancer myself.
Then my family was there, staring at me.
As I looked up into their faces, I could see the worry.
I could see the helplessness, hopelessness, and pity.
I could see brokenness.
I could see pain, sorrow, heartache, and sadness.
I could see bleakness. Despair. Anger. Rage. Frustration. Fear.
I could see their tears.
I could see their loss of words, the confused looks on their faces, not knowing what to say or how to act. Not knowing if I was going to live or if I was going to die.
Nobody wants to put their family through that. And as you lie there, looking up at them, you can’t help but feel your heart break for them. You wish that you could take it all away from them so that they can go back to their average, everyday normal lives without the burden of caring for you, breaking for you, crying for you, feeling helpless for you. You desperately don’t want them to feel that way.
Because of this I understand Robin Williams. I understand Brittany Maynard. I understand my Pappaw.
Do I condone them or applaud them for what they did? Heck to the no! I STRONGLY encourage anyone who’s battling thoughts of taking their own life to seek professional help!
But neither do I condemn them. And neither should you. It’s not our place.
At the end of the day it’s just you…and Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
No matter if you die naturally, sickness or disease takes your life, you’re killed in a horrible accident or murdered, or if you decide to take your own life—you, yourself, are going to have to stand in front of Christ Jesus, all alone, and give an account for your life. Are you ready for that?
Eric Johnson wears many hats! Husband, father, organic church planter, pastor, preacher, conference speaker, worship leader, songwriter, cancer survivor, and a semi-retired professional stand-up comedian, Eric has been really blessed over the years to have the following artists close the show for him: Hawk Nelson, 7eventh Time Down, The Josh Gilbert Band, and Shinebright. Eric makes his home in majestic mountains of Bristol, Tennessee, with his amazing wife, Crystal and their son, Kyle. Follow him at @EricIsGuitarted.