Thursday, September 26, 2013

Suicide and the Court of Public Opinion - Reboot

This is a previous blog entry that I presented some time ago but feel it is extremely relevant now ... so I am rebooting it.

“Can you post a blog or record an episode focusing specifically on suicide?   What are your thoughts concerning suicide and whether or not it is an unforgivable sin?  Many churches preach that a person who commits suicide will go to hell.  Do you agree with this?  Please explain.”

I have received several emails concerning suicide and its intersection with faith and reality … the place God wants us to thrive in.  For the record, in opposition to those who like to claim a person is too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, Jesus was the most heavenly minded person to walk this world and He also did the most earthly good ever.  He was the perfect model for the intersection of faith and reality.

I have spent a lot of time pondering how I was going to approach this because it is a controversial subject.  I do not want to do anything that may further expand the great divide within today’s church … funny how God made a way to bridge the great divide … and we, through denominational bickering have created several new ones.  Unity is the bridge for those … but yet this must be addressed.   I have stated in previous blogs and podcasts that, in my experience, many Christians back themselves up against walls that crumble in their arguments because they simply repeat information that they have been fed … without questioning it.  We should never be mere recorders and repeaters of facts.  Instead, we should strive to discover the origin of their meanings. 

Therefore, in response to these requests I thought it responsible to first provide some very important facts concerning suicide followed by a scriptural approach to the various doctrines concerning suicide.  Finally, I will post some good sites for information.

The following information is from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Mortality Source: Deaths: Final Data for 2009 (CDC)
All suicides
•Number of deaths: 36,909 - Deaths per 100,000 population: 12.0 - Cause of death rank: 10

Firearm suicides
•Number of deaths: 18,735 - Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.1

Suffocation suicides
•Number of deaths: 9,000 - Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.9

Poisoning suicides
•Number of deaths: 6,398 - Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1

National Statistics(AFSP 2009)
  • Over 36,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year.
  • In 2009 (latest available data), there were 36,909 reported suicide deaths.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the United States.
  • Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • A person dies by suicide about every 15 minutes in the United States.
  • Every day, approximately 101 Americans take their own life.
  • Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide. Click here to view.
  • There are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for every suicide death.
  • Every 14.2 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.
  • Nearly 1,000,000 people make a suicide attempt every year.
  • Most people with mental illness do not die by suicide.
  • Recent data puts yearly medical costs for suicide at nearly $100 million (2005).
  • Suicide rates are highest for people between the ages of 40 and 59. Click here to view.
  • White individuals are most likely to die by suicide, followed by Native American peoples. Click here to view.

  • Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death among those 5-14 years old.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old.
  • Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, the suicide rate among U.S. males aged 15-24 more than tripled (from 6.3 per 100,000 in 1955 to 21.3 in 1977).
  • Among females aged 15-24, the rate more than doubled during this period (from 2.0 to 5.2). The youth suicide rate generally leveled off during the 1980s and early 1990s, and since the mid-1990s has been steadily decreasing.
  • Between 1980-1996, the suicide rate for African-American males aged 15-19 has also doubled.
  • Risk factors for suicide among the young include suicidal thoughts, psychiatric disorders (such as depression, impulsive aggressive behavior, bipolar disorder, certain anxiety disorders), drug and/or alcohol abuse and previous suicide attempts, with the risk increased if there is situational stress and access to firearms.

  • The suicide rates for men rise with age, most significantly after age 65.
  • The rate of suicide in men 65+ is seven times that of females who are 65+.
  • The suicide rates for women peak between the ages of 45-54 years old, and again after age 75.
  • About 60 percent of elderly patients who take their own lives see their primary care physician within a few months of their death.
  • Six to 9 percent of older Americans who are in a primary care setting suffer from major depression.
  • More than 30 percent of patients suffering from major depression report suicidal ideation.
  • Risk factors for suicide among the elderly include: a previous attempt, the presence of a mental illness, the presence of a physical illness, social isolation (some studies have shown this is especially so in older males who are recently widowed) and access to means, such as the availability of firearms in the home.

  • Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year, or more than 24 million people.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million).
  • About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately die by suicide.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
  • Women suffer from depression twice as much as men. This two-to-one ratio exists regardless of racial and ethnic background or economic status.
  • Depression in people 65 and older increases the risk of stroke and other medical complications.
  • The economic cost of depressive illnesses is $30 million to $44 billion a year.
  • Even though effective treatments are available, only one in three depressed people gets help.

Alcohol and Suicide
  • Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their substance abuse up to the end of their lives.
  • Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.
  • Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by suicide.

Firearms and Suicide
  • Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for "protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.
  • Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
  • Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
  • Firearms account for 50 percent of all suicides.

Medical Illness and Suicide
  • Patients who desire an early death during a serious or terminal illness are usually suffering from a treatable depressive condition.
  • People with AIDS have a suicide risk up to 20 times that of the general population.

The info speaks for itself.  I urge pastors to get educated concerning suicide.  Billions of dollars have been spent researching the medical and psychological causes, effects, etc of and concerning suicide.  If we, as Christians, close our eyes and refuse to look at this information choosing to instead hold onto the extremely flawed “faith” clause (faith will prevent any and all pain and suffering) we prove to be what so many in the world see us as: worthless and irrelevant … totally disconnected from the world we live in.  Jesus wants us to have a positive impact for Him while we remain … Paul cleared up some confusion in 1 Cor 5 explaining we have to be working in this world.  At the end of this blog will be listed some very informative sites and links that will allow a person to be educated concerning suicide and other mental illnesses.

Suicide is defined by a person taking his or her own life.  Other ways to define suicide are as follows:
·         Losing the fight against mental illness.
·         Acting on the mistaken belief that one’s death will end problems not realizing that it will merely compound them onto others.

Suicide leaves family and friends with many unanswered questions.  The chief of them being “was our love not enough?” and “how could I not see this coming?”  The loved ones left grieving often suffer through processes of discovering the pain that they had no idea (in many cases) even existed (at least to the extent that led to this tragic loss) and frequently battle with blaming themselves for being ignorant of its existence.  These typical responses are damaging and slow the healing process.  If kept restrained within the mind, they can be paralyzing.  They must be communicated and worked through for the grieving process to begin.

Family and friends of those suffering through the aftereffects of suicide often make mistakes trying to comfort the grieving.  Things not to do include:
·         Bring up in anyway supposed eternal ramifications of suicide
·         “Everything happens for a reason.”
·         “You’ll get over this.”
·         “You have to let him (or her) go.”
·         “God will make good of this.”
·         NEVER tell a person that they are wrong in the way they are acting emotionally

In time, there will be opportunities to work through some of these but initially they should be avoided UNLESS the person is about to harm themselves.  If that is the case, get them medical help.  If they are unable to adequately control their mental state, they may need medicinal intervention (prescriptions) to allow them to survive the first few days.  These treatments should be considered only if absolutely necessary and should have an exit plan.  But no one has the right to tell a person how long their grieving process should be.

What can a person say to those who have experienced this loss?
·         Try nothing – just show up and be there. 
·         Be a mirror – Let the person lead you where he or she wants to go and stay there as long as they want to be.  If they want to laugh, laugh with them.  If they want to scream and punch, be the best sound proof wall or punching bag you can be. 
·         “What can I do?” – then do it.  If you ask, be ready to respond.

What can a person do for those who have experienced this loss?”
·         Think survival – cook meals and develop a meal plan with friends … keep the family from having to consider how they are going to eat … many will just avoid food.  A nutritious meal plan will help expedite the mind’s healing process.  Nutrition is directly linked to mental health.
·         Think hygiene – offer to clean the home and yard while being as non-invasive as possible. 
·         Think bills – consider the possibility of combining resources to assist the family financially.

Doors will open based upon your relationship status with the family.  Be as easy as possible … be there but do NOT be noticeable.  Your invited presence will be a source to draw strength from.  Your well guided words (when asked to speak or reminisce) will bring a priceless and much needed joy.

“What if they ask me if suicide makes a person go to hell?”

Well, you can look them right in their eyes and, with assurance, say “no.”  I ask this question to everyone who believes this flawed doctrine: “Why do people go to hell?”  It’s not for unrepented sins … it’s for refusing to repent.  A sin does not make a Christian a damned sinner Biblically.  A damned sinner is one who has not accepted Jesus, according to the Bible, and the righteousness He has purchased for us.  (Matt9:13, 1 Cor 15, Jn 3:16, 1 Cor 1:18, 2 Cor 7:10, Rom 2:4, Rom 3, Rom10:9, 1 Jn 1:9, etc.)  

As Christians we are going to sin.  We are!  It’s inevitable.  Romans 7 describes the sin struggle for every Christian:

Rom 7:14-25
14  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15  For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16  If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17  But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20  Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25  I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

People who say that suicide leads to hell do so by claiming that the unrepented sin of suicide will ban one from entering heaven.  The Scripture references for this are those who compel us to endure to the end … to finish the race … and to confess our sins in order to have them forgiven.  So here’s the question: if I, while shopping, accidentally put a drill bit in my pocket because my hands were full but forget to pay and walk out of the store (stealing as a sin of omission but a sin none the less) while arguing on the phone with my wife and get struck by a truck and die … does that mean I am going to hell.  I love the Lord and have dedicated my life to Him but am caught in one of these Rom 7 moments where what I know I should do I’m failing at while I am doing what I know I shouldn’t be (arguing).  Remember, I died before I could repent…Jesus said to judge with righteous judgment (Jn 7:24).

Also remember that repentance is often misidentified as confession.  We walk in repentance…the continual profession that sin is wrong…the turning the back on sin.  It certainly doesn’t mean we won’t do it.  Confession means we account for a wrong done.  The confession of our sin situation is to be in agreement with God’s judgments (and grace).  So it is perfectly possible for a person to attempt to walk in repentance yet fall to sin.  Jesus’ sacrifice was so great to account for the depths man can so quickly fall.  If we claim that suicide is beyond grace, then we have placed a limit on His work at Calvary.

The fact is that God is the judge … we are not good at it and the positions is well taken and well filled.  There are many reasons that a person commits suicide.  Most of them involve either suffering with a mental illness or discovering (or dealing with) the existence of a painful terminal illness.  There are the instances of guilt and fear of consequences but they are a short minority.  So let’s look at this.  A person suffers with depression for years.  She does her best to stay strong everyday … but it’s there and for some reason God does not heal her miraculously.  She loves the Lord and is constantly before Him … but one day, while suffering from a mistaken medicine mishap, she is overwhelmed and loses the fight, ending her life.  That qualifies for hell?  Jesus Himself said there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven men … and that ain’t it!  So now we’re doctrinalizing suicide?  The Bible warns against that!  How about a man who has been in ministry his entire life … loves the Lord, but is overtaken by a cancer in the brain that is causing pain so severe he can’t do anything but scream.  Periods between the convulsions are merely recovery for his muscles that are all worn from the constant contraction.  He chooses to end his life in order to stop the pain…I mean think of the problems with this doctrine.

Add to that the fact that the Bible is almost silent concerning suicide.  A few of the recorded suicides in the Bible are acts of gallantry … there is, of course, the one involving Judas, who the Bible does say went to hell … but not for the suicide, for the refusal to repent and turn to Jesus!

The research says that most people who commit suicide do it to end what they believe is an unbeatable enemy … a problem that will hopefully be silenced by their death.  Unfortunately, all they do is transfer the problem on those who love them.

If you are reading this and you are battling suicide … if it is a common process in your mind … please consider the following:

1.      Do not be ashamed … you are being attacked by one of the nastiest enemies to come against the human psyche … you are not weak
2.      Check your meds … some of them have suicidal tendencies as a possible side effect.  That in itself is a rarity BUT if two (or more) meds have the side effect as a possibility, the chance of it surfacing are extremely greater … it may be the meds that are supposed to be helping you that are causing this fight!
3.      SLEEP!!!  Your brain and body needs sleep to heal itself and to work some things out.  If you can’t sleep at night, there are some helps for that … but sleep you must! 
         NOTE: I am referring to a healthy sleep pattern, not the unhealthy, prolonged and isolating sleep cycles that are linked to those suffering with severe depression.  “When the sun wakes up, you should too.  When the sun goes to sleep, so should you!” 

4.      Do not be silent … tell your doctor.  If you have the sanity to tell your personal physician or psych that you’re suffering, they probably will not move to quickly to admit you (b/c that’s the fear right?).  But they will help you set up and strengthen your defenses.
5.      Do not be alone … tell your loved ones.  Let them know.  Maybe it’s time to take a sabbatical … your career is not worth this … neither is the nice home or the luxury SUV’s.  Downsize and simplify …
6.      COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS … they need you to remember them first … your family and friends will never be better off without you … which is the lie you must convince yourself of in order to go down this road …

Finally, I believe with full assurance that when a Christian commits suicide as a failure to win the battle in his or her mind, that person is welcomed into heaven with open arms and will be waiting for the ones left behind.  That is my judgment based upon my research.

Web Resources:
The Jason Foundation:
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:
The Center For Disease Control:

The National Suicide Hotline: 800 273 8255
US National Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 800 448 1833
Kristin Brooks Hope Center: 800 SUICIDE
Veteran's Crisis Line: 800 273 8255
Focus On The Family: 800 A-FAMILY


  1. I am not very familiar with the Catholic faith. I have discussed this topic with a Catholic friend who believes that those who commit suicide remain in purgatory for eternity. Are there any Biblical references indicating this?

    1. Thanks Kim for the question ... no ... in fact you won't find purgatory at all in the Bible. Suicide is not directly dealt with even once. There are accounts of it ... some good ... most bad. King Saul attempted suicide, Judas committed suicide ... other accounts of men falling on their swords. The issue to me is how clearly lines have been drawn concerning this where the Bible just doesn't draw them.

      While I am certainly not for people ending their own lives, as a counselor and therapist, I find issue with how easily we write them off ... many are suffering, diseased, imbalanced, and not thinking clearly. How can they then be expected to make sound decisions.

      This is for sure, however ... the choice has been made one way or the other. For that soul, time has stopped ... and whatever the destination, it is final.

    2. No there is not. And there is no mention of suicide being the "unpardonable sin" either. And I hope this freedom and love will enable a person contemplating suicide to find the strength to seek the help he or she needs.

    3. Thank you for your comments and well said~the nature of suicide implies...demands bondage. Bondage increased only compounds the strain and the inability to think freely and clearly. If we can bring a level of freedom in the foundation, that can cause the whole fortress to crumble.

  2. Suicide is essentially murder, a taking of a life... but as we know there are various forms of murder. Premeditated and well planned and thought out to an impulsive act brought about by various forces in a persons life. Example: It is one thing for a man to catch his wife with another man and in a rage kill that man. It would be altogether different if he methodically planned his attack on this person. Our human courts judge these two differently. Nether is ok but the punishment is usually different. How and why people commit suicide varies as well. Only God can judge the soul and only He knows heaven or hell for anyone... It is impossible from our perspective, and our very limited view of eternity, to condemn a person to hell... As a Christian i believe Jesus Christ through His substitution on the Cross and His Resurrection, and by my trusting fully in Him, is my only salvation. His desire for men and women to be saved is far greater than my own and i am confident that every possible attempt will be made to revel His saving grace to every man and woman...especially the person trying to end their life... All things are possible with God. But we simply do not know for sure... But the real question remains... What about those of us still alive here and now? What will we do with Christ?

  3. Very good words. You said two things that I really think were critical to the point and need to be brought out in our teachings repeatedly.

    1st: "Only God can judge the soul...It is impossible from our condemn a person to hell..."

    One of my favorite songs was from an old band called Leaderdogs ... the song started with "You've got to stop playing God, bc You're not good at it and the position is already taken.

    The other point you made, and the one I feel is just as important or more was the challenge at the end: "But the real question remains... What about those of us still alive here and now? What will we do with Christ?"

    That's what we should always be coming back to. Come to think of it, as a soldier, I can never remember any arguing or bickering within the ranks during combat ... it was frequent in the barracks ... but never when the bullets were flying. Makes me wonder, when I see Christians bickering over doctrines, if we really believe we are at war ... if our calling by God is that real ... but that's another topic.

    Thanks for the comment ... good stuff!

  4. Very infoming and insightful. Thanks for posting!

    1. I have lost several friends, fellow soldiers, associates, youth, and students over the years to this enemy ... it is my pleasure to do what I can to help others with resources and facts ... if we can stop one ... that is something ... if we can each stop one ... that is better