Posted in theology

Depression & suicide in the Christian

By Elizabeth Prata
depression
Depression and suicide are on the rise in the world, and sadly, it is on the rise for Christians too. Suicide rates for Christians are about the same as for non-Christians. Pastor suicide rates are up also. Just last month it was reported that Inland Hills Church in California was shocked after Pastor Andrew Stoecklein committed suicide. He was young and he left a young wife and three young sons.

Some organizations say depression is a sin. Others do not go that far, but say instead that depending on our response to it, it could be a sin. David Murray wrote 7 Questions about Suicide and Christians after it was announced that Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew had committed suicide.

Prolonged depression is dangerous and could lead to suicidal thoughts or unfortunately to the act itself. Depression and suicide have been with Christians for a very long time. Martyn Lloyd Jones famously preached on the topic at length.

Concerned about the joyless state of Christians, especially after the stressful years of World War II, in 1954, Lloyd Jones preached a sermon series that was later published as Spiritual Depression: Its causes and its cure. Each sermon takes one cause of discouragement (e.g. worry, doubt, regret, suffering) and addresses it from a biblical perspective. You can listen to those sermons for free at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust.

Charles Spurgeon wrestled with depression himself. Zack Eswine, in his book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression wrote that Spurgeon dealt with the concept of suicide openly.

Spurgeon deals frankly with the issue and admits that genuine believers can become so downcast that they’re tempted to let go of the tether of hope. Such thoughts aren’t necessarily insane (Paul’s desire to depart in Philippians 1 demonstrates this, Spurgeon says), but he shows that ultimately the Christian is called to choose life, understanding that dark seasons will come to every person in a fallen world. This is a particularly important discussion since depression and suicide among pastors seems to be on a sobering uptick.

Going back to the 1600s, John Bunyan wrote about Christian suicide in his famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. (pub. 1678). It was a remarkable scene. Christian and his new friend Hopeful are making their journey toward The Celestial City together. The path had become difficult, and they spied a parallel path on the other side of the fence that seemed easier to traverse. Coming to a stile, Christian convinced Hopeful to climb over and off they want, departing from the path they were told to take. They did not know that they were entering the lands owned by the Giant Despair, who soon captured them and brought them to his Doubting-Castle. The Giant threw the pair into a dungeon without light, food, or water. The Giant promised to beat, torture, then kill them. Here is the scene from an online version of The Pilgrim’s Progress using modern language:

So the next morning he went to the dungeon with a bad-tempered manner as before; on noticing that the prisoners were very sore on account of their previous beating, the Giant told them that since they would never be released from their bondage, the only alternative way of escape was for them to commit suicide using either a knife, a noose, or poison. “For why,” said he, “should you continue to choose life seeing that it is filled with so much bitterness?”

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Hopeful spent a good amount of time speaking hope to Christian, and offering reasons not to do it. Christian promised not to and the pair fell asleep. The Giant Despair returned and was even more enraged that the prisoners were still alive. He would have finished them off then and there but he fell into one of his fits where he could not use his hands. He withdrew, raging again that the prisoners ought to take his advice and do away with themselves.

Then the prisoners discussed amongst themselves whether it would be best for them to take the Giant’s advice or not. So they entered into intense conversation.
CHRISTIAN: My brother, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part, I do not know whether it is best for us to live as we are, or to die at our own hand. My soul chooses strangling rather than life, and the grave appears more desirable than this dungeon. Shall we accept the Giant’s advice?

Hopeful again calmed Christian with his good words. He reminded Christian that he had resisted Apollyon by using his sword, and Apollyon went away. He said Christian had been brave going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian had already endured so much more besides.

So do all of these count for nothing in your present fearful plight? You understand that I am imprisoned with you, a far weaker man by nature than ever you were. Further, this Giant has wounded me as well as yourself, and he has deprived me of bread and water even as you; and along with you I detest this darkness. But still let us exercise a little more patience.

Bunyan himself had been imprisoned for 12 years, for no more than the ‘crime’ of preaching the Gospel. Though no letter, papers, hint, or clue reveals that Bunyan ever considered suicide, his lengthy imprisonment, separation from his family, his blind daughter’s death, and his inability to provide for his wife and children (who constantly lived on the edge of poverty) weighed on Bunyan terribly.

That Bunyan would include such an amazing scene dealing with despair and suicide is astonishing. Bunyan well knew that Christians can fall into despair where the grave seems preferable to continuing on in such a deplorable state.

How did Christian get out of the dungeon? He and Hopeful began to pray. Then “suddenly” Christian remembered:

In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.

At this point, the footnote refers to these verses: Gen. 28:15; Heb. 13:5; Rev. 1:18. What is the Promise? Here they are

Genesis 28:15 – Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

Hebrews 13:5  – Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”

Revelation 1:18 – and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

The key called Promise did indeed open the door to their cell and the front door and the gate. They escaped Doubting-Castle and the Giant Despair.

Bunyan’s character Hopeful had urged Christian to have more patience. Bunyan here focused on the perseverance of the saints. This focus comes through many times in his allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and never more than Christian’s awakening from his weary passivity in the dungeon.

We have to persevere with patience, day by day, inch by inch sometimes. It is the patient forward motion that will aid the Pilgrim in his journey to the Celestial City. No matter if he is in darkness, facing Giant Despair, fighting Apollyon, resisting the Vanity Fair, or confronting any temptation or weight.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1).

Christian, you are not alone if you are in a dark dungeon, feeling the weight of despair, or fighting off the encroaching voice pressuring you to take your life. You’re not the only one experiencing it. Help is available.

Here are some resources:

10 Myths About Suicide and How to Help a Suicidal Friend (World Suicide Prevention)

Hope in a Dark World

Lloyd Jones Spiritual Depression Sermon Series

David Murray (video) Christians get depressed too

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.

I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
Jonah 2:1; 6
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Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

Mailbag: Do people who commit suicide go to hell?

rope

Today’s question was Do people who commit suicide go to hell?

The query came on the heels of fashion designer and celebrity Kate Spade’s suicide on June 5, 2018 and celebrity chef, television personality, and author Anthony Bourdain’s apparent suicide on June 8. It was a devastating week for those two families, their work families, and the watching world. Once again people questioned why, if someone has it all, depression still creeps and suicide becomes a solution. The Christian knows it is the vanity of vanities to pursue all of life’s offerings without Christ, it only ever adds up to emptiness. One should read Ecclesiastes for wisdom on emptiness in life without Christ.

But the non-Christian world still reels in shock when they look to the pinnacle of success, see their idols up there, only to see them cast it all away and tumble.

David Leavitt, a freelance writer for CBS, Yahoo, and the Examiner, tweeted,

If you’re religious, then you believe there’s a special place in hell or purgatory for people like Anthony Bourdain who take their own lives.

His is a common view if one has been raised Catholic. They teach that to take one’s own life (and anyone helping to take a life) is in mortal sin. A mortal sin means you’ve now lost your salvation forever. They base their teaching not on the Bible, but on principles that the Christian can identify with nonetheless. For example, to take one’s life is to assert lordship over it, when it is God who gives and takes life. It is God who counts your days and sets the boundary line for when you step into eternity. Suicide also lets down the people you are connected to, either family by blood or church family by Jesus’ blood. We are each given the gift of the Holy Spirit to operate with in the gifts the Spirit in us has dispensed, and to take one’s life leaves a hole in the family fabric where God has installed you. Even the Christian can understand that suicide is a heavy sin.

But can we go so far as the Catholic to say that a Christian who takes his own life for sure will go to hell? No. Again, no. If a person is indeed saved by faith, they can never lose their salvation. The Spirit indwelling us is the secure guarantee of that. (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 1:22).

We are careful with terms here, the original tweet said the religious believe there is a special place in hell for the successful suicide. Muslims actually believe jihadi suicide in Allah’s name gets you INTO heaven, so, not ‘religious’, but if one is Catholic, then they do believe there’s a special place in hell or purgatory for people like suicides.

Christians know than any person would be in hell only because they rejected the Gospel. The people in hell are the people who died in sin and not in Christ. The only unforgivable sin is rejecting the offer of salvation by Jesus. It stands to reason, though, that any other sin is possible for a Christian to still commit.

Can a truly Christian person even contemplate suicide, let alone successfully throw their life away? Perhaps, or perhaps not. It is not for me to say. I do believe that it’s possible there are many Christians struggling with depression. Charles Spurgeon famously struggled with depression, though he never attempted suicide.

Suicide is detailed in the Bible. Many people did kill themselves. Judas, King Saul, King Saul’s armor bearer, and many others. They were all men and they were all apostasizing or non-believers. No truly saved person is documented in the Bible as attempting or carrying out suicide, not even King David in the throes of his deepest depression. Jonah in fact, though seemingly depressed and unhappy, pleaded for his life in the belly of the whale.

Observations;
All of the biblical examples of successful suicide are men.
All of the biblical examples are dubious characters and none are personally praised for their actions.
All were spiritually bankrupt or went through a period of spiritual collapse before their suicide.
Many of the biblical examples were in pain and/or afraid before suicide.
Scripture generally presents these examples of suicide as a fitting end to a wicked and unrepentant life (cf. Judg. 9:56; 1 Ki. 16:19). (Source)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote an enduring and classic Christian book called Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure. He and preached on spiritual depression also, here. The entire series of 24 sermons on spiritual depression is here.

I think suicidal deaths could be the group referred to in 1 Corinthians 3:15,

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Here, Paul was teaching about the levels of rewards in heaven. Believers will appear before Christ to account for their lives, how they worked for His glory and in what level of obedience. Any person’s work that is not worthy will be burned up and works done in His name that glorify Him will be turned to gold and silver. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

In verse 15, there will be people who will have all their works burned up. Will some of those people lose their rewards because they ended their own life, effectively supplanting God for their own will be done, to the uttermost? Perhaps, because in throwing their own life away, they thus became God of their own days. It may be also that in so doing, they threw away all their works done in His name, their rewards, too. What else could engender a complete loss of rewards? Even the thief on the cross made three good stabs at bearing fruit; confessing his guilt, proclaiming Jesus as Christ, and rebuking the other thief for his blasphemies. It may well be that 1 Corinthians refers to some people who ended their life and thus, though salvation is eternal, they lost their reward in heaven.

David Murray with 7 Questions about Suicide and Christians, and many other good and helpful resources on that page.

The recent suicides are truly sad. It is written in the news reports that Bourdain was seeking help but had ignored his doctor’s advice. However, it is also reported that Kate Spade was doing everything right, heeding doctor advice, calling and checking in with her family. She still went through with it.

The ultimate tragedy and one that is unalterable, is that if a non-believer seeks suicide as a solution to their pain or despair, they wake up the next second in worse pain, unimaginable pain, and one that they can never escape. Not because they committed suicide, but because they had rejected Christ. Their hopelessness will go on and on.

In the Christian, depression is real, spiritual depression is real. One never knows what is going on in the mind of another. But we do have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16). The best we can do is encourage each other, come along side to help and love. We are not alone, we are tied with a threefold cord of scarlet to the King of eternal life. Cling to that.

Posted in encouragement

“Letter to a disappointed graduate”

Graduating from college is a wonderful accomplishment and a high point in a young person’s life. It’s a rite of passage. It also is a major life transition point for a young person. They are no longer a child nor even a youth but now considered fully an adult. With that, comes adult expectations. Often the graduate is at a loss with how to maintain equilibrium during this hectic and heady time. Sometimes they drift aimlessly for a while before getting their footing. Others drift emotionally.

Christian graduates may be harboring secret feelings of shame for their behavior during the college years. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their pornography viewing habits, their laziness in studying, squandering mom and dad’s money, mishandled relationships, or other things. With passage to adulthood comes adult feelings and awarenesses.

Here is a wonderfully written letter from Samuel D. James called Letter to a Disappointed Graduate addressing those feelings.

I suspect his opening paragraph has meaning for more grads than we know.

Dear new college graduate,

I’m supposed to start off by saying “Congratulations,” but I doubt you want to hear that right now. If I’ve understood you correctly, today doesn’t feel like a victory to you. You say you’ve wasted most of the last few years. You’ve say you’ve been selfish, lazy, and unkind. You say for too long you were hung up on pornography and video games, and that your graduation today is mostly due to the kindness and forbearance of professors and the intervention of family and friends. Today, you say, feels good, but as you watch your classmates celebrate their high GPAs, their entrance in grad programs, and their lives that look way more fruitful than yours, all you can think about is how behind you are.

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This week we received an email from our Superintendent of Schools, forwarded from the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and External Affairs; Georgia Department of Education. It involves the suicide program on Netflix called 13 Reasons Why. Though the missive was aimed at educators who work with younger children, I think the information can be applied to Graduates who may not be transitioning as well as we think into adulthood. Paired with Mr James’ letter, I offer this information as a plea to be aware of our young people. The GA Deputy Superintendent’s letter follows:

As you may be aware, Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why will debut on Netflix tomorrow, May 18, 2018. The fictional series, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same title, explores the suicide of a teen, with the Season 1 finale showing the suicide in graphic detail over a 3-minute scene. As with other Netflix series, all episodes are released at once with viewers frequently watching a season from beginning to end in the same day.

After the Season 1 release of 13 Reasons Why last year, the web-search phrase “how to commit suicide” rose 26% above what would normally have been expected for that time according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Internal Medicine). The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) sent a notice to their members across the country on how to talk about the show and posted Considerations for Educators online. More recently, NASP shared Information Regarding the Upcoming Release of 13 Reasons Why, Season 2.

You may be interested in some of the information contained in the following articles that were tweeted this morning by Safe Schools Georgia (@GaDOESafeSchool) as well as Peer-to-Peer Suicide Prevention PSAs that were developed by Voices for Georgia’s Children, GBI Child Fatality Review Panel, and members of the Georgia Department of Education’s Suicide Prevention Task Force:

As 13 Reasons Why Returns, Schools Try to Help Students Who Are Thinking Of Suicide

School Officials Issuing Warnings Ahead of 2nd Season of ’13 Reasons Why’

Also, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities offers the Georgia Crisis and Access Line which is available 24/7 for any type of mental health emergency: 1-800-715-4225.

Public Service Announcements: “Georgia’s Children in Crisis”
30 second PSA: https://vimeo.com/254621210

45 second PSA: https://vimeo.com/254621204​ ​​

60 second PSA: https://vimeo.com/254621192

90 second PSA: https://vimeo.com/254621179

Long Peer-to-Peer PSA (17 minutes, 27 seconds): https://vimeo.com/254621215

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As we see with the increase in violence and school shootings, we know that our youth are vulnerable and living with pressures we as older adults never did, nor can really conceive. Let’s protect our children and emerging adults. Pray for them, have open eyes to danger signs for emotional instability, and above all, be a Holy Spirit filled non-hypocritical example for them. We are their islands of peace and safety in this troubled world.