This is an adapted extract from Amy Orr-Ewing’s book Where is God in All The Suffering? This empathetic, easy-to-read and powerful evangelistic book is good for both unbelievers and believers alike. It will help those hoping to answer one of life’s biggest questions as well as those who are either suffering personally or comforting others.
Are people who attempt suicide or die by suicide condemned by God? With the rise of nihilistic worldviews and social-media sites that encourage people to end their own lives, we might ask: where is God in the struggle and pain of suicidal thoughts? If this life is purely material and all that exists is physical why is it such a big deal to end a life? We may need to revisit the question as to why death by suicide hurts the friends and relatives left behind so profoundly if life is just a matter of physics and chemistry?
It is worth considering the role of faith in how we process suicide and specifically how a Christian might think about it. I believe that the reported rise in the numbers of people considering suicide in the developed world and the honest articulation of these despair-filled questions gives us an insight into the humanity of each person who asks them. Notice in contrast the power of the idea that our lives are sacred—that every human life is precious and imprinted with God’s image. We human beings are made in the image of God. This complex and rich view of humanity chimes with the sense that human life ought to feel meaningful and fulfilling, as well as our sense of despair and dissonance when it does not.
If you are reading this and struggle with suicidal thoughts, I want you to know that I recognise the despair you feel. First and foremost, I would urge you to seek professional help as there may well be a chemical or medical cause underlying your suicidal impulses, or in the case of a traumatic or psychological underlying cause, therapy from a psychologist may be the most effective treatment. Just as you wouldn’t say, “Just pray about it” or “Don’t think about it” to a person with a broken leg, so with suicide the overriding advice should be to seek professional help.
At the same time, I would also want to point to the preciousness of your life, however you feel about it at the moment. This truth is not a blind, hopeful stab in the dark, rather, it has a coherent intellectual foundation in the Christian faith. The truth that there is hope and that your life is worth everything—to anyone who loves you and (whether you believe in him or not) to God—is a beautiful and powerful truth to cling hold of. John’s Gospel says of Jesus that “in him was life, and that life was the light to all mankind.” Jesus is the source of life, and the intangible truth of the preciousness of that life is something that God can reveal to us in a very personal way. A deep revelation of the value of life is a legacy of genuine Christian faith.
The Bible does not only hold to an imago dei (image of God) view of human life in a kind of rose-tinted way, imagining that everything will be fine. It also recognises and describes the darkness of the world—including illness, death, depression and even suicide. These experiences are described and lived by characters in the Bible with real empathy and compassion. Sadly, mental illness was misunderstood for many years, leading churches to refuse Christian funerals or burials to those who died by suicide. But a careful reading of the Bible shows that it does not support that approach at all.
No one is beyond hope
the fracturing and dislocation of body and soul are extremely painful
When we look at the Bible, I believe we never see suicide portrayed as the right choice, but always and primarily as a tragedy. The compulsion to end one’s own life is far from how things were ever meant to be, yet for many people it is a real and terrible struggle. From a Christian perspective, life is sacred, and the fracturing and dislocation of body and soul are extremely painful, but even in the midst of experiencing these dark and overwhelming feelings, there is a genuine, accessible and robust hope for redemption. Every life is precious and filled with redemptive possibility whatever our own feelings of hopelessness might say. And so it would be wrong to determine the significance of a person’s life by their productivity, utility to society, material, social or economic value. None of us are beyond the transforming hope offered in relationship with God. If you are struggling as you read this, or you know someone who is, please ask for help. Go to your doctor and ask for help. Seek the support of friends and family, and when you have done that, ask God to help you too. Your life matters; every life matters.
If you are personally experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide, we are so sorry for the pain and despair you are suffering. If you live within the US, please call or text the Samaritans any time on (877) 870-4673. If you live within the UK, please call the Samaritans on 116 123. If you live outside of the US or the UK, here is a link to helplines around the globe: http://www.suicidestop.com/call_a_hotline.html