The Weight of Depression and Suicide
Last Sunday, we concluded a 4-part series through the book of Jonah by exploring the dark and lonely feelings associated with depression and thoughts of suicide. Chapter 4 of Jonah concludes with Jonah reaching a point where he wanted his life to end, pleading with God to kill him. Some have a difficult time understanding how someone could have such feelings. Others are undoubtedly well acquainted. My heart breaks for both.
If you or someone you know has ever found themselves battling with depression, anger or suicidal thoughts, then there are a couple of things I desperately want you to know.
First, you're in good company. You may be surprised that things like depression and suicidal thoughts are not unheard of in the Bible, and Jonah is certainly not the only one. As we mentioned last week, godly people, people who we might dub as spiritual giants - Moses, Elijah, Job, King David and King Solomon to name a few - struggled with what appears to be symptoms similar to clinical depression. Several of them cursed the day they were born, and at least two of them asked God to take their life.
If you have every thought about ending your life, you are not the only one who has had those thoughts. Which gives us some hope here, because God gets it. God gets you. He desperately loves you. He hurts with you. You are not alone.
Secondly, if you are struggling with thoughts of taking your own life, I plead with you to reach out to me or to someone immediately. Don't fall into the agreement that no one understands. Don't run in shame, assuming that if people only knew what it is you're wrestling with or the things that have crossed your mind, that they would run the opposite direction. Reach out to me. Reach out to one of our staff. Just reach out to someone. You are loved. You are valued. We will not condemn you, call you names or make you regret even telling us. Instead, we want to proclaim the Gospel over you, to life you up, to call you worthy of life as we enter into the mess together and find ways to dig out of the darkness with you.
You may be curious why I've chosen to write about such a weighty subject this week. If you were here last weekend and listened intently to the message, Relentless Grace, you may even think I'm softening my stance a little. So, let me explain.
Something I pointed out last Sunday is how selfish it is for a person to want to end their life. That can sound quite harsh. However, if depression (a primary contributor of suicide) is one of the most self-absorbed diseases a person can have, it seems to make logical sense how a person could arrive at the solution that ending their life is the best way to stop the pain. I've held the belief for some time now that the person who ultimately follows through with the decision to end their life has indeed made an illogical, irrational decision. Perhaps you've known someone who went there, and although they may have been convinced they were in their right mind, I would adamantly disagree. No one in their right mind ever makes that decision, and to arrive at such a decision is nothing short of experiencing mental illness. Which is why we need to be careful not to condemn those who have, nor condemn those who have considered it.
But like most illnesses, there is a cure. And if the Gospel shows us anything, it shows us we aren't left without a cure.
According to the Scripture, we believe we are all sinful, depraved, and therefore, unable to save ourselves out of this mess we've been born into. We need a Savior, something or someone outside ourselves to rescue us from the sin in which we've found ourselves entangled. This is what Jesus has come to do. And because of this inherited sin with which we have all been infected, something that is oftentimes referred to as the nature of our flesh, we desperately need to be rescued from ourselves. Because it's not the battles on the outside but the war within that presents our greatest challenge.
Depression, and subsequently the mental illness that follows, begins with both conscious and/or unconscious decisions to be self-absorbed. As those decisions build on one another, the focus on self narrows more and more, to the point a person finds themselves hopeless. But regardless of who you want to hold responsible here, sin is ultimately the culprit behind any self-hatred that would lead a person to consider or follow through with suicide. Which is why we can say, though not easily, that it is ultimately a selfish decision for a person to want to end their life. Because the root of sin is selfishness, a root that takes hold long before a person arrives at a fatalistic thought or decision.
Suicide is heartbreaking and devastating, and like all other sin, it not only effects the perpetrator, but also those around them. Always. Suicide is self-murder, and God is perfectly clear on this subject -You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13) At the same time, the redemptive grace of God through Jesus provides absolute forgiveness of all sins - past, present and future. And through faith in Jesus, we are not only forgiven of all of our past sins, we are also forgiven of all future sin, because our identity in Christ is no longer that of a sinner, but now of a saint, and can therefore be called the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Which means, regardless of what you may have been told or taught to believe, suicide is not a unique sin that is somehow unforgivable. Suicide is not an unforgivable sin.It is a sin like all others. Which also means that for the person who has genuinely put their faith in Jesus, but somehow found themselves in a dark place and who made the mistake of taking their own life - they are still covered under the grace of God and no less His righteousness, albeit in their final moment, they certainly lost sight of that identity. And unfortunately their family and loved ones will be left to bear the consequences of that sin. This is why God hates it, and why we should as well.
My Experience with Depression
During the 9:15am service on Sunday (although I'm not sure why I didn't do this during the second service) I shared a bit more about my own bouts with depression, along with my own experience at the age of 21, lying on a hospital bed getting my stomached pumped as a result of an attempted overdose. I've been in some dark places before, but this was undoubtedly one of the darkest times in my life. From that point on, I had to live with the stigma of being a person who had attempted suicide who had to submit to counseling before I could be readmitted into school. It was shameful. And it took months to recover. But I did, and the reason I did was because I found that there were more people who were willing to walk through the mess with me than I had ever realized. It just took the mess getting out in the open for me to see that.
So, when I say my heart breaks for the person who struggles in these areas, perhaps you understand why a little better. I hope you'll take time to listen to the story I shared of a friend whose spouse ended their life, and what I chose to share with her. You can listen to the message here.
Please let me or one of our staff know if we can help you or point you in a direction of finding professional help. Because of the Gospel, and because of Christ, there is always hope.