On August 11, 2023. the Centers for Disease Control released data for 2022, showing 50,000 suicides, a 2.6% increase over 2021. The governmental response to the growing suicide problem has been chiefly hand-wringing, with no reasonable attempt to understand why it’s happening. Those of us who work with young people and talk with them regularly can see several causes.
Mental health issues begin at an early age. Children are born with no control over the actions of their parents or the condition of their home situation. The life plan Jesus gave, and which the Bible clearly teaches, is the nuclear family with a mother and father having clear-cut responsibilities in a loving, stable relationship. It is difficult to misunderstand passages like Ephesians 5:28-6:4. We hear “experts” and popular figures saying that marriage is an outdated tradition, but collateral damage from alternatives to the nuclear family includes badly disturbed children leading to the growing suicide problem.
Kids react to the instability in their homes in various ways. Some want to change their gender thinking that will improve their lives. Others rely on substances that affect their mental state. Whether marijuana, alcohol, or a hard drug, the effect is temporary, and the damage is long-lasting. Kids without a stable family at home look for a substitute at school or in a club or in a gang with peers who have the same problems. All of those choices are temporary and in most cases a dead end. For many, suicide is an easy option.
Instead of supporting the efforts of Christians to address these issues, the government is making it harder for churches to do what Jesus has called us to do. Even prison ministry, which we are heavily involved in, is being subjected to increasing rules and requirements. Governments are regulating Christian adoption and foster care programs out of existence by conditions that violate Christian principles.
Voters must start asking questions about the beliefs of political candidates and how they will address the needs of families and young adults. The alternative is a continually growing suicide problem and other social issues among our young people.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released studies on the correlation between marijuana use and suicide. The data drawn from 281,000 people between the ages of 18 and 31 shows a disturbing trend. About a third of severely depressed young people considered suicide between 2009 and 2019. That number rises to 50% among those who used cannabis daily.
The data from 2019 shows that 45 million Americans used cannabis, and 9.8 million were daily users. Dr. Nora Volkow, the National Institute on Drug Abuse director, says, “Consumption of marijuana increases your risk of suicidal behavior. The increase in suicides in the United States is related to more than one cause, but marijuana is obviously one of those.”
So, there is a connection between marijuana use and suicide. The Bible tells us that we are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), and every life has a purpose. Knowing that provides a solid deterrent to suicide. As atheism and secularism increase in America and people discard biblical values, we can expect an increase in suicides. It is already happening.
People sometimes ask, “Is life worth living?” I recently read a police report of a young man standing on the ledge of a very tall building threatening to jump. He finally said to the police officer who was trying to talk him down, “Can you convince me that life is worth living?” The officer hesitated, not knowing how to answer that question, and the young man jumped. An interesting fact about life on planet Earth is that only humans can commit suicide. (There is a false story that lemmings commit suicide, but we have dealt with that before.)
The year 2020 gave everyone reasons to question the value of life. Disease, loss of loved ones, abuse, political chaos, sexual issues, and various mental issues have combined to cause people to desire a life worth living. One argument for faith is that it provides a reason to live, even when life’s traumas make it difficult.
What does atheism offer to make life worth living when things turn bad? When I was a child, singer Peggy Lee had a song titled “Is That All There Is?” She sang about wanting something very badly, but the result was never as good as what she imagined. It is like buying an expensive new car you have wanted to own for a very long time. Then after having it for a while, wondering why you spent that much money. Everything in life is like that. Even marriage has the familiar half-life. In courtship and engagement, you have the belief that your potential mate is that person with whom you want to spend your life. But once the newness wears off, marriage becomes something that takes effort to keep it working.
What I have described so far applies to all of us. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a man with great wealth and power, expressed his struggle with what the world offers. As you read through the book, you see that he does it all and has it all, but he finds it is all meaningless. The Bible is full of stories about men who had opportunities to be very successful. Moses had it made as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Then Hebrews 11:24-27 tells us that he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh to see Him who is invisible.” Paul was trained by Gamaliel, a well-known scholar, and was on his way to becoming a leader of Judaism (Acts 22:3). But, like Moses, he found something better. So atheists and Christians face similar problems in keeping an active life worth living. What makes Christianity different, and why does it lead to an optimistic, upbeat feeling about life, even when things go wrong? The answer is that Christians have a purpose for our lives. Solomon wrote as a conclusion to his discussion of life’s meaninglessness: “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil–this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).
Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8-11 that God had a purpose for his life and an eternal purpose which was accomplished in Christ. In Acts 9:10-19, God tells Ananias about Saul and says that “this man is my chosen instrument.” Having that purpose for his life drove Saul to become Paul and leave his leadership in Judaism to suffer abuse as a Christian.
We are all chosen instruments. Our skills and talents may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but God created every one of us to do something unique. We must choose whether or not to accept the purpose for which God created us. But having a purpose and fulfilling that purpose makes life worth living, meaningful, and worthwhile. Not only do we find fulfillment in doing what God created us to do, but having purpose means being able to face the problems of life and use those things to accomplishing our purpose.
Being a Christian does not mean we will be immune to the problems that everyone faces. If that were the case, people would become Christians for the wrong reason to escape their problems. Instead, what Christians have is the promise of God that there will be a way of escape from those problems (1 Corinthians 10:13). Furthermore, the problems, including death, will be used as part of our service to God.
Robert Ingersoll is an atheist hero because he traveled the country attacking God, Christianity, and the Bible in the nineteenth century. Ingersoll is quoted as saying, “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, the way to be happy is to make other people happy.” That statement is remarkably similar to the writings of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:10-13 and the words of Christ in John 16:22-24. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.
Every attempt by atheists to provide an alternative to the teachings of Christ has ended up in frustration and pain. When an atheist built a town in Missouri with the name “Liberal,” it collapsed in a short time, with the founder saying he never again wanted to live in a town with no churches. Governments based on atheism in the past and today have not been successful in providing peace and prosperity for their citizens.
It is easy to attack Christianity while enjoying the blessings of Christ’s teachings. Offering a useful and positive alternative to what Jesus taught is another matter. As the United States drifts away from its Christian roots and embraces humanism, secularism, and atheism, we see an increase in suicides, shootings, racism, and abuse. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.
When someone is incarcerated, the prison usually asks their religious beliefs for the record. Very few prisoners say “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “none.” In our prison work, we ask prisoners taking our correspondence courses to explain how they got to the point of being jailed. Merle Haggard wrote a song in which he said: “In spite of all my Sunday learning, to the wrong I kept on turning. No one could steer me right, but mother tried.” Haggard’s mother was a member of the Church of Christ, and his prison stint took place because he rejected the teachings he learned as a child. We hear that line over and over from many of our students in prison.
My father was an atheist, but he was a very moral man. I asked him one time why he was faithful to my mother. His response was, “I guess it is because of the way I was raised.” His father was a minister, and his mother was a strong Christian woman. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them (Matthew 7:16). Atheism has no positive fruit in the long run. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching. Robert Ingersoll found a receptive audience only when he repeated the teachings of the Bible.
In our March 16, 2020, post, we discussed the issue of suicide, and the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to create a suicide hotline. We discussed the problem of assisted suicide or euthanasia in our February 24 and 25 posts. The March 20 issue of The Week magazine carried an article (page 11) titled “The Spread of Assisted Suicide.”
In addition to the data showing how much assisted suicide has increased, the article in The Week points out that assisted suicide is now available to people for various reasons. It is being made available to those who are in psychological pain, those who don’t want to go into a nursing home, and to minors with their parent’s permission. This is a significant problem with large numbers of people involved. In the Netherlands alone, there were 6585 assisted deaths in 2017.
Our biggest concern in this growing trend is the misinformation that the public is receiving. Dignitas, which is a Swiss organization assisting in suicides, says that assisted suicide is “far preferable to letting ill people make a lonely, risky suicide attempt.” Those are not the only choices available to a person who is depressed, in pain, or fearing dementia.
As life expectancy continues to climb, more and more people will struggle with emotional and physical pain. Our focus needs to be on solving those issues, not just in finding ways to destroy the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The Federal Communications Commission is working to establish a three-digit suicide prevention hotline. It will use the number 988, comparable to 911 for other emergencies. The reason for this new emergency number is a surge in deaths by suicide over the past ten years. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and more than 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt to kill themselves annually.
You might think that the reason for an increase in suicide is poverty or hunger, but that is not the case. According to the experts at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the common denominator is a lack of hope. As a former atheist, I can verify that kind of thinking. As an atheist, when I no longer was the “fittest,” my moral foundation built on “survival of the fittest” collapsed. That’s when I reached the point of attempting to end my life. There is no hope when everything around you is collapsing, and you are no longer in control.
The word “hope” occurs 135 times in the Bible. Life has meaning when we have faith in Christ and believe that this life leads to something better–even when we are not the fittest. Christ’s teaching and the New Testament repeatedly refer to joy. That joy leads to loving life and looking forward to the future no matter how bleak our circumstances are now.
The 988 number of the suicide prevention hotline is good because just having someone to talk to may help a person contemplating suicide. But it may be 2021 before the number is in service. The greatest message of hope comes from the Bible, and it’s available now. The real source of hope comes from finding new life in Christ, as Romans 6 describes in glowing terms.
In yesterday’s discussion on cannibalism, we pointed out that there is no passage in the Bible where people are told to practice cannibalism. We also said that in the New Testament the body is portrayed in passages like 1 Corinthians 3:16 as the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. The next question that logically would arise is whether the same passages and logic condemn instances of suicide in the Bible.
In Old Testament times there was a thing known as royal suicide. A king or military leader who failed was expected to retain his honor by killing himself. We find suicide in the Bible in 1 Samuel 31:1-6 where Saul falls on his own sword. In the New Testament, Judas committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5), and a prison keeper attempted to (Acts 16:25-28). As is the case with cannibalism, these instances of suicide in the Bible are merely reports that these things happened. They are not things that were commanded or approved by God. The reality is that the jailer was forgiven, and Judas could have been forgiven had he sought forgiveness. Peter found forgiveness for denying Christ, but Judas was so hardened that destruction was all he could understand.
The first point we need to make is that suicide is wrong on all levels. God created us and promised through Jesus that He will be with us and help us find answers to our problems and struggles. Not allowing God to do that is wrong. Suicide is also wrong because of what it does to those who are left behind. I have personally seen the devastation a suicide has brought to parents, children, close friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Suicide is a selfish act that does incredible damage to others.
God has built into us a strong desire to live. Our very design causes us to keep going when things get tough. As a public school teacher, I have seen severe mental illness cause a number of students to kill themselves. I am talking about those who sincerely intend to die by their own hand. Some people commit a pseudo-suicide. They do something that they know won’t kill them, but which will allow them to write a desperate note to those who have conflicted with them. It is a cry for help but not a real suicide.
People who are suicidal need help. The burden is on those of us who love them to do a better job of letting them know how much we love them. We must make sure they find help both in the Church and through medical experts who can provide counsel and medications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released its latest annual report on American life expectancy. The report shows that for the third year life expectancy in the United States has not grown and has declined. The last time that this happened was in World War I when a flu pandemic killed 675,000 people.
The report says that drugs and suicide are the main culprits now with the overdose rate up 356% since 1999. The 2017 death toll is 70,237 far outstripping the total American fatalities in Vietnam.
It is interesting that everyone studying this life expectancy issue seems to agree on what the cause is, and what the solution is. The NationalReview.com says that “we are facing not so much a drug problem as a heartbreak problem.” An AARP study found that one-third of Americans report chronic loneliness and conclude that isolation is a state “about as deadly as smoking.” David Brooks writing in the New York Times says “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs or better welfare programs that will save us from this ongoing social catastrophe; it’s human relationships and a society that cares about people more than money.”
We suggest that people need to read and follow the example in Acts 2:41-47. People had a common faith in God, and they took care of each other. They “CONTINUED DAILY WITH ONE ACCORD” and spent time together focusing on meaningful relationships. The result was that “they had favor with all the people.”
We have received several emails bemoaning the cost of the storms and wildfires that have caused significant damage and some deaths in every country in the world. Some of the writers have suggested that God is responsible for all the bad things that have been happening. We have pointed out in previous articles how the massive destruction of hurricanes and wildfires are really a product of human mismanagement. But an even greater issue is the cost of self-imposed plagues.
Popular Science in the winter 2018 issue on page 26 published some data on what the magazine calls “The Plagues We Made.” The article uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some of the numbers:
-Cost of the opioid crisis in 2015 – $504 billion
-Cost of firearm violence – $229 billion
-Opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were five times what they were in 1999
-Years of life lost to opioids in 2016 – 1,681,359
-Years of life lost to gun violence in the U.S. in 2016 – 916,869
-Americans killed by guns in the U.S. per day – 96.2 – 59% of those are suicides
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. At the lowest point in a person’s life, suicide takes away any future blessings.
Some would say, “The problem has been with me for a long time and is not going away.” If that’s the case, someone needs to step in to address the problem and help to find a solution. As God’s people, Christians need to love and care for others.
Whether you believe in God or not, you have to admit that the desire to live is built into our DNA. Every living thing wants to live. If that were not true, all life on Earth would have ended long ago. No animal commits suicide. No, not even lemmings. (We dealt with that yesterday.) No animal willingly submits to a predator. No wildebeest surrenders to the lion. The predator wins only when the creature has no more ability to go on or to run faster. Why is the predator so desperate to catch that prey? It’s the predator’s will to live.
Why do animals resist death with every fiber of their being until their very last breath? Some would say it’s an evolutionary development that life has evolved to want to live. But that can’t be right because life must have had a strong desire to live from day one. I think the desire to live is evidence of a Creator who put that desire into the very first life—even those living things without conscious understanding. The drive to live built into every living thing, even plants, is another evidence that life is not an accident.