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.
Lemmings are small rodents with long, soft, colorful fur and short tails that live in the Arctic tundra. They reproduce rapidly, and their population varies dramatically, usually over a four-year cycle. Scientists have studied the variation in lemming populations for many years, but they don’t entirely understand it. However, the lemming suicide myth is not an explanation.
Contrary to popular stories, lemmings do not commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs into the sea to drown. False lemming legends are not new. In the sixteenth century, because of their rapid population increases, a story was started that they fall out of the sky when it rains. That idea was proven to be false.
The story of the mass suicide has been depicted in songs, movies, video games, stories, and a 1985 Apple TV commercial until most people accept it as true. The worst case of deception was in the 1958 Disney movie “White Wilderness.” The film won an Academy Award for best documentary, but it spread false information with a staged lemming suicide jump. It was later revealed that the lemmings were forced off the cliff by the camera crew.
When their population density becomes too high, lemmings migrate to find food. Since they can swim, they sometimes migrate across bodies of water. Occasionally some may drown in the crossing, but it’s not mass suicide. In 1980, Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” comic showed a group of lemmings jumping into the water. The last lemming in line was wearing a life preserver. Following the principle of natural selection, that lemming would have been the one to survive and reproduce. We would presume that its offspring would inherit the caution and be smart enough not to follow the crowd. Then we would assume that lemmings would evolve into creatures who would no longer take the plunge. It’s a matter of survival of the fittest, or perhaps the smartest.
When a celebrity commits suicide, it makes front page news and dominates the tabloids for months. We still hear about Robin Williams’ suicide which happened in 2014. Now we have Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain dominating the news during the early part of June. What many of us don’t realize is that 44,965 Americans killed themselves in 2016 and that from 2010 to 2016 there has been a 70% increase in suicide among girls ages ten to 19. The nation as a whole has seen a 28% suicide rate increase from 1999 to 2016.
The experts are trying to explain all of this. Certainly, there is more than one factor involved, but we suggest that a major factor in our country’s strong movement away from faith in God to a rejection of religion as a whole. Jesus Christ has given us a purpose in life. The unique teaching of Christ is that everyone, no matter what their situation or appearance or abilities, has a purpose in living. In addition to that, Christianity provides a way to deal with the failures in life. No one needs to live with a load of guilt. We can be forgiven of our sins and overcome our guilt, and we can turn the mistakes of the past into a ministry to help others walking the same path that we walked.
What can you expect if you are taught that you are an accident, that you have no purpose, and that life is merely a chance-driven battle for survival of the fittest? It is not hard to see the attractiveness of ending your life when you have no purpose, and you face struggles that seem impossible to overcome. How could we not have a suicide rate increase?
Yesterday we discussed an article by atheist Michael Shermer in which he stated that as atheism replaces belief in God “we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.” (Scientific American, April 2018, page 77). At the same time Shermer’s article came out, we received a report on prison suicide rates.
NewLife Behavior Ministries issued a report of an increase in suicides in Texas prisons. The data came from the University of Texas Medical Branch saying that attempted suicides in Texas prisons jumped from 65 to 150 in the past four years. Statistics on suicides are very complicated, but every study we have seen has shown a huge increase in attempted suicides. The increase applies to all segments of the population, not just prison suicide rates but the general public as well.
The secular sources for morals and values that Shermer recommends would include people like atheists Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. They advocate euthanasia for the “unfit” in society including Down Syndrome, mentally ill, and mentally deficient people. Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He advocates for infanticide to eliminate defective children and for animal rights. In his book Practical Ethics, he concedes that the question of why we should act morally “cannot be given an answer that will provide everyone with overwhelming reasons for acting morally.”
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.
There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.
Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.
Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton