Samuel Zwemer (Chapter 5 from The Art of Listening to God) 1
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide I urge you to do the following:
1. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ to help you and reveal Himself to you
2. Read John 3:16-18; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 4:14-16; Isaiah 50:10; Psalm 8:1-9; Psalm 139:1-18
3. Call someone NOW!
Though our thoughts and feelings are real and can overwhelm us, suicide is a supremely selfish act. We need to remember that the solution to any pain that we are experiencing is never found in inflicting pain on others. Which one of us would want someone whom we know to commit suicide and subject us to the mental and emotional pain that such an act always inflicts on those who remain alive? Why then would we subject others to deal with the aftermath of such a tragic act? “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18); “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31; cf. Matthew 7:12).
This article was published over 80 years ago but its message is timeless even though the statistics are dated. God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) which not even sin can efface as evidenced by Scripture referring to humans as being created in God’s image even after sin had entered into the world (e.g. Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). This inherent worth given to us by the Creator is directly related to the redemption or salvation from sin that is found only in Jesus Christ for no one redeems that which has no value.
EVERY year in our country some twenty thousand discouraged, despairing, desperate men and women take their own lives. It is also clear from statistics that suicide is on the increase. The mood that prompts it is produced in every financial crisis or national disaster. It may be brought on by ill-health, unemployment, debt, loneliness, disgrace, or the fear of the law in the case of criminals. In every case a wave of despair warps judgment, confuses the mind and deadens the conscience. Yet those who know the facts and have studied statistics never hesitate to tell us that the vast majority of the ever-increasing number of those who put an end to their own lives do so with deliberation and therefore are accountable to God and society for the act they commit. We do not judge those who have lost their reason or (what is far more rare) are temporarily insane. Such are not always responsible for their conduct. But he who deliberately contemplates suicide and then commits the deed is guilty before God and man.
This is the well-nigh universal verdict even among primitive races and according to all the great religious leaders of the ages. The Dyak headhunters of Borneo have no high code of ethics and yet when a very rare case of a wife committing suicide occurred, we are told that “all the relatives stood over the corpse and beat it unmercifully, accompanied with loud denunciation of her action because she had by the act disgraced the whole tribe.” Here, as among other races, the suicide did not receive honorable burial.
Plato and Aristotle both objected to self-destruction as cowardly and an offense against the state. Plato also declared it unnatural since a man is his own closest friend. When some of the Stoics suggested suicide as the way out of misery in the presence of Epictetus he said: “Wait for God, sirs; when he gives the signal and sets you free from this your service, you shall depart to Him. For the present endure to live in the place where He has stationed you. Wait, do not depart unreasonably.” Only those Greeks and Romans who denied personal immortality ever advocated suicide. The Buddhist religion condemns it: “Any monk who says, do away with this wretched life full of suffering and sin, death is better, preaches murder and is a murderer.” Buddhist saints and Hindu saints never commit suicide in spite of all their ascetic practices. Religious opposition to suicide is found in all strata of civilization and in nearly all the ethnic faiths.
Suicide is not once referred to in the Koran and was probably rare among the Arabs, even as it is today. But it is strictly forbidden in the Traditions. We are told that the Prophet refused the funeral rites to a suicide and I remember an unusual case in Eastern Arabia where a Moslem suicide was summarily buried and a red cross marked on the grave to warn the passerby of the horror! Paradise is closed forever to the Moslem suicide, although an exception is made when the suicide is clearly unintentional.
It is reported by Bukhari that Mohammed said: “Whosoever shall kill himself shall suffer in the fires of hell and be excluded from heaven forever.” And no funeral prayer is said over him. Suicide is very rare in Moslem lands just because of the nature of a Moslem’s belief in God and in a future life. He accepts all of life’s events with submission as a divine appointment and will not gamble with eternity.
The teaching of the Bible in the Old and New Testaments leaves no doubt that all murder is sin and he who sheds his own blood is as guilty as he who sheds the blood of another. Only five cases of suicide are mentioned in the Bible. The story of poor, deluded King Saul and his armor-bearer on the field of battle; of Ahithophel, the traitor; of Zimri, the usurping King of Israel who reigned for seven days; and Judas Iscariot, the son of perdition who betrayed our Savior with a kiss. Who would care to be numbered in their company? Read the account so tragic and you have the verdict of God’s Word on this act so contrary to nature:
“Then said Saul to his armourbearer, Draw thy sword and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on the sword, and died” (I Chron. 10:4).
“And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father” (II Sam. 17:23).
“And it came to pass, when Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the castle of the king’s house, and burnt the king’s house over him with fire, and died,” (1 Kings 16:18) [this reference has been added as it seems to have been inadvertently omitted from the original article]
“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I. have betrayed innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:3-5).
Job and Jeremiah despaired of life and were sorely tempted but never thought of taking their own lives. It was the enemy of souls the devil, who tempted our Lord to suicide when he put Him on a pinnacle of the Temple; and Christ’s answer to this challenge for spectacular display was, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” When the Philippian jailer drew a sword, during the earthquake, to put an end to his own life for fear of the Roman law of execution, Paul dissuaded him, saying, “Do thyself no harm.” Both Christianity and Judaism have always denounced suicide as a sin against one’s own soul. The Rabbis and the church Fathers are at one in condemning it. St. Augustine, during the dreadful days of the Hun and Goth invasions told Christian women not to commit suicide, although they feared violation, because the latter was only the unwilling pollution of a body, but the former was the death of the soul. St. Thomas Aquinas denounced suicide as unnatural, contrary to charity [i.e. love], an offense against the community and a usurpation of God’s power to kill and make alive.
Suicide is not only presumptuous, it is cowardly. The one who commits suicide refuses to play the game of life to the end. John Stuart Mill says that every suicide betrays lack of moral fiber. What right has a man who is losing the game to blowout the candle or brush the chess-men off the board? Why not take defeat honorably? Why not endure to the end and wrest victory from the very jaws of defeat? The alternative to suicide is to gain new desire to live from the source of all life, God ‒ to lay hold of Christ, who was tempted in all points like as we are but without sin, and find in Him comfort, strength, hope and forgiveness. Suicide is possible only when a man fails to think the matter through. It is always a half-measure and settles no problem for anyone. Shakespeare, the great interpreter of life puts it all on the lips of Hamlet in his soliloquy:
"To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? ‒ To die, ‒ to sleep, ‒ No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ‒ 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: … the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveler returns, puzzles the will And make us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of! Thus conscience does make cowards of us all."
Statistics regarding the present-day methods of suicide show that thirty-three percent of the victims try to end their lives by the use of gas ‒ to sleep and die. Twenty percent do so by hanging themselves, following the method of Judas the Traitor; sixteen percent by leaping from high buildings or bridges; eleven percent by the use of poison; twelve percent by the use of firearms. Of those who took their own lives fifty-nine percent were married, the remainder single, widowed or divorced. There were twice as many men as women who committed suicide. These statistics cover the period of 1932-1936 and relate to 95,574 cases.
The National Save-a-Life League of New York is perhaps the leading Christian agency to study and to combat this problem by sympathy and personal work. Religion seems to have a modifying influence on suicide, according to statistics gathered by S. De Jastrzebski (Encyclopedia Britannica). Jews are less prone to it than Roman Catholics, and the latter than Protestants living under similar conditions. The variation is great in different countries for which statistics are available. Among the lowest rate he lists Chile, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy. Among the lands where the highest rate prevails are France, Austria, Germany and Hungary. Japan has a notoriously high rate of suicide while California ranks highest among the states of the U. S. A. “A careful investigation gives the impression that from a variety of causes the number of actual suicides is understated to a greater or less extent.” Everywhere the rate seems to be in an upward direction!
With these facts before us we may well ponder and broadcast Hamlet’s soliloquy. It is a problem for society as well as for the individual. Human life is not cheap. Christ died for us all. We are therefore His possession. Suicide is sin because it betrays a trust. The greatest gift anyone has is life. Who would spill it on the ground, and not rather treasure its every drop in the chalice God has given us? Suicide is sin because it seeks to usurp the function of the angel of death. He will come soon enough and without being summoned. Suicide is sin because it betrays impatience with men and with God. Those who possess their souls in patience and have learned to wait on God and rest in Him are never tempted to put an end to their existence. Suicide is the coward’s exit from the stage of life. It is heroic to face every kind of difficulty and to meet every obstacle with unruffled spirit, to fight the good fight until the end and to keep faith with our friends and with God.
Suicide is sin because it dishonors God. He is the giver of life and the upholder of life. To commit suicide is to push your way into the very presence of the Judge of all men, of the King of kings, before you are summoned. Suicide is a sin against our own conscience; to think twice is to avoid it. Suicide is supreme folly and such foolishness is sin. “Whoso findeth me findeth life and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: All they that hate me love death” (Prov 8:35-36). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10).
- (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1940), 53-60. ↩