If Suicide Means Damnation, Then We’re All In Trouble

On November 1st, terminally-ill Brittany Maynard ended her life with medication prescribed by her physician. She was 29 years-old.

On Saturday, November 1st, Brittany Maynard ended her life by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates, prescribed to her by her doctor. Maynard had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor earlier this year. Facing the prospect of a long and gruesome but inevitable demise, Maynard chose to end her life by choice under the “death with dignity” provision of Oregon law.

Throughout her ordeal, Maynard has become a public icon in the ongoing debate over “death with dignity” legislation. While Maynard publicly expressed gratitude to many people who supported her decision, she also bore the brunt of harsh criticism and judgement. Some who spoke out against Maynard’s decision were compassionate and graceful, others were vitriolic and hateful.

Maynard did not profess to be a Christian, and I’m fairly certain that the whiplash of condemnation she faces from “Christian” social-media outlets hardly swayed her or her family to consider converting to the faith. Inasmuch, I stand by Maynard and support her as a fellow human being who faced a tragic circumstance and tried to do what she felt was best. I cannot judge her for not abiding by my Christian values any more than a bird could judge a cat for not flying properly. Mrs. Maynard’s ultimate fate is not a debate for ethicists and theologians and certainly not one for social media, but ultimately and solely God.

That said, this story raises many questions of great importance, particularly the question of how God views a human ending their own life. This is an increasingly pertinent question both as suicide rates increase and legislation for allowing physician assisted suicide gains momentum across the country. As someone who advocates suicide prevention, I also want to advocate for correct perceptions of the tragedies that take place in our neighborhoods, schools, churches and-in the case of Brittany Maynard and certainly more to come- our hospitals.

Among the verbose condemnations of Mrs. Maynard’s decision were numerous people of a Christian background who proclaimed that by ending her own life she had damned herself to hell. This is not a new belief, but (sadly) finds it’s roots in canonical law; in medieval times one who committed suicide was denied a Christian burial, and through the 1960’s suicide was still considered a crime in much of the US and England. I would hope that such notions had been discarded along with religious inquisitions, Biblical justifications of slavery and subjugation of women. But we humans are depraved and Christians most of all; I need no further proof of this beyond the numerous Twitter and Facebook posts I read following Maynard’s case which (generally speaking) followed the lines of: “You’re a coward-enjoy hell.”

Beyond the judgmental, horrific insensitivity of these comments, they also betray bad theology: theology that is not only scarring to those who are left mourning in the wake of suicide but also has the potential to eradicate hope from the hearts of many who contemplate it. For if God’s grace is not extended to the lowest of our moments, if His love can’t cover despair and pain that would lead someone to end their own life, then it can’t cover any of our sins. In other words: if God damns people solely for their decision to end their own life, it follows that we will all be damned.

Allow me to explain:

Christian theology, at it’s core, is based on the idea that we are all sinners and inasmuch we stand separated from God and are thus condemned:

” For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

Furthermore, the Christian belief proposes that the wages of sin is a death (Romans 6:23) and the end result of all sin is damnation:

“…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:17

The conversation about a human’s choice in the matter, our power over our eternal destiny, is divided. Some camps believe in predestination, the notion God has selected and preordained those who will be saved and has complete control over who accepts His grace and who does not. Other camps place greater emphasis on the free-will of each individual and propose that God has not preordained us but rather has foreknowledge of what we will ultimately choose.

These debates are centuries old and I could hardly do them justice in a book, let alone a blog post. The point that needs to be made, upon which Christians across the board can agree, is that:

a) We all have sinned.

b) Sin results in death.

c) It is only Gods grace (in whatever fashion it is bequeathed to us) that can save us from sin.

So death, Christians inherently believe, is in some way a choice. Everyone at some point in their life will choose to sin, at least once. And, if nothing else, that one sin is enough to lead to death.

So if suicide is a sin (which Christians generally say that it is) that results in physical death what possibly makes it worse than any other sin which will also results in death? What reasoning do we have for suicide to be a sin who’s damnation extends beyond death in this life but also moves a person beyond God’s grace?

If one is going to believe that suicide, because it is a choice that results in one’s own death therefore also results in damnation, then they must logically believe the same for many other sins too:

If I go driving and go over the speed limit, resulting in a collision with a telephone pole which leads to my death, am I then eternally separated from God as well? What if I eat fast food all day, every day and die at a young age of heart disease? Damnation?

Both these scenarios involve me making a decision that leads to and/or directly result in my death. Granted, we could easily get hung up on technicalities; I didn’t kill myself, the doctors couldn’t save me following my car accident; I didn’t end my own life willingly, I just didn’t have self-control over what I ate and the fatty foods eventually clogged my arteries. But if we’re going to take that route then it’s worth pointing out that no one has the power to truly kill themselves; even Maynard technically didn’t end her life, the pills prescribed by a doctor did.

This may sound like an absurd technicality. But the point to all this is that while I cannot necessarily support Mrs. Maynard’s decision I also cannot condemn it. I also cannot and should not condemn the thousands of people (most of which have mental illnesses) who make decisions to end their life each year. It’s not my place to condemn anyone, only to love; love the families left behind and the departed themselves by remembering that we all make choices that lead to death, there’s was a little more drastic but no more depraved than mine.

And that’s really where this whole discussion should leave us; it should leave us in a posture of “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” not just on Brittany Maynard but on all of us. If we speak, we must speak with immense humility and grace especially if we hope to propose our Christian viewpoint on this subject. Because we have all chosen death, in some way or another, at some time or another. And all of us, if we proclaim to be Christians, must also proclaim that our sin- though it maybe isn’t the sin of suicide- is just as deserving of damnation. And it is only by God’s grace that we have hope for this not to be the case.

Furthermore, if we believe in God’s grace then we must believe that this grace can extend to the depths of our pain and brokenness, even to the depth of choosing to end our own life. If we don’t, if we don’t believe that God’s grace is enough for our lowest points, then we are proposing that it is not His grace but our ability that propels us to a point where He is actually able to work. If God damns suicide then we are all beyond help. And that’s not hope, nor is it the gospel.

My prayers are with the Maynard family as they mourn their loss. And I truly pray that through this difficult time they might see a hope that goes beyond death, beyond sin and into eternity. This is a hope made possible only by overwhelming grace and mercy, and it’s in that grace all of us must rest.

RIP Brittany Maynard
RIP Brittany Maynard
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4 Ways You Can Help Prevent Suicide

DarkTunnel
Photo from The Good Men Project

Every 17 minutes, someone in the United States attempts suicide; each day approximately 86 of them will succeed. Some statistics estimate that suicide will claim over a million lives across the globe each year. In our country suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15-24 and the tenth among all age groups. 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It is important for Christians to discuss the vicious killer that is making its way through our communities at an alarming rate. It’s important for us to consider what we’re doing to help those around us who might be silently fighting for their own lives. It’s important for us to open dialogue, to begin conversations, about how we can bring the gospel of hope into the despair wrought by mental illness.

So here’s four practical ways we can help prevent suicide in our communities:

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1) Ask Sincere Questions

Sincerity takes time and intentionality; it cannot be scheduled or rehearsed. When we interact with people, when we ask “how’s your family?” or “how was your weekend?” if we really care, then we need to ask with the space to hear them say: “Not too good actually, I spent the whole weekend crying” or “My family is going through a really rough time and I’m really struggling to see a way out of this.”

We need to ask sincere questions and take the time to wait for real answers. Everything happens so fast. We walk by tens, hundreds possibly thousands of people each day. How many of them do we interact with, actually listen too? We need to make a habit of putting away our phones, forgetting our agendas, looking people in the eye and asking: “how are you?”. Then we need to wait for the answer.

Because unless we allow the time and space for conversation, for openness, we create communities where despair goes unnoticed, where hurt is greeted by silence and pain is dealt with alone.

2) Don’t Make A Mockery Of Suicide

It’s alarming how often we resort to saying things like “the traffic was so bad I wanted to kill myself!” or making the motion of putting a gun to our head and blowing our brains out when discussing a recent exam, conversation with an ex, or perhaps the latest sports game. But these gestures and expressions make light of something that is a serious issue for many people around us.

There are ways to express our frustration with work, our hatred for hearing Ke$ha on the radio and how bad our Monday morning went beyond mockingly tying a noose around our necks and pulling it tight. This not only discourages open discussion for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts but also makes the topic of suicide itself a joke.

When someone is struggling with the idea of suicide and sees another person joking about it, this closes doors for conversation and openness. Furthermore, as the number of suicides increases, the number of families and friends whose lives have been ravaged by the suicide of a loved one is also increasing. Joking about suicide trivializes a struggle many people around us are experiencing without us realizing it. 

We shouldn’t make a mockery of suicide, we should take a stand against it.

 

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3) Don’t Trivialize Depression

Thanks to increased medical research, one aspect of suicide and depression that is becoming increasingly clear is that mental illness is just that: an illness.

Depression is not something you can just “snap out of” anymore than you can up and decide to be healed from cancer. And it’s certainly not something that’s just spiritual; there are often emotional and physical aspects that are well beyond anyone’s control. You can’t just take a pill and be better; you can’t just pray and be healed.

What is painful and destructive to the prevention of suicide is an attitude of “well, if you’d only try harder/didn’t take things so personally/weren’t so serious/cared about others/had more faith… then you’d be okay.” This attitude trivializes real pain and can close someone off from feeling safe enough to get the help they need.

If you know someone struggling with depression and you’re not sure what to say, then just stick with: “how can I help?”

As long as you mean it.

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4) Understand That Suicide Does Not End The Pain, It Just Passes It On

If you are personally struggling with thoughts of depression or suicide, the first thing you need to hear is this: I am so sorry for the pain you are experiencing. Even though I’m just some random blogger from behind a computer screen, I’m truly sorry.

But suicide will not end that pain. It will simply pass the pain on to those who love you, who will be left behind when you are gone. Even worse, it magnifies it.

I say this not to guilt you, but to remind you of the truth: suicide is not the answer. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, if ending your life is something you are considering, then you need to know that there are healthy ways to cope with the pain. There’s help out there, there are people who are care. You may feel trapped right now, you may feel abandoned, hurt, alone, and hopeless– but you’re not. 

I promise.

Click here if you feel like you have no one.

What’s more is there is an end to the pain, though not in this life; it’s in the hope of a life to come. And this hope is not a coping mechanism for people who simply cannot get by. Rather, it’s a shining light at the end of the tunnel for those who recognize that this life is beautiful, terrible, horrible, wonderful, shitty, brilliant and awful all at the same time.

Though the pain might not end in this life, I beg you not to end this life yourself. I beg you to find people who will help you. Then, when you’re ready, turn around and help others. Because through this we can all find the brilliant and beautiful that is out there; we can all find hope.

Through this we can all prevent suicide and preserve hope for the eternal tomorrow that will one day come.

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Resources for Suicide Prevention:

SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

For Suicide Prevention Resources In Your State

International Association For Suicide Prevention 

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A Final Word From Robin Williams

A lot has been said about Robin Williams this last week. Following Williams’ death Tuesday my primary, heart-wrenching concern continues to be for the Williams’ family. In most of the posts I’ve read, writers are quick to analyze Williams’ decision, deciphering whether or not it was moral and what’s to be learned from it. But in all of the madness (and there was a lot of it) little concern was shown for their well-being of those closest to him, of those most affected by this tragedy. Now that the tragedy seems to have melted from our Facebook feeds, our Twitter updates and our blogospheres, now that the media has gotten it’s fix of the tragedy…can we remember to pray for them? Can we remember them in the months and years ahead? Because we can be sure it will never fade from their hearts.

So much has been said on this topic that I do not feel it worthy to add my own words to the chaos of conversation that has erupted in the last week. But if you’ve been following this story at all, if you’ve been saddened by the news of Williams’ death and the mishandling by bloggers and the media in it’s wake, then take the time to watch this video. Let Robin Williams get the last word, and watch as he turns around and gives that word to God. It’s encouraging to know that through his struggles, Williams still saw the hope that sits at the bottom of every pit of despair we can reach. There’s always hope. We must remember, in depression, suicide, pain, discouragement, loneliness and despair: there’s always hope, hope eternal, hope over-flowing, hope everlasting.

As the fascination with this tragedy fades from the media, I hope Williams’ timeless wisdom won’t fade from our hearts and our prayers. Thanks for the reminder, Captain.

“The thing that matters are others, way beyond yourself. Self goes away. Ego: bye-bye. I realize there are a lot of amazing people out there to be thankful for. And a loving God. Other than that: good luck. That’s what life is about.”

-RIP Robin Williams, 1951-2014