It’s the most difficult topic I’ve ever spoken on, and it might be the most important one I’ve ever addressed. From the reaction of my audiences in Orange County, Minneapolis, and most recently, San Diego, it’s clear that suicide is an issue Christians need to grapple with.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10–34, and statistics say that by the time you finish reading this article, someone will have taken his own life.
Suicide is more common than many think, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been personally affected by this issue.
In 2011 my cousin took his own life, and just this past June a dear friend did the same. Both left behind loved ones who had to wrestle with the same question: Why? Why do people commit suicide?
In a general sense, the answer is simple. Some people are convinced they’re better off dead than alive. But why do they think this? Probably because they’ve lost hope in this life. And why have they lost hope?
As Christian influence fades in our culture, the suicide rates have climbed. There’s been a shift in ideas, and ideas have consequences. For one, we’ve been heavily influenced by the view that the physical realm is all there is and everything happens by purely naturalistic processes.
This naturalism is captured best in the words of Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
If Sagan is right, then so is Thomas Hobbes who famously observed that life in an unregulated state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
If naturalism is true, then our only hope is ourselves, and our salvation comes only from human effort trying to generate meaning from more education, more power, more fame, or more money.
But what happens when we fail? We quickly find ourselves in a cycle of disappointment with no end.
Why did David Carradine, Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and a host of other notables take their own lives when they “had it all”? Because those at the pinnacle of “success” were still empty and without hope.
In the end, naturalism can’t deliver on its promises and is, at bottom, a narcissistic view of reality that leaves its disciples empty and lost, without hope, believing they’re better off dead than alive.
The naturalist is not the only one who struggles with suicidal impulses, though. Just because we’re Christian doesn’t mean we’re not vulnerable to the lies of the world. Even the Christian can lose hope, but he does so for different reasons.
One of them is legalism, the idea that our relationship with God—and ultimately our salvation—depends on how well we perform. Any Christian who’s constantly measuring himself by his performance will be constantly disappointed.
Legalism leaves us hopeless because, in the long run, we can never measure up. Day after day, we let God down. When we tie our salvation to our performance, we lose sight of God’s grace. Life gets unbearable because God becomes a far-off angry father.
No one ever measures up. That’s the reality of fallenness and the point of the gospel. The Law is a teacher pointing us to our need to be rescued. And this rescue comes through the grace of God found in Jesus of Nazareth.
If we trust in our own efforts, there is no hope. The Psalmist says, “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Then he adds, “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Ps. 130:3–4).
For the one who trusts in Christ, God keeps no record of wrongs. If He did, no one could stand. But there is hope for every single child of God because there is full forgiveness.
We have been rescued and rescued completely. This is the truth we lean on in times of hopelessness.