OKEECHOBEE — The rates of suicide are up, sharply. The national COVID-19 shutdown and economic devastation for middle-class workers and small business owners has led to a pandemic of despair – and attendant loss of life. Thankfully, here in Florida we have been protected from the worst of economic destruction, due to good leadership, but around the nation deaths of despair are spiking. Most families are touched in some way by loved ones passing from intentional or unintentional self-inflicted death. The question echoes for people of faith: “Is there hope for a person who causes his or her own death?”
To answer this question honestly, we must understand something true about the character of God, and something true about human condition. First, we must see that God looks beyond EVERY act to its inner motivation. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:17). God’s look “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it determines the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” – every time. Secondly, we must see that not all suicide is equal in intent and motivation. There is the suicide of rebellion, where a soul that hates the laws of God commits the highest and final act of pride (showing self as ruler of life and chooser of death). However, there are many cases of the suicide of brokenness, where people cannot bear the colossal weight of another person’s sins (for instance, abuse unmentionable that shatters the psyche of the victim across life); this rubric of brokenness also includes such things as chemical failure in the brain, cognitive decline, clinical depression, etc. God looks on the heart, ever and always – including the various forms of self-inflicted death.
Tolkien writes of rebellious suicide in The Lord of the Rings, where Denethor, Steward-ruler of Gondor, is overcome with darkness, and desires to kill himself and his son. He binds his son on a funeral pyre and claims despair: “Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death?” Immediately the reply comes: “Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death… And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.”
This is classic narcissistic suicide, where the person who has lived life in the center of control suddenly realizes, due to failing health or fortune, that such fallen self-determination cannot continue. Then, in a last desperate attempt to control and order, life is ended.
However, most of us encounter a different kind of suicide – that of brokenness and pain. Think of the love that you feel for someone who has been hurt by the weight of others’ sins, maybe someone who never had a chance at the life and faith you enjoy; or, perhaps someone whose body has failed them, locked in a flood of chemical dysfunction and manifest depression. Think of the love that you feel for that person, the forgiveness and compassion you would extend them. Think of that for a moment and then hear this: As much as you love that person, God loves them more.
God is the most perfect Abba, the most perfect heavenly Father about whom we cannot conceive enough Love. Yes, many earthy fathers have been flawed, manipulative, controlling, or even cruel – but not our Abba! He is faithful, dependable, true – infinite in love: Holy Love that redeems further than sin can curse, and death can hold. His love reaches beyond the worst of our sin and brokenness, bringing many sons and daughters to glory through His own suffering (Heb. 2:10). There is not a single soul who has cried out to Him for relief who will not receive that and more, in life to come. Abraham, who knew Him well, said this, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And he trusted his own son Isaac to His care, and found Him true. So will all, who swing out from this life on the thread of a single prayer – they will find that underneath them are everlasting arms, held in eternal care.
The heartbeat of hope runs in this vein: What saves us, ultimately? Our faith or God’s faithfulness to us? Thankfully, Scripture answers that unequivocally: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Ultimately, the heart that God looks on in the gift of eternal life is the heart of His son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Those who are in Christ are secure based on the works of the Righteous One: the Spotless Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, bearing our sins and failures as His own.
So we ask, will God love less than His creatures? Never! Will not the Judge of the earth do right? Forever! There is hope, my friend. Run to the promise of God in Christ – and live! Amen.