By Mike Willis
Every man is faced with problems in life. Some of us face more difficult problems than others do, yet we all face problems. The manner in which we cope with the problems of life reflects one’s moral fiber. Indeed, the manner in which a man handles the problems which he faces in life is a commentary about the man; he is a good man or a sorry man, an honest man or a dishonest man, a happy man or a sad man on the basis of how he handles life’s problems.
The potential suicide victim handles his problems by running from them. Indeed, he runs from life’s problems in a special manner – by taking his life – but he is, nevertheless, running from his problems. In addition to this, such a person usually has a concept regarding suffering which is incorrect. Let us consider some of the things which Christianity has to say regarding dealing with the problems which face us in life.
1. Problems have a purpose in life. James wrote, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Temptations are the means through which one develops patience. The word patience is translated from hupomone. In A New Testament Wordbook, William Barclay made the following comments regarding this word:
. . . there is no single English word which transmits all the fulness of its meaning. In classical Greek it is not a very common word, it is used of the endurance of toil that has come upon a man all against his will, of endurance of the sting of grief, the shock of battle, and the coming of death. It has one very interesting use – it is used of the ability of a plant to live under hard and unfavorable circumstances . . . .
. . . It is not the patience which can sit down and bow its head and let things descend upon it and passively endure until the storm is past . . . . It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope; it is not the spirit which sits statically enduring in the one place, but the spirit which bears things because it knows that these things are leading to a goal of glory; it is not the patience which grimly waits for the end, but the patience which radiantly hopes for the dawn. It has been called `a masculine constancy under trial’ . . . . It is the quality which keeps a man on his feet with his face to the wind. It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal (pp. 59-61).
Problems in life have the purpose of developing the Christian spirit. They chasten us, causing our spirit to become stronger (Heb. 12:6-I1).
There are several biblical examples of men who manifested this spirit. James wrote, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. He have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord . . .” (5:11). Hence, Job is cited as a man who passively accepted the problems of life; he complained to the point of being guilty of sinning with his mouth (Job 34:35; 38:2; 42:3). However, despite his inability to understand what was happening in his life, he refused to renounce faith in God. Repeatedly, he stated his confidence in God. Here are some samples of his steadfast adherence to faith in God:
Naked can I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (1:21).
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him (13:15).
The characteristic of Job’s faith which commends itself to us is that it persevered through all of the trials which it faced. It was not the kind of faith which praised God during the good times and renounced God in bad times; rather, it was the kind of faith which weathered the storms of life.
Another example of this kind of faith is that manifested by the apostle Paul. The persecutions which he suffered were numerous, including these which he listed: “in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beat with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Yet, not once did he renounce his faith in God or even hint at giving up. Instead, he wrote such things as the following: “. . . in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20-21).
If any two men ever had reason to escape the sufferings of this life through suicide, these two did. Yet, they did not ever attempt to take their own lives. Why? Because both of them had developed hupomone – the ability to be unswerved from one’s deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. Rather than considering these trials as reasons to commit suicide, these men of faith considered them as means of strengthening their faith. The person who commits suicide has no concept trials as a means of making steadfastness.
2. There is a place of refuge. The Psalms are particularly helpful in forming the correct concept of how God helps us through the problems of life. In them, God is constantly portrayed as the source of strength and help in the problems of life. For example, notice the following comments taken from the Psalms:
a. When man rise up as enemies against a person: “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill . . . . I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about” (3:4, 6).
b. In distress: “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; . . . But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call unto him” (Psa. 4:1,3).
c. When slandered: “O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me . . . My defense is of God, which saveth the upright of heart” (Psa. 7:1, 10).
Space will fail me to list all the different kinds of problems faced by the psalmist in which he found God as a source of refuge and strength in overcoming the problems of life. The man who has made the Psalms his daily companion knows that they repeatedly teach the child of God to walk with God day-by-day so that when trouble comes, he can run to God for refuge.
The man who is a potential suicide victim confesses openly that he has not been walking hand-in-hand with God. He is openly acknowledging that he has not built patience or steadfastness into his moral fiber. Rather, when problems in life come for him, he finds nothing which will sustain him through the storms of life. Consequently, he attempts to take his own life.
3. You are worth something to God. One of the problems faced by suicide victims is a feeling of worthlessness. What can the philosophies of atheism and agnosticism offer such a man? They can tell him that he is more highly developed animal than the dog or cat. They tell him that man is inherently good (man’s inhumanity to man negates this affirmation). They can tell him that they wish he would not take his life. But, they cannot make him feel that he is worth something.
The Christian religion can help this man. The Christian fells him that he is worth something because he is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). The soul of man which is given to him by God (Ecc. 12:7) is more precious than all of the wealth of this world combined (Matt. 16:26). Furthermore, that soul was so precious in God’s eyes that He willingly sacrificed His only begotten Son to save it (Jn. 3:16). Hence, he has to understand that man is worth something to God. Regarding God’s creation of man in His own image, the psalmist wrote, “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and dominion. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands . . . .” (Psa. 8:5-6). Yes, man is worth something. There is no reason for a person acquainted with the Christian religion to feel worthless.
4. You are loved. Even as the creature which bears the image of God is precious in the eyes of God, so also is he loved by God. The Scriptures repeatedly emphasize God’s love for mankind.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16).
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:6-8).
There is no reason for a man who is acquainted with the Christian revelation to feel unloved. Perhaps other men might not love him, but God does. The love which God has for us should sustain us through periods when mere men hate us.
5. You belong. Those who attempt suicide sometimes feel as if they do not belong. The Christian undersands that he belongs. The New Testament compares the church to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:14-26). In this comparison, every member of Christ has a function to perform, a place to fill. Even as there are no useless parts in the human body, there are no useless parts in the body of Christ. Some of us have more outwardly important places to fill than others have (compare the function of the hand to the liver); however, the mere fact that our function might be more public in nature makes it no more important. Some parts of the body which are the least conspicuous are the most essential (e.g., a man can live without a hand but not without his lungs). Hence, every member of the body of Christ belongs, he has a place to fill and an important job to do. He is needed. Hence, he should not feel empty and unneeded.
Suicide is, from my point of view, the by-product of the influences of atheism, secularism, agnosticism, materialism, and any other “ism” which features “life without God.” The Scriptures teach that the fruits of refusing to have God in one’s knowledge are that God gives man up (Rom. 1:24, 26). The things which happen to us in this life are frequently the result of failing to mature spiritually as we should. I am thoroughly convinced that suicide, when done by those who are sane and sometimes by those who are insane (e.g., the end result of a life in disobedience to God – See the comments regarding King Zimri in 1 Kgs. 16:18-19), comes as a result of failing to learn to handle the problems in life in the manner in which God revealed that we should. When men handle their problems in ways that displease God, they are unable to cope with them. Some resort to pills, others go insane, and other commit suicide. However, all of them have handled the problems of life in the wrong way.
I am constantly reminded of the statements of Paul that godliness is profitable for this life as well as that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:8). Hence, let us exercise ourselves unto godliness. Though I may not understand why God wants me to conduct myself in a certain way, I trust that His way is best and will resolve to be like what he commanded. This is what God means when He commands us to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). The walk of faith is the best preventive to suicide.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 9, pp. 147-149
February 28, 1980