Life (Lent #24)

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here …’ ” (Luke 4:9, ESV)

Suicide is seldom seriously considered in connection with this verse because it is an unsavory topic for pulpits. Not long ago in European society, suicide was a taboo topic, only mentioned idiomatically. For centuries, the funerals of the suicidal were not attended by their own families because of shame. Pastor F. W. Boreham tells the story of attending such a funeral on a balmy New Zealand Christmas, though none from the family came. The suicide brought shame on them, so they chose not to honor the dead by attending his funeral. With only the pallbearers and the undertaker, this bold and sympathetic pastor was the entire congregation of the funeral. Jesus likewise walks alone with friends and families affected by suicide, and people tempted toward it.

Suicide is not a topic pastors should avoid. We have in the Bible a litany of heroes tempted to despair and suicide:

Job is tempted to suicide by suffering. His wife even tells him that it would be better to “curse God and die,” than to honor God and live on in affliction. Job cursed the day of his birth, and spoke of loathing his own life. But Job persevered until he got the interview with God that he desired. Affliction could not lead him to choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Elijah is tempted to suicide by loneliness. But God reminds him that he is not alone in his stand against the idols of the time. “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” (1 Kings 19:18, ESV) God had to give Paul the same reminder more than once.

Paul was tempted to despair by persecution. He says that he suffered the same temptation as Elijah; judging by appearances, his own people had rejected God. That great missionary apostle wrote that God has not rejected his people whom he knew beforehand (Rom. 11:2). The apostles “despaired even of life” because of their persecution. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Jonah is tempted to suicide by bitterness. His book ends that way—with the main character in despair. But he must have learned the hard way the lesson that God had to give, or he would not have committed to writing the story of his divine dealings. Christ sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and no nation is undeserving of God’s mercy if he chooses to offer it to them.

Jesus exposes the temptation of suicide as what it really is: a temptation to test God. We want to take the reins of death because God has not dealt us a fair hand. But suicide is neither a solution, nor an end even to existence. The Bible teaches that the soul is immortal, but life on earth is temporary; when we end our life by suicide we are trying to end our own suffering, when we could be lessening the suffering of others.

Through tears, let it be said, Christ himself knows sympathy with the sufferer and the suicidal. He has walked in the valley of the shadow of death. But he also claims victory over death itself. George MacDonald says what every suicidal person wants is not death, but more life.

What God offers us in Jesus is not properly an abundant life—riches, joy, and prestige. But the religion of the Lamb offers something else: life in abundance. When the devil tempts us to despair—to take drastic steps, just to test if God is watching—let’s turn and say to his face, that we will not test the Lord our God, nor will we forsake our chance to glorify him in “the land of the living.” You are alive to give thanks. (Isaiah 38:18-19)

“For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116:8-9, ESV)

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