Is Suicide a Symptom of Disease?

Today Ted Hume reported for CNN that, globally, there is one suicide every 40 seconds.

Truly this is an astounding statistic. Especially since this means that suicide accounts for some half of all violent deaths each year. Apparently, every year about 800,000 people take conscious steps that lead to the ending of their own lives.

The article discusses this reality as a major health concern, quoting a prominent physician:

“This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long,” – Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO

The implication of this statement is that suicide is primarily the symptom of disease – a mental disorder. And, therefore, to treat the underlying disease should ultimately vanquish the horrible symptom.Suicide

This is the same approach the medical community has taken towards the diagnosis and treatment of depression in general. However, in a recent talk entitled, “Good Mood Bad Mood – Help for Depression,” Dr. Charles Hodges discusses the reality that its not working. In effect he says that if medicinal treatments for depression worked, then we should expect a sharp decline in the number of people who are labeled “depressed.”  But over the past 40 years, the number of has not decreased, but has rather increased significantly.

Compare this with polio, at one time a dreaded plague of a disease. But once researchers finally figured out what was happening (got an accurate diagnosis), they were able to discover a vaccine to cure it. Once the vaccine became readily available to the public, the number of people with the disease reduced dramatically. Nowadays a case of polio is very rare.

Why has this not happen with depression? Has it not been accurately diagnosed? Has the proper cure not been developed?

What about Suicide?

Is suicide the type of thing that can be treated? Is it the symptom of a disease that can be cured.

The answer is Yes. But the exact disease and its cure are not acceptable by the world in general. This should not be surprising since the disease has a way of ignoring itself as much as possible, blinding eyes from really seeing it for what it is. Those who don’t see it, don’t want to see it, and will not see it.

Plus, Jesus informs his followers of this painful truth: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). In other words, the diagnosis and the cure that Christ gives will be ignored and even hated precisely because it comes from Christ.

But those who know Christ know he’s right.

The Bible calls the “disease” sin. It is not so much a disease (though it is passed from one generation to another and it is most certainly contagious) as it is an inclination of the heart against the truth and holiness of God. It is rebellion against the person of God, the law of God, and the love of God. Genesis 3 explains the origin of this deadly condition and the Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 14 to hammer home how pervasive and severe it is:

Romans 3:10-18 None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Nobody likes to think Paul is talking about ME. But he is. We are all born into this deadly condition, with this dreaded disease – though we are not so much victims of it, but rather willing participants in it.

It is this disposition to ignore God and live by our own standards that leads to the brokenness we see in the world. It is not a medical problem, but a heart problem and a spirit problem (though it will often manifest itself as a medical problem). In summary, we are cursed on the inside, and the curse has a way of making itself known on the outside.

Sin is the underlying cause of all misbehavior, including suicide. It is not always one’s own innate sin that leads to the symptom of suicide; sometimes it is the sin of others that dramatically affect an individual; or some combination of both. Either way, sin is the underlying cause.

Is There a Cure?

So, we have a diagnosis. What is the cure? We need a Savior – a Great Physician – who can set us back in a right relationship to the Father. That is the only cure and solution that will work:

Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The justifying love of Christ, who was brutally killed on a cross to pay the penalty of our sin debt and who rose again victoriously from the grave, is the only solution to all the symptoms that arise from our sin, including suicide. Placing our full faith and trust in him to save us from sin leads to the gift of justifying grace and eternal hope – the “medicines” that cure the soul.

This is not self-salvation. This is Christ restoring a guilty sinner and adopting him / her into the family of God.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean that every single person who knows Christ as Savior will successfully refrain from committing suicide. Later in Romans (5-8), Paul assures us that we still have indwelling sin within us, even after we have been justified by Christ, and that there is process of living by the Spirit and mortifying the flesh that must take place in us during the remainder of our lives.

Sadly, some who are justified by Christ loose this battle in a tragic way and take their own lives. They are forgiven of this sin, and taken to the comfort and presence of the Father.

But if they are justified, why do they commit suicide? If they have the medicine applied to the soul, why does it sometimes not seem to work? In many cases, Christians are not taught properly that they should be fighting this battle with indwelling sin, warring with their flesh, and so they succumb. No doubt other factors (perhaps external) often contribute to their final earthly action.

In a similar way, sometimes people have all the tools they need to weed their garden, but for some reason or the other they don’t. Christians are provided all the tools they need to overcome the power of indwelling sin – the underlying condition that can manifest itself in suicidal tendencies – but for whatever reason, they don’t. One would need to study Romans 5-7 in detail for a robust biblical answer to this dilemma.

Though some justified believers might fail when it comes to suicide, the truth is, without Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are hopeless and doomed. Though most people who do not know Christ as Savior refuse to commit suicide, the spirit of suicide is strong within them. That is, the sin reigning in their hearts is suicidal in nature – it is self-destructive. And if left to its own devices, this “disease” will eventually kill its host. As John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Sometimes this happens through suicide.

What Needs to Happen?

Of course, the medical community, by in large, will not accept this solution, or the diagnosis presented. They will look to the mass prescription of various medicines that they hope attack a vague mental disorder or disease that is virtually impossible to diagnose – it is a guessing game. They will look to psychiatrists to talk people out of their suicidal tendencies, teaching them to think more positively, and so on.

Though I certainly appreciate their desire to help – I kid not, I really do appreciate it – I don’t believe that the statistics regarding suicide will change that much in the coming years.

It is the Church that needs to step up, not just pastors and leaders, but every Christian. Preach the Law of God to sinners, praying that the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin and rebellion. Then preach the Gospel of Christ that has the ability to bring true life, comfort, healing hope, and the presence of the Holy Spirit that wars against the flesh.