In August 2014, the beloved and famed actor Robin Williams committed one of the highest profile suicides in history. He totally shocked the world when he was found dead, having hung himself in his luxurious California home.
Here was a man who had made the world laugh, possessed wealth well beyond the average person’s imagination, and enjoyed honor and respect wherever he went. But in spite of the seemingly good things he had going, he decided it better to be dead than alive. There was a darkness around Williams’ soul, which he spoke of publicly on occasion, that neither fame nor money could squelch. It eventually sent him over the edge. Williams’ death sparked a renewed public interest in the act of suicide and the various causes of it.
When we consider what is involved in the act, it is astounding how many people actually carry it out. In order to succeed in self-murder, a person must understand that, whatever method he chooses, it will likely be painful. Death is never easy under any circumstances. The actual pain and agony of the process is a major psychological hurdle that must be overcome.
This post is an excerpt from Drowning Swine: How Christ Defeats Darkness, Demons, and Death (Chapter 5, “Darkness Kills Itself).
Then the person has to accept that once the deed is done, if successful, his heart will stop beating, and his soul will enter into eternity. Of course, he might believe that death is the end of the person (the naturalist view, which usually denies the existence of any sort of afterlife), and he may find comfort in this. But even still, he would have to come to terms with the fact that this act will utterly and completely end his existence, according to his own belief. That in itself is a horrendous thought.
He must also deal with any potential doubts he has concerning the possibility that he might be wrong about his naturalistic view. Once the deed is done, it is certainly feasible that his soul will live on and possibly face judgment. In my view, this is an enormous psychological hurdle to overcome if one is to commit suicide, an action that permanently seals the deal. Put bluntly, if the existence of hell is even a remote possibility, it should give serious pause before the deed is done.
Additionally, the person contemplating suicide must realize that he will not only be committing self-murder, but also leaving behind a wake of pain and heartache for the people he loves and who love him. He has to accept that what he is doing will likely hurt a lot of people for a long time. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently haunted and burdened by the grinding agony of losing a loved one via suicide.
But that is not all. Once he has come to terms with all these things (or perhaps completely ignores them), he must then actually carry out his suicide. I can hardly imagine what must be going through a person’s mind in their last moments just prior to pulling the trigger, or slipping off the chair, or leaping from a bridge or building, or swallowing a bottle of pills, or cranking the car in the garage. It seems to me that since suicide is one of the most difficult acts to carry out, very few people would actually follow through with it.
It seems that way, but it is not. In spite of all the difficult psychological hurdles, a startling number of people go through with it. Within my little neighborhood in Alabama, I am aware of five people who have committed suicide in the past five years, and I’m fairly certain there have been others. That is just within a three-mile radius in a neighborhood containing less than 500 houses.
In 2012 the CDC reported 40,600 suicides in the United States as a whole, making it the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. A little math indicates that approximately every 13 minutes someone takes their life in the United States! Among those from age 15 to 24, the rate is much higher, and suicide historically ranks as the second or third leading cause of death among that group.
The global number of annual suicides is staggering. According to worldwide statistics compiled by the World Health Organization, an estimated 800,000 people kill themselves every year. Around every 40 seconds, it happens somewhere in the world.
On top of all this data, we are told that for every successful suicide, there are approximately 25 unsuccessful attempts. Emergency rooms everywhere must constantly provide care for large numbers of people bearing self-inflicted injuries.
All these statistics can be debated, of course. The numbers are difficult to compile and interpret, and they are ever-changing, but they point clearly to the fact that lots of people kill themselves, or attempt it.
Not to stress the point too much, but think of it like this – globally, over the past 50 years, some 400 million people somehow overcame the incredible psychological hurdles and actually brought about their own deaths. If all of those suicides happened in one day in the United States, it would wipe away the current population of the entire nation, plus 80 million more!
Suicide is not something that happens only occasionally among people who are considered deranged beyond repair or among those who live overtly dark lives, like Adolf Hitler. The lighthearted and comedic Robin Williams taught us that people from every strata of human society can get to a place where they prefer death to life.
When a person harbors darkness in his heart, it will eventually lead him to bring about his own destruction. If it doesn’t happen through suicide, then it will happen through a long-term process of destroying his own body (a slow, unintentional suicide, if you will).
This is the curse of death on human beings. We die, and very often we contribute greatly to our own deaths, whether we mean to or not: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Death happens when we “eat.” In other words, we bring about our own deaths by way of our own actions.
Many people today carry the emotional baggage that leads to their cutting or burning themselves, or abusing substances that inflict self-harm, or even move them to seriously contemplate suicide. Likewise, many people have deep internal scars because a loved one has committed suicide. In most of these cases, the last thing they want to hear is that they have dark hearts or that they are under the influence of dark forces.
I do not wish to sound mean-spirited or unsympathetic to any person who carries these burdens. Indeed, I personally know what a dark heart feels like (when I examine my own), and I also know many people in the very circumstances I have been describing. I do not, in the least, desire to hurt with my words those who already suffer so badly.
My goal is not to harm, but rather to show the way to the Rescuer. Though it can sound insensitive, it is so important to point out the truth that so many deny – darkness seeks to kill itself. Once this fact is accepted, and the darkness within is identified, then (and only then) can true healing actually take place.
Certainly, Jesus was not trying to be mean-spirited when he correctly diagnosed the demoniac’s dark problem. If he had ignored Legion for fear of being interpreted as insensitive, the man would have remained in bondage, and eventually he would have self-destructed. Identifying the darkness was the only way Jesus could help him.
Christians must be careful not to harshly judge those who commit suicide or are tempted by it. Indeed, we must face the truth that every human being on the planet has a dark, self-destructive heart by nature. Self-terminating darkness resides within each fallen person to one degree or another. It can overtake any person and bring about his or her demise, even those who seem to be living relatively happy lives in the present.
As startling as suicide statistics are, the real surprise is that there aren’t many more, given the intense darkness most people have within them. When we consider that every person is born into rebellion against God, we should be thankful that suicide rates are not double or triple the current rate.
In other words, we have no grounds for pharisaically judging someone who takes their own life, like Robin Williams, when we all have that same capability by virtue of our fall into sin. We must leave the judging to God.
But we also must see the darkness for what it is – a self-destructive force. If we ignore it or convince ourselves that it is not there, it will eventually do us in. Rather than succumb to its power, we should run to Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to obliterate darkness before it can carry out its self-abuse.
The Christian and Suicide
This leads to one final question which inevitably comes up in this type of discussion. Can a true Christian commit suicide? The simple answer is yes. It has happened, and it does happen.
How can this be? Because when a person is saved and justified by Christ, God forgives all of his sin (past, present, and future) apart from anything the person has done or will do. Redemption is first and foremost an act of God, given as a gift regardless of the recipient’s deeds. So a person who is genuinely redeemed cannot be unredeemed. If Jesus has said “Mine” over a person’s soul, then nothing can or ever will change that reality.
John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
But there is an additional lesson that must be learned along with that great truth. Paul teaches in Romans that though our sin is completely forgiven through Christ and our eternal futures are secure, nonetheless, in the nasty here and now, indwelling sin remains and wars against the Spirit within us. We are saved, yes, but every Christian continues to struggle against internal darkness. This is not because of demon possession, since biblically, true believers cannot be possessed by demons. Rather, this happens because our own flesh is demonically dark and fallen. The process of sanctification, so understood, is essentially the progressive increase of Christ’s light and the progressive decrease of darkness within a person’s heart.
With these two theological facts established (eternal safety and progressive sanctification), we can see how a person may be genuinely saved, exercising real faith in Jesus, and yet still struggle mightily with darkness. It is certainly possible that the indwelling darkness may become so overwhelming that in a moment of desperation, a Christian may actually take his or her own life. I am convinced this has happened many times.
Edward John (E.J.) Carnell (1919-1964) was a well-known and beloved Christian scholar and seminary administrator. He was a meticulous apologist and theologian and a leader of the Neo-Evangelical movement. If anyone seemed to know Jesus and understand the gospel, it was Carnell. He professed Jesus as his Savior and Lord, and he sought to live his life in a way that bore gospel fruit.
Yet Carnell suffered terribly with depression and insomnia. He struggled with the great darkness these conditions bring with them. His life ended with a drug overdose apparently attempting to alleviate the symptoms. Some called it a suicide, while others deemed it an accident. Either way, it is clear that darkness still had significant power in his life, and it brought about self-abusive tendencies. It is my strong opinion, however, that in spite of his dark sufferings, Carnell is currently with Christ enjoying his eternal life. Jesus brought final victory to him, though darkness put up a powerful fight.
Another example comes from the family of prominent Baptist pastor Rick Warren. In 2013 Warren’s son Matthew committed suicide at the age of 27. In a CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Warren and his wife, Kay, both affirmed Matthew’s strong faith in Christ. He was a professing believer, known for leading others to Jesus. However, they also confirmed that Matthew’s mental illness was a source of darkness and that the darkness had a temporary victory in his life. But they believe their son is in heaven with the Lord, and I believe this with them.
These two examples show that suicide doesn’t happen merely among unbelievers. Every person, regardless of their relationship to Jesus, is in danger of the power of dark forces both within them and influencing them from the outside, and these can lead to self-destructive behaviors. To think otherwise is to underestimate our enemy.
Winning the Brutal Battle
One of the things the story of Jesus and Legion teaches us is that the only solution to self-ruining darkness is the light of Christ. The more of him we get, the more able we are to war against our own dark flesh and the powers of darkness that seek our demise. It is a brutal battle, and there will be casualties of darkness along the way, but those who are in Christ do achieve final victory in him.