Why do some people commit suicide? What is it that causes them to so lose hope that they are deceived into taking their own lives? According to chartsbin.com someone dies from suicide every 40 seconds, and worldwide suicides have increased by 60 percent in the last 45 years. While various factors play a part, the most obvious cause of this increasing problem is despair.
“That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)
We are typically born hopeful, and youth is full of expectation. There are teens who fall prey to destructive ideas which cause them to take their own lives, but it is more common for the young to look hopefully to the future. Children look forward to growing up, teens to graduating and going on to college or moving out. Young adults struggle to get that perfect job, and look forward to finding that special someone and getting married, and to buying a nice home and having a family. Later, they are preoccupied with establishing careers and raising children. But as the middle years encroach, as the busyness and anticipation of youth pass and health problems and disillusionment set in, people begin to question if this is all there is. The truth is that without God, this is, indeed, it, and what a bleak picture it is.
During my forty-nine years of life I have personally known, or had a close family member know, three people who took their life. While this might not seem like a particularly large number, it is clearly three people too many. Their particulars varied—a fifty-something experiencing stress in a difficult job, a single alcoholic facing eviction, and a lonely foreigner who had suffered personal rejection. None of them was institutionalized at the time of their suicides, but all three had given up hope. I believe that each came to see something the rest of us typically don’t—the ultimate genuine futility of life apart from Christ.
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, the wisest of men, yet he arrived at the same conclusion: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes…There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b-4, 11) Solomon saw clearly that we are but a small speck in the cosmic greatness of creation, and that all of our great deeds in this life will quickly be forgotten.
Yet it isn’t that he didn’t try. Like many others, Solomon did everything he could to satisfy his soul:
“I communed with my heart, saying, ‘Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom that all who were before me…My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.’ And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure’; but surely, this also was vanity…I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine…I made my works great…I had greater possessions…than all who were in Jerusalem before me…So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem…Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure…Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled. And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-2:11a) Whether knowledge, or wealth, or physical pleasure, nothing ultimately satisfied.
Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world by thirty years of age, is said to have cried bitterly upon discovering that that were no more worlds to conquer, that that was it. Even in the light of our most incredible accomplishments and conquests, there comes a time when the futility of it all becomes obvious and our souls cry out for something more.
The significance of hope is that it is that something more, the antidote to despair. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) The faith that we have in Christ is not a tale we tell to make ourselves feel better in this life; neither is it a last ditch, if all else fails, deathbed precaution. Rather, it is the knowledge of a reality which God has revealed to us which gives us a firm and lasting hope. It shows us a better way to live the time we are allotted in this life, and it gives us the anticipation of an eternity free from the sin which taints our existences here—an eternity with the One true God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, who knows us, forgives us, and loves us. And it is what keeps us from despairing.
While those who take their lives might certainly see the hopelessness of their human condition, I am convinced that it is impossible to commit suicide if we keep our eyes on Christ. When we look away from Him, we see the wind and the waves as Peter on the water did, and start to sink. But when we stay intimately involved with Him—when we keep reading His word, obeying Him, talking to Him in prayer, and fellowshipping with others who are doing so, He will not let us sink. Indeed, we cannot, because, to rephrase today’s verse, we are with Christ, we are part of the commonwealth of Israel and have the covenants of promise, and most of all, having God, we have hope!
Protect each and every one of us that we not take our eyes off of You. Though our earthly situations may be difficult, perhaps even seemingly without hope, we know that in You, there is hope, both for persevering here, and for a future in eternity with You. Thank You that You give us this hope. We love You, Lord. Amen!