Mr. Sugg is an elder in Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston, Texas.
Whenever the word “suicide” in its literal sense appears, it causes disquieting dread, a dread of death, of death deliberate and appalling. Suicide is always a human tragedy. It is often the cause of yet other human sufferings. It is sometimes simply unexplainable. It is occasionally seen as sin. But it is only rarely seen as a sin that can be wholly contained within the heart of a believer. This is an important focus of this paper.
Thus a basic premise of these remarks is that sin is always committed in the heart, but does not necessarily show itself outwardly. Therefore, the sin of suicide can be committed without a person physically taking his own life, just as the sin of adultery in the heart of a man can be committed in the sight of God without that man ever touching a woman.
Another premise is that many believers may be guilty of this sin unknowingly, that even among the most spiritual there is but a beginning realization of living a truly sanctified life, a life of seeking to obey God out of loving thankfulness for God’s great goodness to him. Consider the personal disgrace in public exposure of our disobedience compared to the shame felt when that same sin is known only to the believer and God. Not often does the child of God feel the same degree of baseness in these two cases, and yet both are equally heinous and deserving of condemnation. It is true that the present human consequences of outward sin are ordinarily much greater than those present human consequences of sin in the heart alone. But this fact itself shows that too often we are more concerned with human consequences than with Divine judgment. Too often we fear men and not God. And as we repent of spiritual frailty, we are graciously brought to our knees and are shown more sharply hour total dependence upon God. How could we not know that God, always and everywhere, sees the full depth and the darkest corners of our sinful hearts, even things beyond our own consciousness?
If then this offense is so great, what exactly is it, how may its many aspects be described, who is called to confront, or counsel, or comfort the sinner, and when and how? We can only suggest some responses to some of these questions. Our main purpose here is not to learn so much from these few words as it is to be encouraged to examine further these matters in our own experience and in that of those near us.
Our subject addresses this heart sin of suicide as “hopelessness,” a hopelessness which arises from the paradox of a believer’s unbelief, the child of God being ‘drawn into the black hole of self-pity by the twisting, goading thought that any new life from above is now dead, if in fact it had ever lived. Closing his ears because of searing pain from the sharp blade of the Word of God, he sees himself as the hated Pharisee, dead within despite his outward form. Or, even worse, he sees his own life reflected among those so-called followers of Christ with their great deeds and profession of Jesus’ name, upon whose ears fell those terrible words of our Lord Himself, “I never knew you.”
He willfully closes his mind to the psalmist’s admonition, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God . . . .”
Instead, he listens woefully to that wicked self of the old man, within him, flooding the eargate of his mind with endless recriminations from that great Deceiver, accusing him night and day. Being overcome, he listens, and that real life within dies to his consciousness, or is seen as having never really been alive. In emotional turmoil, he becomes a walking dead man, and Satan growls as a hungry lion at the prospect of his helpless, hopeless prey. And are there not more than a few battle-scarred people of God who have heard the stricken words of our Lord Himself, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” resonant upon their own lips as they hung comfortless in the grasp of hopelessness?
At the center of this hopelessness lies the sleeping dragon of unbelief, and what readily stirs this monster within is severe trial. The testing ultimately comes from the Sovereign hand of God, but He often brings it to us through the means of the physical pain, injury, disease, or even traumatic cure. It can come from loss of loved ones, of material possessions, of useful independent life. It can come from shame, the public exposure of weakness, failure, or wicked deeds. It can even come from various manifestations of melancholy arising from physical dysfunctions. One who is hopeless finds nothing with which to support his life, and thus death appears as welcome release from present suffering.
In all this, Satan’s purpose is to convince the believer that there is no one who understands, that there is no help, that God has rejected him, that he is utterly abandoned, that all is lost.
Yet within this excruciating plight the foundational lesson of God for His people is most powerfully manifest. The dejected believer is effectively stripped of every earthly support. The loss of all help from this world is undeniable.
But then Satan’s lie of God’s rejection is mercifully unmasked. And the revived believer begins to be restored with comfort, his only comfort, that he is not his own but belongs to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He begins to learn that no matter what the circumstances, whether in direst need to the point of death or in the fullness of earthly riches beyond any want, he knows (but to forget and learn again) that it is God’s sovereign hand alone, and no earthly means however cherished, which holds him from destruction and the pangs of hell. For some this is a lesson taught in a grievously severe school, but for all of God’s people, however learned, it is the most precious Truth of their lives.
Satan’s lie that the believer has been rejected by his Lord is unmasked only by the hand of God Himself, working out of a reservoir of many means. But all these varied means, including the counsel of fellow-believers, must have but a single purpose – to leave the beset one finally standing emptied and alone in the world, yet bathed in the love and mercy of his heavenly Father. What a paradox! One who has lost everything but possesses all! How striking that the great truths are great paradoxes! The untouchable and perfect God bending down to embrace the base and cursed man! Resurrection rising out of crucifixion, glory coming forth from shame, life bursting out from death, one’s belief made strong despite one’s unbelief!
However stark is our naked dependence on God alone, our heavenly Father is utterly gracious in His mercy to His children. He leads us to this point with much human support, even as a father holds his toddler’s hand in his first efforts to walk. And He continues to provide such blessings so long as we remember our ultimate dependence upon Him alone.
Good counsel is such a support. In counseling the hopeless we must first ask for the gift of wisdom, especially the wisdom of sensing what he will listen to, if he will listen at all. Of course it is our prayer that we may be wise to choose the proper words of Scripture; but emotional stress can, for a time, close the ears of the believer even to Gods Word. Then, perhaps, the counselor has experience like that of the troubled one. Wisely stated, this could serve as a means of his seeing he is not alone, a key element in counseling the desolate. And if his ears are opened even for a moment by the compassion of some mutual experience, Scripture must then be brought to him, particularly the many trials there are of God’s people, once again helping him to see he is not alone in his loneliness and defeat, Elijah flees what he thinks is the desolation of his life, and, coming to the cave, he groans “… I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” David abjectly confesses his sin in despondence, “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness…. For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me.” The despairing one must hear first the depths to which the godly often sink, before being shown through the mercy of God the visit of the Day-spring from on high who brings light ‘where there was before only darkness.
We must show him that the trials of the helpless faithful were fully encompassed in the hateful thorny crown of Jesus Christ, who drank to the very last drop the punishment due His people, suffering the anguish, shame, sorrow, pain, and loneliness of the desolate in the black night of His own soul. All this infinitely surpassed any human trauma and accomplished all our salvation out of His loving obedience to the Father and in loving concern for His people.
Now we see another purpose of God in the suffering of Jesus Christ, to show us the way as He draws us along that narrow, flinty path which leads to His presence, beginning now and leading into eternity. Again the paradox -eternal hope out of hopelessness! Seeking release from suffering, we find that everything we vainly grasp is taken away – except one thing: God alone, our heavenly Father, manifest in Jesus Christ, and engraved upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This must be the heart lesson in consoling the disconsolate.
There are times when wisdom in counseling should be judged by the skill in asking good questions, more than in giving correct answers. Yet often the suffering ones are left deaf and dumb by their conviction that nobody understands, and that there is no solution in this life to their problem. So attempting to give answers, however true and valuable, or asking questions, however incisive or provocative, are both futile, for the effort falls upon an emotionally deadened spirit. There are the times when God closes both the ears of the counseled and the lips of the counselor. But when this happens, He does not leave us disarmed in the midst of battle. It is here that He teaches both counselor and counseled a very great lesson.
We might call it the lesson of God’s faithful dog. Indulge the writer for a moment and picture a dumb creature, one without human voice or reason – a dog, a four-legged, maybe a flop-eared, long-tailed, panting critter, whose eyes are filled with faithful love as he rests at his discouraged master’s feet. Just the presence of the dog’s unvoiced, unconditional concern can be used to bring the one who thought himself alone and abandoned out of his desolation.
When the forlorn, forsaken, deserted, forgotten, cast down, dejected can give neither lips nor ear, let us pray that we may be able to counsel that hopelessness, the heart sin of spiritual suicide, by our simple, unvoiced presence. And in that presence may there be found the Holy Spirit showing forth the abiding love of the Living Word for His people, until hope is revived, and we are able to feed the spoken word of Scripture, even the word, When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee….”