Mr. Sugg is a ruling elder in the Protestant Reformed Church of Houston, Texas.
Is it possible that even a great multitude of God’s people now living are guilty of real and damnable suicide, a suicide within their own hearts? How many of us are guilty, and how often are we guilty of this insidious destruction of our own living persons? Is suicide not only physical destruction, but also an inward resentment against some aspect, or the whole of one’s own person, whom God made?
At this point a highly-placed churchman impressively steps forward and, diverting our thoughts for a moment, compliments us for such insight in recognizing what he and others have been preaching for years. We certainly understand—don’t we—that this inward suicide has been destroying our “self-esteem” all these years, and that this destruction of “a good self-image” is one of the greatest evils in the church and in the world today, accounting for no end of actual suicide, poverty, crime, school failure, dope addiction, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and other such human ruin. He boldly concludes that the church must lead the way to build up those who are poor in “self-esteem” and fight everything that would diminish a “good self-image.”
As the heat of his rhetoric dissipates, the light of God’s Word illuminates, and we find that this “self-esteem” is nothing but filthy pride, clothed in appealing psychological garb. This is the same pride which is manifest in everything we do, great and small, that is done without regard for the God of Scripture. In His Word, God has spoken scores of passages about this evil. These passages are summarized simply in part of Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord . . .” and in Jesus’ own words in Luke 14:26, “If any man come unto me and hate not his . . . own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” This “good self-image” is nothing more than the image of the old man of sin whose very seat within us lies in the self.
Now we see that suicide, in its radical definition, is not destruction of the self; but destruction by the self; of the very person whom God has created. We realize that in the message of ‘”self-esteem” we have been listening to echoes of the very words of Satan from this “minister of righteousness,” and we recognize that we have very nearly fallen victim to what happens to the foolish and the wicked when “pride compasseth them about as a chain” (Psalm 73:6).
In our determination to find the stronghold of the sin of suicide, we have been spared the deadly diversion of the pursuit of “self-esteem,” and with this key guide in our quest, we turn to face the multi-faceted turrets in the fortress of pride, leaning: into the Devil’s merciless barrage as a wayfaring pilgrim leans into the whipping rain of a thunderstorm. The words of the Accuser are barbed missiles which whir into the heart of the child of God: Why did I take the chance?
How can I bear the shame?
Why have my friends deserted me?
Why was I born this way?
Why did I let this happen?
Why are we so unhappy?
Why is he so cruel and critical?
Why won’t she stop her incessant complaining?
Why are my children so buried in vanity?
Why are my parents so heartlessly strict?
Why can’t I be happy, or popular, or rich?
Why can’t I be pretty, or thin, or handsome?
Why can’t I be taller, or smaller, or smarter?
Why does she hate me?
Why does he act as though I didn’t exist?
Why won’t someone help me?
Why won’t they let me help?
Why do I do these things?
Why won’t anyone listen to me?
How can I go on?
Why is school so impossible?
Can’t they see they are destroying me?
Why can’t they see my anguish?
Who cares about me?
Why do I think of nothing but me?
Why do I have a job that eats me alive?
Why can’t 1 find decent work?
Why can’t I have a baby?
These kids are driving me crazy.
Why can’t I quit drinking?
Why did I have to say that?
Why didn’t I say something?
Why don’t they ask me to serve?
Why can’t they get somebody else?
Why can’t I make enough money?
Why am I so tired?
Why can’t I sleep?
Why can’t I get up?
Why have I been such a fool?
This pain is driving me out of my mind.
Doesn’t anyone understand?
How can I call myself a child of God?
Why am I so weak?
Why am I so alone?
Why has God abandoned me?
I, I, I . . . my, my, my . . . me, me, me!
This torrent of arrows marked I, me, and mine pour into my soul, bewailing the trials and circumstances which beset me; and my self, the old man of sin within me, twists each one in my heart. I am utterly consumed by self; I cannot think beyond that self; I am totally self-intoxicated. I groan in confusion of unbelief, thinking that the shackles which Christ broke at the cross still fetter my body, because the grounds of the Devil’s attack seem sound. I roar against the injustice in my life! Anger arises in my heart against all the nagging realities of my life in a hatred of all these things, a hatred of all those whom I think cause them, and, finally, a blasphemous hatred of God Himself.
Here am I, the pot of clay, muttering, “. . . I do well to be angry, even unto death” (Jonah 4:9). I shake my fist in the face of the Potter and wickedly demand, “. . . why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20). The overbearing, burgeoning cancer of my odious self is crushing the life of the child of God within. This is the height of self torment, the torment of my godly person by my sinful self. This is the heart of suicide, just as surely as if I had blown that heart in pieces. At last I have reached the inner, most powerful redoubt of the enemy, and I have sinned the great sin of the vicious, violent, vindictive murder of my own person. Exhausted, I collapse in a pitiful heap, woefully blaming all on my own person in the depths of self pity or pridefully seeking the heights of self-justifying martyrdom, both but two sides of the same coin—the central I, me, and mine of self-intoxication.
Then the calm, firm voice of Paul comes into my ears, “Nay, but, O man, who are thou that repliest against God?” (Romans 9:20). The still, small voice draws me up, “. . . What doest thou here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13). And the sweet psalmist of Israel sings in my heart:
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and
Why art thou disquieted within me?
Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him,
Who is the health of my countenance and my God
And finally Jesus says, “. . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
The incessant demands of my ungodly self are vanquished by the Living Word of God! I am admonished to speak to that self; but to deny him place and listen not for a moment to his viperous hisses.
The coursing poisons of self-intoxication are stayed, and I breathe again the breath of Life. At last I am revived in the warmth of the loving forgiveness of my Father. I am restored to my calling once again to live the thankfulness of loving obedience to the gracious Sovereign God who is Love. The night of living death is dispelled, and in the Son-kissed dawn, the joy of life returns:
For his anger endureth but a moment;
in his favor is life.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning
But the war goes on; and there is no discharge in this war, for the Lord in His sovereign counsel has ordained that the old man of sin, even with his dominance broken, will yet remain seated in my own wicked self until I die. I know that there will be times when I may fall under demoralizing assault from outside forces, or that I may experience some peculiar physical illness which uniquely produces tormenting dejection. When these occur, I must acknowledge and deal with them in good judgment, in God’s grace taking the skilled and sanctified counsel of other brethren when the measuring rod of my own judgment is only twisted confusion. Yet it remains the case that, if the self is silenced, these other matters can be handled with only a fraction of the trauma caused when that evil-speaking old man within is allowed to amplify upsetting problems to a roaring din. I must shut my ears against the sly and murderous invectives of my vicious self against the new man within me. I must fill my eyes with the Word of God, eyes that are opened by the Holy Spirit. I must seek, with complete dependence on Christ, to obey God’s perfect Law, not simply because He has commanded it, but because I love Him and earnestly desire to show my thankfulness to Him by doing that which He has given for my good as the principal means for my knowing Him.
In the midst of this deep warfare of the spirit, what a joy it is to behold our Most Wise and Powerful Commander, whose victory is already secured, and of whom the whole congregate of all the world’s most famous captains make but a shadow. But with that shadow as an example, the soldier of the cross covets and imitates the virtues of the warriors who surrounded David, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Jackson, and Lee in ultimate expression of love for, trust in, and obedience to their beloved generals as they took their battle places.
In the height of such valorous words, we do well to take heed to the cautions of the old soldier who has been much fired-over. He speaks few words, terse and hard-bitten in the main.
He warns that the enemy is so powerful that were it not for our great God of Battles, and Him alone, we would be hopelessly overwhelmed and destroyed, and that calling upon our own selves for strength is complete vanity, because it is calling for aid from the very enemy against whom we fight.
He puts us on guard that no war in itself is glorious, but rather its battles are marked by unwitting firing upon our own people because of our inexperience and heedlessness, by our ignorance in failing to recognize the stealthy enemy who has infiltrated our lines to destroy within, by confusion, uncertainty, distress, anxiety, deadening watches through perilous nights, with grim dawns revealing horrible evidence of the treacherous enemy who has slashed gaping wounds, even while we, in ignorance, thought ourselves most vigilant.
He admonishes us of the nearly unbearable consequences of our dismissing part of our orders which seem to us very minor, the neglect of which causes us to miss the objective and fall into the Slough of Despond, besmirched and nearly strangled by the mud of our own sins.
Then putting aside his counseling tone, the old soldier bursts forth as though he were giving a command in the very heat of battle, “Carry the wounded to safety!” We must never give ground for the enemy’s venomous accusation that the Christian church is the only army in history that shoots its own wounded. He soberly points out that there is no struggle in all our spiritual warfare more needful of God’s merciful grace than that battle against our proud and hateful hearts as we strive to obey God’s command that we love one another, for Christ’s sake. Here the sinful self must be utterly driven out, even as the Canaanites. He calls us to look at the spilling of Jesus’ very own blood upon the ground of this earth as the ultimate and unutterable expression of perfect love, God’s love for His people. How unthinkable it is that we, who have received the inestimable benefits of that love, could so desecrate it by disobeying His command to reflect that love by loving Him in response, with our love for Him being manifested by our love for our neighbor, our love even for ‘our enemies, and especially our love for the household of the faith, laying down our very necks for our brother. He calls us to mind that God uses no greater human means of relief when the saint is in the throes of radical self destruction than that of the effective, loving concern of the brethren. They may be fearful, but they are not hesitant to place themselves close beside the suffering brother or sister, always and only in the strength of the love of God.
Then he closes his dear-bought words of wisdom by steadily looking deep into our eyes with an assurance that is otherworldly, and by declaring that the issue of the war is not the strength of the enemy, or his deadly wiles, or our powers, or our special assignments, or anything else, but alone the perfect character of our Beloved Commander, who has given us the desire to follow Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength, by faith, to the ends of the earth, and to the end of the world, and beyond, as He wills.