This Easter, a pastor at my friend’s church did a sermon on the hope that Christ provides for us. This well-meaning but painfully overconfident preacher was convinced that he could approach someone who is about to commit suicide, and be able to stop the individual’s course of destruction by telling him or her about Jesus. This notion only serves, once again, to infuriate me at the ignorance of society towards enigmatic issues such as depression and suicide.
Last fall, my brother hung himself in our basement with an extension cord.
He had been a Christian for the majority of his life; he was an honors student at a Christian University, volunteered at the local homeless shelter, led Bible study, and was a visionary who had dreams to change the world by intervening for the poor and oppressed and giving hope to those in distress. Around this time last year, he fell into serious depression triggered by a hereditary mental illness which had claimed the lives of two preceding relatives. I remember him telling me that he stayed awake all night, for months on end, pleading with God to heal him and to fill him with hope for the future; but to no avail. Encouraging words from family and friends were uttered in futility; the chemical imbalance within his brain prevented any light from taking root. Where is God in all this?
I remember the day my brother died. Motionless on the couch, I was approached by a member of my church who offered a small morsel of smarmy comfort : he said, “You’re going to pull through this; God will never give you more than you can handle.” Here the man was alluding to and employing his own rendition of 1 Corinthians 10:13. My impassioned response to this man’s reasoning was, “well, did He give my brother more than he could handle?”
1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” My brother was definitely tested beyond his strength; he could no longer endure the experience of constant death within life. However, this passage goes on to say “He will also provide the way out.” Suicide is a way out. Is it possible that suicide is a way out provided by God?
Just because we are Christians and have the hope of Christ does not mean that we are invincible against the plagues of depression and suicide and we need to stop pretending we are. We think that dealing with sin or finding Jesus are solutions to these problems. “Jesus is the answer” is an obsequious religious cop-out that pardons us from taking responsibility and action in our world. Depression is not explicitly a spiritual malady, but an illness, a cancer of the emotions, a component of our fallen physical forms that requires treatment. Our ignorance in this area leads us to judge, label and isolate those in our communities who suffer daily with contemplations of ending their own lives and thus prevent the formation of a community which can effectively support these people. We have become superficial in our relationships and cannot be real with others about how we are really doing in our emotional and spiritual lives. We readily condemn suicide victims (and everyone else who’s not like us) to hell.
Maybe if we gave a damn and took depression more seriously, our friends wouldn’t feel the need to die alone.