The Reality of Despair

Anxiety is escalating in our culture. And with the pandemic, lockdowns and quarantines are only making things worse. Let’s talk.

As we enter 2021, we finally have the opportunity to look back on some of the mental health statistics from the year 2020. The pandemic caused dramatic changes in the way people related to each other. And one of the fallouts of the last year is that anxiety disorders are on the increase. Anxiety is experienced by nearly 40 million Americans a year. In fact, 18% of our population will experience some sort of anxiety attack in the course of the coming year. That means that anxiety related issues are the number one mental health challenge of our culture. The problem is that as anxiety attacks increase, statistically we discover that the dangers of suicide increase as well.

Suicide is the cause of more deaths in the U.S. annually than homicide. Professional mental experts don’t use the word “suicide.” They call them “Deaths of Despair.” But I want to talk to you today about what the Bible has to say when a culture finds itself struggling with despair to the point that it’s an actual danger to the life of the people in that culture.

America Health Rankings has issued their annual report. And they list deaths of despair or suicides by state. Interestingly enough, Wyoming is the number one highest rated state in the U.S. for suicides. Oklahoma, where I live, is number ten on the list. Now, that seemed to be odd to me as I began to do my research. But as I worked my way through the material, what I discovered is that men are four times more common as victims of suicide than women. But, when you break down suicide down ethnically, Native Americans by percentage are the highest at-risk group in our nation for suicide. Caucasian males come in second percentage wise. But I think the reason Wyoming for example and Oklahoma and some of the higher ranked states, why we are so highly ranked is because of the large Native American populations that we have here and the danger of suicide within those cultures.

Let me give you some surprising statistics about suicide. At least I used to think that suicide was primarily an adolescent challenge. It was a danger to teens. And yet, when you see the numbers broken down, suicides per 100,000 members of the population, what you discover is that the highest at-risk age bracket for suicide in America is the group 45-64. In fact, the second highest age group in America is 75 and above. 45-64 and 75 and above are all higher suicide numbers within the population than anything that happens in the demographic of teens and 20’s. I find that fascinating. And when I began to do research it comes down to, at least in the last 12 months, it comes down to isolation, excessive fear, loss of family contacts and loneliness. In other words, our senior adults are particularly at risk because the isolation of the pandemic has created mental health challenges in that age group.

Genesis 1-3, the foundational texts of the Bible, teach us that we were built to relate to one another. Our health is determined by our relationship with God and our relationship with our neighbors. When Christians aren’t able to gather together, it becomes difficult to carry each other’s burdens. Unfortunately, that can have lasting effects.

Let me share with you a little bit about what the Bible has to say about suicide. While God’s Word never actually uses the word suicide, there are at least six clear examples of suicide given to us in the Bible, five in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, in Judges 9:54 we have Abimelech, who is mortally wounded when a woman dropped a millstone on his head. And he cried out to his armor-bearer to kill him so that the woman wouldn’t be given credit for his death. In 1 Samuel 31, King Saul mortally wounded in battle, falls on his own sword in order to prevent the Philistines from abusing him further. After he was killed by his own sword, Saul’s armor-bearer took his own life as well. (also 1 Samuel 31) In 2 Samuel 17, there’s a man named Ahithophel who hanged himself after he gave advice to King David’s son Absalom and that advice was ignored. Zimri set himself afire in 1 Kings 16 after his rebellion against the king failed.
When we get to the New Testament, there’s only one clear example of suicide and that is the death of Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. We do know that Paul later prevented the suicide of a man known to us only as the Philippians jailer in Acts 16. Paul prevented the suicide and then led that man and his entire family into faith in Jesus Christ.

There are Biblical principles that we need to think about. And whether this message is for you and mental health challenges that you face or whether there’s someone that you need to share this with, take these principles with you.

The Bible in Exodus 20:13 is a part of the Ten Commandments that says, “You shall not murder.” That means yourself as well as somebody else. In Deuteronomy 30:19 [not 13:19] Moses says,
"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live."

In Job 1:21, faced with the loss of everything, Job confessed that the Lord, “gives and the Lord takes away.” But in either situation the response is, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought at a price: therefore, honor God with your bodies.

Now, those are Biblical statements that have application to this conversation about suicide. But the reality is, suicide is often an action taken when our minds are not thinking properly. We’re not processing in a rational way. And so, I want to give you some other principles. It’s not enough to just quote Bible verses and tell people that they should just avoid suicide because that’s not what God wants for them. That’s all true. But I want you to think about these things.

People consider suicide when the pain they feel exceeds their ability to cope with it. They want to end their suffering and they think that ending their lives will bring relief. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please get help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK. Or you can go to the website www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Listen, take every threat of suicide seriously. But in the meantime, remember that it’s possible to get through this.

One of the interesting facts as you research this topic of suicide, is that we think that suicide is something that’s planned out over an extended period of time. And people develop a plan and that they make arrangements. The reality is most suicides take place within one hour of deciding to commit suicide. And a high percentage of those suicides occur within five minutes of making that decision. In other words, if you will just create the space of time, the urge to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution, the urge will pass. Feeling suicidal does not require that we act on that feeling. And the last thing that you want to do is make that kind of permanent eternal decision and rush into it. If we decide not to act on those feelings generally within a few minutes or at least a day, we find the strength to seek help and go in a different direction.

Let me give you some promises from the Word of God. In his classic book, “The Problem of Pain,” C.S. Lewis quotes a doctor, a physician by the name of Havard. The doctor says this,
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain but it is more common and also, more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden. It is easier to say my tooth is aching than to say my heart is broken.

Those who have access to the resources of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s Church, they need to recognize that it is OK to admit that your heart is breaking, that you have a pain that you can’t cope with. But instead of taking the lie of the enemy, who tells you “just kill yourself, everybody around you will be better off.” Understand that that voice that tells you that, he is by definition is a liar. When he talks to you, he speaks to you in what sounds like your own voice. So, when you’re having a conversation about suicide in your head, what you need to understand is, there is an enemy who hates you, who is trying to convince you to believe the lie.

Well, what’s the truth instead? Well, here’s the truth. First of all, you and every person you know is a person of inestimable worth. You have value to God. And you have value to the people who are around you. Understand that life is a precious gift and don’t listen to the liar who tells you that if you just throw it away the pain will be gone. There is a solution to your pain. Suicide is not that solution. You and every person you know is a person of inestimable worth and value.

Here's the second promise that God makes. God loves you and He wants to help. Think about this. In 1 Kings 19, after one of the greatest moments of his life, Elijah the prophet crashed and burned. He found himself under a tree, persecuted by a king and a queen who hated him. And he said, “God, just take my life. I don’t want to live anymore.” God did this incredible thing. He gave Elijah a snack and a nap. And after that, things didn’t look quite as dark, quite as despairing.

In Jeremiah 20, that prophet said “Cursed is the day I was born.” He didn’t want to live any longer. And yet God showed up in that chapter with Jeremiah raging at God in His anger and his hurt and his despair. And God sustained His prophet.

Psalm 34:8 says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. And He saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

I promise you on the authority of the God’s Word, there is a way out of the dark cloud that grips your mind and suggests suicide is the solution.

Jesus knows your pain. You say, “Well how does Jesus know my pain? He was perfect. He never sinned. He never had anything like this.” Oh, but don’t you remember on the cross? When God the Father turned away, and Jesus in that moment took the punishment, suffered the grief of every sin of mankind from every generation. In Matthew 27 he screamed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Why have You left Me here all alone? Jesus knows your pain. And He’s ready to help you.

Remember these promises. You are of inestimable worth and value. Secondly, God loves you and wants to help. And thirdly, the Bible promises there is a way out of your despair.

The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “I have taken every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” He could do this because he lived in the power of the Holy Spirit of God that dwelled in his life. If you know Jesus, you have that resource already. If you don’t know Jesus, that supernatural resource is available to you. Find your way to a believer. Find your way to a pastor. Find your way to a church that teaches the Word of God and get the help that you need.

The pandemic has played with all of our minds. The lockdowns and the quarantines have ruined human interaction in so many damaging ways. And yet I want you to know that suicide doesn’t have to be the end result of that process because you have value to God. God loves you and wants to help you. And help is available through the Spirit of God in your life. Find your way home. Live by what’s true. Don’t listen to the father of lies.

This is TruthCurrents.

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