Mental Health: Suicide and Salvation
In the wake of the loved and cherished Jarrid Wilson, I’m writing this article in hopes that it can answer a few questions. In saying that, I need you to know, I don’t have all the answers nor do I claim to have them all. I’m still wrestling with the loss of Jarrid, who I knew and loved and looked up to. I’m still struggling with not being able to do more for their family or really anything at all. However, I know that many of you are questioning Mental Illness/Health in light of this and wondering where God stands on the topic. While I am not God, I am trained in Psychology and Theology and I think I can somewhat answer these questions with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.
First, what is depression and anxiety from a non-dictionary standpoint?
Depression is a weakening of the spirit and a resisting of the Spirit to a point where thoughts become distorted, actions become weak, tension rises and anxiety overtakes the brain. It overcomes you like a dark mist that doesn’t allow normal functions to be used but rather only the ones that seem to keep your mind occupied on the depression. Imagine walking through a sunlit valley in the canyons, when all of a sudden, a dark mist rushes in from the north and you cannot escape it you have to sit in it, unable to move, unable to see, unable to speak and you have to try to force your way out. That is depression. That is anxiety.
How about from a scientific view?
Your brain can start to shrink in areas like hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal and prefrontal cortices. It leads to decreased function of neurotransmitters, inflammation in areas where the brain uses response mechanisms, memory function, mood levels and more.
Can’t you just fight it?
From my own experience, whenever I have wanted to take my own life, after suffering so many years with clinical and diagnosed depression/anxiety, I know that in those moments there is nothing to be found, no future, no hope - only pain and suffering.
I’ve spoken to a few friends who have actually attempted to take their own life. One, in fact, shot himself through the mouth, into the brain, but survived. His story is a remarkable story that contains utter redemption and grace from the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the questions I asked them were: “What did you feel in the moment of wanting to end it?” and “do you regret not succeeding in finding death?”
Their answers should shine some light on how you approach those who have attempted or succeeded in their suicide. Each one of them said that they felt immense pain, distorted reality, unclear thoughts, anger and sadness to levels they couldn’t comprehend. One even explained it as the world that Doctor Strange lives in where everything is turned upside, on its feet and they cannot even see straight all while in severe pain and emotional distress. They also said they did not want to die but they simply wanted to get rid of the pain that was consuming them. My dear cousin who suffers from bipolar is a clear example of someone who in one moment can be calm and himself and the next moment be someone completely different in the hard stages of suffering from mental illness.
It’s been said by Jarrid himself, so I’ll repeat the question and statement here: “You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to just get over it. You don’t criticize those who die of cancer saying that should have had more faith.”
In fact, if you did those things they’d be harshly insensitive and obtuse. So why do so many people try to distort mental health to those questions? We’ve shown that depression and anxiety not only have physical effects on people’s brains (therefore, making it a physical ailment as well) but it’s also, in many cases, something that is hard to treat because there are chemical underlines in play. Mental illness doesn’t just equate to “feelings” as we’ve partially shown above. It effects the mental, physical, relational and spiritual aspects of every human being.
We think and choose with our mind. Our mind controls our actions. And God changes our mind through the process of sanctification, which changes us into the image of Christ. When I wrote a paper on theology and neurology for a class I was told that I’d fail unless I changed the word “mind” to “brain”. Scientist try to measure everything, they can’t measure the mind. It’s heresy in academics now to use the word mind but we know, as Christians, the mind is in existence. We also have a spirit.
Relationships are changed with mental illness. My aunt and my uncle are estranged, which may seem harsh, but it’s a reality due to my dear cousin. My dear cousin, who I love, no longer has normal relationships inside our family and hasn’t been to a Christmas in years. I miss them dearly. This topic of relationships is common in scripture, so much so, we know that being alone isn’t how we are designed. Relationship is one of the main reasons why Jesus gave us the church, so that we might be together and never suffer alone. (Acts 2:42)(1 John 1:7).
All four parts of who we are as humans interact closely together. Therefore, reducing the mental health to an “invisible” disease that can be cured with “more faith” is obtuse theology, insensitive, wrong and should be done away with. We were created in unity, that means when dysfunction occurs, it changes the other areas of who we are.
Is it found in Scripture?
First and foremost, if we suffer with it, so did Jesus. Jesus is the perfect overcomer of everything we ever suffer with. Therefore, we can conclude that because Jesus is our High Priest who suffers with us, not above us, we know that before the cross - he most certainly felt the depression weighing upon him. (John 11:35; Hebrews 2; Luke 22:39-46)
David was troubled and battled deep despair. In many of the Psalms, he writes of his anguish, loneliness, fear of the enemy, his heart-cry over sin, and the guilt he struggled with because of it. We also see his huge grief in the loss of his sons in 2 Samuel 12:15-23 and 18:33. In other places, David’s honesty with his own weaknesses gives hope to us who struggle today:
“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Ps. 38:4
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:11
Elijah was discouraged, weary, and afraid. After great spiritual victories over the prophets of Baal, this mighty man of God feared and ran for his life, far away from the threats of Jezebel. And there in the desert, he sat down and prayed, defeated and worn:
“I have had enough Lord, he said. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:4
Job suffered through great loss, devastation, and physical illness. This righteous man of God lost literally everything. So great was his suffering and tragedy that even his own wife said, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job 2:9
Though Job maintained his faithfulness to God throughout his life, he still struggled deeply through the trenches of pain:
“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” Job 3:11
“I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Job 3:26
“I loathe my very life, therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 10:1
This is a massive language being used by some of the most famous of bible figures. You can see the humanity in them. You can see that distress takes physical, relational and spiritual tolls. Depression is the assassin of Satan.
So what about sin in mental health?
In the plainest of ways the Scripture teaches us that we are fully decaying and fully sinful. Yet, we see so often in the church that the spiritual effects of sin are maximized while the physical and mental effects are nearly disregarded. “Ah, your depression is a spiritual problem…read your bible” - if I had a dollar for every time a Pastor told me this I would be eating Chick-Fil-A from a personal drive-thru in my unicorn mansion. i.e, it’s bull..shh… and it isn’t how Jesus did discipleship, not even remotely.
On the day that Eve ate and Adam fell, they broke the Spiritual bond between them and God which broke their mortality (physical) and broke their relationships and then it broke the mental state of humanity which is played out in the first murder.
So we know suicide is a result of the fallen world. We are not fully sanctified yet, we are not fully bearing the image of Christ yet, we are struggling in this fallen world corrupted by sin and making our way to our HOME which is where Jarrid is, with Jesus Christ. For those theologians begging the question on passages that state suicide is somehow unforgivable - you leap through the passages where Christ says “nothing will ever separate us from the LOVE of God” (Romans 8) and where we find the ONE unforgivable sin which is found in the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, not the struggle of mental health. The taking of ones life is devastating and never the way out of this life but if we truly believe Scripture and the promises within them, we know we have future grace found in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Is suicide in the Bible?
There are seven unambiguous examples of suicide in the Bible: Abimelech, mortally wounded by a millstone, ordered his armor-bearer to dispatch him to avoid the suggestion he had been slain by the woman who had thrown the stone (Judg 9:52-54); the prophet Ahithophel hanged himself after betraying David (2Sam 17:23); Zimri burned down his house around himself after military defeat (1Kgs 16:18); and the more familiar stories of Saul and his armor-bearer (1Sam 1:1-6; 1Chr 10:1-6), Samson, (Judg 16:28), and, of course, Jesus’ disciple Judas—although it is only in Matthew’s Gospel where he kills himself (Matt 27:3-5; compare with Acts 1:18). There is nothing in these stories that suggest all of these people are abandoned to the pit of hell, but rather some of the language suggests otherwise.
Suicide in the ancient world did not carry the same negative connotations as it does today. For Greco-Roman philosophers, suicide in correct circumstances constituted a “noble death.” Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.) chose to drink hemlock rather than endure exile, a choice enthusiastically endorsed by most of the schools of thought at the time. If carried out for country or friends, or in the face of intolerable pain, incurable disease, devastating misfortune or shame, or to avoid capture on the battlefield, suicide constituted a noble death. Each of the instances of suicide found in the Bible fits comfortably with noble-death ideals. Saul’s death, for example, finds a strikingly close parallel with that of the Greek general Publius, who, when similarly wounded on the battlefield ordered his armor-bearer to kill him (Plutarch, Crassus 25.11).
Two of the incidents of self-killing in the Bible exhibit a positive attitude toward suicide. Arguably, the author of the Gospel of Matthew intends the reader to interpret the disciple Judas’s hanging as an act of remorse. Judas repents (metamelētheis) and returns the blood money that he received for turning Jesus over to the authorities who executed him (Matt 27:3). Judas acknowledges that he has “sinned in betraying innocent blood” (Matt 27:4). His taking of his own life may be interpreted as an act of atonement because he himself carries out the penalty laid down in the Hebrew Bible for taking a life: “no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it” (Num 35:33; see also Lev 24:17). Judas repented, took it upon himself to fulfill what he knew in the Hebrew Bible’s code of law and ended his life. This doesn’t change the fact Jesus was extremely harsh toward Judas’ betrayal, but was it unforgivable? I don’t have that answer. I wouldn’t suggest of all those stories about we should focus on Judas being the forgiven one, but it is an example of remorse and suicide that is prevalent to our day.
The next example of Samson is something we often overlook. We don’t often think of his death as suicide but it truly was. It is clear that God gave Samson the strength to carry out this massacre. Human and divine approval is sealed by the celebratory conclusion: “so those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life” (Judg 16:30; compare with Heb 11:32-36). Though it seems heroic, Samson clearly was in pain and did not want to live out his life in his current status. He went out by killing himself, taking many with him.
The Hebrew law on murder is not contemplating the downward effects of humanity that lead to depression, anxiety and mental illness. Even so, we know that within the Scriptures - murder is forgiven. Therefore, we know that suicide is forgivable, not eternally condemned by our great Lord. We know that our past, present and future is covered by the grace of the LORD (Colossians 2:13-14).
Mental Illness if terrifying to say the least, not just us who suffer with it but those who are around us and love us on a regular basis. In the US 1 out of 5 (18.6 percent) suffers with a mental disorder in a given year. The annual prevalence of mental illness in adolescents thirteen to eighteen years old is even great at 21.4 percent.
Please know that you are not alone. I hope to share my own story one day. Suicide is never the answer. Sin does not own you. Jesus is there waiting to change your life. Never underestimate the power of sin but even more so NEVER underestimate the GREATER power of the Holy Spirit who has overcome for us.