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May 2, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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According to the World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 people die annually as a result of suicide. That’s roughly 1 death per every 40 seconds. If that number doesn’t stagger you, consider this . . . for every suicidal death it’s probable that there are roughly 20 attempts to end one’s life!
These numbers confirm what many already know. Suicide is real and its impact cannot help but be felt. As you’re reading this, it’s likely that you know someone who has taken or attempted to take their own life (as I do). But the purpose for this writing isn’t to linger on this dilemma, but to look beyond it to God’s Word for direction on how we, as His people, should respond to it.
Jesus defines us as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-14). He specifically chose these identifiers because they’re positive influences on corruption and darkness. We would agree that the issue of suicide, as pervasive and destructive as it is, needs the sort of salt and light that Jesus calls us to be. This article’s hope is to equip us with an understanding of how to fulfill this calling.
But we need to make something absolutely clear first. Human beings are comprised of a body, soul (our emotions), and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Each area is connected to the other areas. Something happening in our body will impact our soul and spirit, something happening in our soul will impact our body and spirit, and so on.
We need to recognize that suicide isn’t an exclusively physical, emotional, or spiritual problem. Its basis may be rooted in one particular realm, but won’t be confined there. Someone struggling with thoughts of suicide can simultaneously have physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and all three areas of one’s life need to be evaluated and addressed. Consequently, a resource list extending to physical and emotional needs will be provided at the end of this article.
Yet God’s Word does give spiritual guidance on how a Christian can positively influence someone struggling with suicide. A profound example is given in Acts as Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for sharing the gospel: “Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . .” (Acts 16:25 NLT).
They don’t realize it yet, but Paul and Silas are about to help someone bent on taking their own life. But notice we see they’re praying to God prior to the crisis.
It’s essential for Christians to be people of prayer because it keeps us connected to God, which enables us to be more easily led by Him. When a crisis comes, we’re ready to respond in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise be. It’s the difference between being properly prepared for an important exam and trying to cram for it on the fly.
Our first step in being a channel of spiritual assistance is to be people of prayer. Watch what happens next: “Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken . . . the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, ‘Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here’” (Acts 16:26-28 NLT).
God miraculously breaks the prison apart, leaving the way clear for Paul and Silas to escape. In those times, jailers were responsible to secure their prisoners under the penalty of death. So when the jailer sees the prison’s condition, he not only assumed Paul and Silas had fled but that he would have to die for it. The desperation of his situation quenched his hope. He raised his sword to preemptively end his own life.
How startling, then, to hear Paul shout from the ruins that they were still there! They could have easily bolted but stayed instead; they remained present.
Our presence can be an invaluable tool in the Lord’s hand. There’s just no substitute for a person’s presence. I’ve experienced this at every funeral I’ve attended. In hindsight, the thing I remember the most are the faces of those who were present in those painful times.
When we know someone is struggling with thoughts of taking their life into their own hands, our presence cannot be overvalued. Simply being there can be a life-saving factor for them. As with this jailer, God can use it to prevent someone from going down a path of no return.
The second step in being a channel of spiritual assistance is to be present. But it doesn’t stop there: “The jailer . . . brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household’” (Acts 16:29-31 NLT).
The jailer recognized supernatural power was at work, not just by the earthquake but by Paul and Silas’ decision to remain, as well. Seeing he had encountered something so much greater than himself, he asked how he might enter into it. “What must I do to be saved?” was his way of confessing his need for what Paul and Silas had.
It comes as no surprise that they shared the gospel with this man. In so doing, they gave him an entirely different perspective on life.
When the message of what God has done for someone lands on their heart, it alters their view of everything. The valley of shadows becomes bathed in sunlight, the quenched flame of hope is permanently re-ignited, the random waves of circumstance are now under the control of a Creator who would rather die than live without them.
As Christians, we easily forget the gospel’s power to change one’s entire perspective. The simple truth that God loves them enough to die for them is capable of reversing their course and destiny. We must never lose sight of this, that with the knowledge of the gospel, we possess something powerful enough to completely alter the perspective of those despairing of life.
The third and final step we see in being a channel of spiritual assistance is to offer a new perspective on life through the gospel. Watch the effect it had in this jailer’s life: “He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God” (Acts 16:34 NLT).
By no means is this a complete list of what Christians can spiritually do for those struggling with suicide. But when we’re committed to prayer, being present, and offering a new perspective on life, it opens the way for God to use our lives in the lives of others . . . especially those who need His saving and healing touch.
The following is a list of resources intended to further assist in evaluating and addressing suicide-related needs.
Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale Biblical Counseling
Suicide Prevention Life Line
Sheridan House Counseling
Spanish River Counseling Center
Pastor Bernard King Biblical Counseling in Delray
Henderson Behavioral Health