Many people who struggle with thoughts of suicide show telltale signs. They stop caring about their appearance, grooming, hygiene, and overall attitude. They give away once-treasured possessions. Their whole focus becomes regret and resentment. They self-medicate.
But sometimes there are no explicit signs. What then? What if there's an occasional slip, but they don't seem overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness? What if, instead of guessing, we actually talked to people? Maybe the best way to determine whether someone's teetering on the edge of suicide is to just talk to them about it.
Many people who struggle with thoughts of suicide develop a chameleon-like public persona. They can shift their facial expressions, body language, and words to fit the scenario. One moment, they seem bitter and desperate, then all of a sudden they reign themselves in, straighten up in their chair, smile, and change the direction of the conversation. Maybe they're stuck in a rut, we think. Maybe they're going through a rough patch. Or, maybe, they're white-knuckling life.
But how would we know if we don't ask?
Every day we encounter people who are known to us, but do we really know them? How often do we assume that we would know if something was wrong with our beloved or closest friends? How often do we allow complacency to settle in on our relationships? Just because we think to ourselves, "No one could love you as much as I do," doesn't mean we will automatically detect when a loved one begins to split apart at the seams. And how much less do we recognize when an acquaintance or stranger has chosen self-annihilation?
We know she's not a morning person. We're careful not to bring up his old boss. We recognize when he's in a sour mood. Her mannerisms speak volumes about what she's really thinking. Okay. Good. But, do we then express our thoughts in words that express our sympathy for others? More than that, do we communicate God's love for them, not just when we sense they are struggling, but all the time?
Are we bold in Christ to express the broader truth to someone struggling with suicidal ideation? When they've narrowed their vision to one self-annihilating point, can we hold Christ crucified before their eyes and confess, "Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, for you!"
That doesn't mean the Gospel is magic. Someone who is suicidal isn't going to immediately step back from the edge and continue on with life as if nothing's wrong. Instead, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Whether someone is suicidal or not, the Gospel must be preached. And God promises us that when His Word goes out, He does not return empty-handed.
There will be those to whom we preach the Gospel who will still choose death, despite what they believe. But that doesn't mean they don't believe Jesus is "the resurrection and the life."
People hurt and their life sucks, and there's often no way for us to get inside that to help them. We ask them all the right questions and show up for them whenever they call on us. We pray daily for them and preach the good news of Jesus at every opportunity. But, we may never learn what's at the bottom of their choice to commit suicide other than to admit that sin and death are powerful. They're certainly too powerful for us to fight against and defeat.
Suicide is an atrocity and we mustn't be so quick to judge those who annihilate themselves. Instead, we must ask, "Is this one baptized?" "Does this one trust in her Savior, that He is the resurrection and the life?" If that is the case, and we have God's promise that "baptism now saves you," then who are we to judge a person's eternal fate? Who are we but sinful, wicked men who live, and move, and have our being in the same Christ Jesus as the one who just killed herself?
We may not be able to pull someone back from the edge of self-annihilation but we can preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. The same Gospel that creates faith, stirs up love, and gives hope to all who receive it.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ forgives all sin, not just the sins we decide need to be forgiven. The grace of God in Jesus Christ doesn't know limits or measures. He is the God who searches and knows us. He knows when we sit down and when we rise up. Our God is acquainted with all our ways. Before a word is on our tongues, He knows them altogether. He hems us in, behind and before, and lays His hand upon us (Psalm 139).
Instead of remaining silent when we wonder if someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and rather than judging for ourselves whether or not suicide is an unforgivable sin, let's lean on God's Word. Let's lean into the words of the Psalmist. Let's confess the truth about our God to everyone who struggles to live as the Psalmist does:
139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.