More people die by suicide than by car accidents. The suicide rate in the United States increased significantly over the past 15 years mostly because of an increase in the suicide rate among the middle-aged.
Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly so the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising. The suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by 28 percent from 1999 to 2010, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rates among younger persons had a small increase and suicide rates among older persons had a small decline during the same period.
People commit suicide for vast numbers of reasons. Some people commit suicide because they hate themselves. Some people commit suicide because they feel they have so much debt and don’t see a way out. Some commit suicide because of the breakup of a relationship. Almost all suicides are the result of a combination of influencing factors including untreated mental illness.
God is sovereign and appoints both the beginning and the end of our days. We are forbidden to take human life, including our own. Suicide is the deliberate act of ending one’s own life; suicide is self-murder. It is a selfish decision that has enormous impact on immediate family, close friends, surrounding community and society. Those left behind suffer catastrophic feelings of guilt for supposed neglect which allowed the suicide to happen. The pain is compounded by concerns about the eternal destiny of the suicide victim.
While the person who commits suicide is breaking the sixth commandment, the person is not committing the unforgivable sin. Jesus said that speaking against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin.
Part of the repercussion in society is that one person’s suicide influences other people. Suicides among teens tend to come in clusters. Suicide increased 12 percent in the month after Marilyn Monroe overdosed. If a parent commits suicide, his or her children are three times as likely to commit suicide. That statistic should give pause to those middle-aged parents considering suicide.
Suicide is a decision that lacks the long-term perspective. A 1978 study tracked down 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and found that 94 percent of those who had tried to commit suicide on the bridge were still alive or had died of natural causes. Judgment is clouded by the moment and the person who commits suicide is led to believe that there is no hope. “Thou shalt not kill” may not supply motivation to live, but obeying the sixth commandment may keep the person contemplating suicide alive long enough to discover hope.
Hope, for the Christian, is not generic wishful thinking. People purchase a lottery ticket hope they will win, although they are more likely to be hit by lightning than to win the lottery. Christians have a confident expectation that God can bring us through the dark nights. We have confident expectation that He still has meaningful and bright days planned for us.
And that when those days are done — at a day and hour He has determined — that the future is even brighter.
By Mark Sullivan, the pastor of Promise Community Church in Waconia.