“When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Suicide is increasingly being recognized as a national epidemic. It is the tenth leading cause of death in our country. Among folks under age 34, it is the second leading cause of death. The chances are good that you either know personally someone who committed suicide or at least know well someone who does. This is a big deal.
I can think quickly of at least two other suicides reported in the Scriptures other than this one. When king Saul knew he was going to be captured by the Philistines after having been grievously wounded he took his own life rather than face that shame and the possible horrors that may have come with it. The other was Judas, who hung himself after being seized by guilt once he realized exactly what were the intentions of the Jewish leaders after he betrayed Jesus to them.
Saul’s reason for ending his own life was fear of coming death. Judas’ was connected with guilt over sin. Ahithophel’s here was a result of feeling worthless. His whole identity was wrapped up in being a wise counselor. When Absalom accepted Hushai’s intentionally bad counsel over his, he concluded that he was of no more worth as a man and ended his life.
The fact is that the reasons a person chooses this particular route are complex. And, harder yet, absent a note of explanation which may or may not reflect the whole truth, we can only guess at why this awful decision was made. Sometimes mental illness plays a role, but not always. Sometimes, like Ahithophel, a person concludes that his life is simply no longer worth living. Sometimes despair creeps in—the view that tomorrow will not be better than today—and so dominates a person’s worldview that she follows through on its logical conclusion.
In a culture that is more and more leaving behind the Christian worldview with its intrinsic hope for a set of worldviews which, even if religious at some level, are functionally secular, it is unfortunately unsurprising that the cases of suicide are on the rise. When young people are taught rather aggressively by the culture that their value is totally wrapped up in any number of things (popularity, success, intellect, etc.) rather than that it is inherent to who they are as people, we should not be surprised to see it so common among those generations.
So, what do we do about all of this? Well, for starters, we talk about it. We talk about it openly and honestly even where it’s painful. We don’t glorify or obsess over it like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why does. That’s not at all helpful. Rather, we glorify getting help. We listen well. We make counseling cool. Michael Phelps’ new commercials for Talkspace are a great example of this. Mental illness is a vast wasteland of a problem that goes ignored and unnoticed far too often. We can’t allow that to remain the case.
As followers of the God who is the life, among other things, we tell the truth every chance we get. And the truth is that everyone has value. Period. There is no such thing as a worth-less person. There never has been. Where that idea exists it is a lie from the Father of Lies and nothing more. We are all uniquely created by God and bear His image in a way nothing else in all of creation does. That makes each of us not only special, but special to the God who created the world and everything in it. If we matter to Him—sufficiently so that He sent His Son to die in our place that we might be able to live—then our value is absolutely secure.
We proclaim hope. For all those in Christ Jesus tomorrow will indisputably be better than today. That doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow as in 24 hours from now, but in the broader sense, there is a day coming when sin and all its fruits will be gone entirely including from inside of us. The same Jesus who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection has promised as much and you go with whatever that guy has said.
We show love. Too many around us are quietly desperate to be loved. Really loved, not the squishy, weak, sunny permissivism that so often masquerades in its place. They want someone committed to seeing the best version of themselves come to fruition and as followers of Jesus, we are commanded to be people who do that very thing everywhere we go. In fact, that’s the only sure way anyone will ever know we are His followers.
This is tough stuff, but it’s been tough stuff for at least 3,000 years and it won’t get any easier until our Lord returns. Let’s not just let it be simply tough stuff. Too many lives of people we love are at stake. Let’s make the noise we need to make to see the changes only the Gospel can bring brought to bear where they are needed. Love demands it.