Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Taboo of Suicide and the Good News

Given the sensitivity we are experiencing in the new of Robin Williams' death, I would like to share some sermon notes on the subject of suicide. This is the outline of a series of sermons written in 2010.  These are written from a purely Christian point of view with the hope of Christ being first and most important. I hope that these humble words will be helpful and full of hope.

Taboo Subjects Suicide Suicide Death and a Cross
2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Suicide is sin
I received so many responses to the comments I made about suicide in a sermon that I had to respond quickly
Suicide has impacted many lives in this community
And it is a subject we do not like to talk about – it is hard to talk about
I’m going to speak from the Bible about issues surrounding suicide, but I am going to deal with the subject head on
If you are uncomfortable or become emotionally overwhelmed, do not be ashamed to leave if you feel you have to
But I ask that you give God a chance to heal you, minister to you, work within you
The thing I have to get out of the way before we continue is this: Suicide is a sin
We can begin with Exodus 20:13 or Deuteronomy 5:17 – you will not kill
There are some who use 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 from certain translations
But we can all agree that anything that is hurtful to yourself and others is opposite of God’s will
Sin is doing what is contrary to God’s will, nature, and love – suicide fits all three of those

The degree of suicide’s sin
But within our response we treat suicide as if it were a greater sin than other
There are many who believe that some sins are worse than others, suicide included
Sin is sin, there is no scale of difference between them
In the OT some things are said to be an abomination to the Lord
Leviticus 18:22 – homosexual relations
Deuteronomy 7:25-26 – owning and possessing an idol
Deuteronomy 23:18 – hiring a prostitute
Deuteronomy 24:4 – sleeping with your ex-wife if she’s left her 2nd husband
Deuteronomy 25:13-16 – dealing unfairly in business
Proverbs 6:16-19 - prideful attitude, lying, killing an innocent, devising wickedness, quick decision to evil, uttering lies, spreading strife
In the NT Paul lays out a couple of lists of sins that God hates
Gal 5:19-22
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Col 3:8-10
anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
He says of these types of sin that we are all children of wrath – Ephesians 2:1-3
It was Paul who has stated that sin:
Romans 3:23 – everyone has sinned and missed God’s mark
Romans 6:23 – the wages of sin are death
Sin is sin before the eyes of God; there is no sliding scale of worse or less worse
God is opposed to sin
Because of God’s just and holy nature, God does not associate with sin
But God associates with people through Christ

The Cross our hope
Christ died for the sins of the world – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
If Christ died only died for the less worse sins, he didn’t die for any
If Christ died only for some people’s sins, he didn’t die for any
Christ had to die for every kind of sin we can commit, for every person who ever lived, lives, or will live
Hebrews 9:12, 23 – died once for all, once for many
John 1:29 – Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
Romans 5:12-21 – through One man sin is justification to life
Ephesians 2:14-16 – He is our peace who has put to death enmity
Colossians 1:19-23
Isaiah 53:4-7, 10, 12
Christ died for all sins to be forgiven
Christ died one time in the past to cover all sins committed
The only sin that cannot be forgiven someone is the sin of rejecting God’s agent who works in us, the Holy Spirit
Beyond that sin, God works grace in marvelous ways because of that cross, the old rugged wonderful cross

Judges 8:28-9:57 Abimelech the son of Gideon
Gideon becomes the hero of Israel after he defeats the Midianites. His presence insured peace for 40 years. He marries many women and has even more concubines. From the wives and concubines he had 70 sons. When Gideon dies, Israel essentially forgets all of the good that Gideon did for them.

One of Gideon’s sons, Abimelech, decides that Israel is not giving his family what they deserve. He goes among the family of his mother in Shechem. He is able to convince his mother’s relatives to band together and kill Abimelech’s brothers. Only 1 brother survived the attack. That survivor, Jotham, calls a curse on Abimelech and the men of Shechem for their treachery. Abimelech is made king through the violence done to Gideon’s family.

Abimelech ruled for 3 years when there was a division between Abimelech and the Shechemites. In their disagreement, Abimelech murdered the leaders within the Shechemites. When Abimelech went to capture one of the capitals of Shechem he approached a tower in the city. A woman in the tower threw a millstone out of a window and it hit Abimelech on the head. He asked his armor bearer to kill him with a sword to save his honor.

Judges 16:28-31
Samson was captured by the Philistines and put to manual labor after his hair had been cut and his eyes put out. He prayed that God would give him strength for one final act of revenge. He pulled the support columns down in a building and killed the Philistines and himself.

1 Samuel 31:1-5
Saul is on the losing end of his campaign with the Philistines. He is shot multiple times with arrows and knows that he will be captured. He asks his armor bearer to kill him to save him from the enemies torture. The armor bearer does not kill him so Saul kills himself by falling on his sword. The armor bearer kills himself also.

2 Samuel 17
Ahithophel was regarded as a prophet. He served both David and Absalom during the civil war between father and son. When Absalom took Jerusalem, Ahithophel counseled Absalom to pursue David into the wilderness. A friend of David’s, Hushai, convinced Absalom to do otherwise. Because his counsel was disregarded, Ahithophel hanged himself.

1 Kings 16:8-20
Zimri kills Elah, the king of Israel. He takes over as king. When the people hear that Zimri has killed the king, they elect a new king and set out to pull Zimri down from the throne. When Zimri sees that he is besieged, he locks himself into the citadel and burns it down around himself.

Taboo Subjects Suicide Willingness to Die
2 Timothy 4:6-8

The unthinkable
When we think about suicide we often question why someone would kill themselves
Sometimes we ask that thinking about that willingness to die that is so overwhelming
The Bible tells the stories of 7 people who die by their own hand
When the writers of these stories told them, there was no condemnation or moral judgment
The writers tell the stories and the death of the person was just a consequence
These were people who were willing to die because of the circumstances they were in
Judges 8:28-9:57 – Abimelech dies to avoid shame
Judges 16:28-31 – Samson dies to get revenge
1 Samuel 31:1-5 – Saul dies to avoid torture
Any of these might be considered “honorable” deaths
We can understand these to some extent
But there are other stories
2 Samuel 17:23 – Ahithophel hangs himself because his counsel was not taken
1 Kings 16:18 – Zimri kills himself when a crowd comes to arrest him
Matthew 27:3-5 – Judas hangs himself in regret for his betrayal

Willingness to die is not wrong
We think that it is a horrible idea to kill oneself or even to wish that you were dead
But do we hold that same idea if the setting is slightly different
A soldier diving on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers
A fireman running into a dangerous situation to save someone
A person facing a terminal illness wishing to die to avoid suffering
A person who has reached an advanced age expressing they are ready to go
A willingness to die is not wrong
We judge it as evil based on circumstances or not evil when it seems “justified”
But the stories we read do not hold those who committed suicide in evil regard
That someone is willing to die is not evil or even shameful
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – Paul is willing to die
Paul is willing to die because he knows that he has lived faithfully
His being willing to die means that he will go where God calls him to go
Paul knows that his death is not an end; he will go on
Willingness to die is part of the Christian life
Dying to self – our desire to control our lives
Facing persecution – staying true to the witness

Taboo Subjects Suicide Without Hope
Psalm 42:5-11

Losing Hope
Suicide is not an event without a cause
People who resort to taking their own life have come to that choice through a process
Only in cases where severe mental illness is involved will someone kill themselves without cause
There are 10 factors that have moved someone to the choice to end their own life
  1. It began with a psychological need that is not being met (security, belonging, self-esteem, self-identity)
  2. That frustration leads to psychological pain
  3. Hopelessness is the central issue. Hopelessness then leads to helplessness that is compounded by loneliness
  4. Suicide is seen as a possible, and likely the only, way out of the pain
  5. Suicide is seen as movement away from pain and not movement toward death
  6. The choice is narrowed down to only the two extremes: live forever in pain or die
  7. Death is conceived as a shelter from the pain It stops the pain from happening
  8. There is ambivalence. Death is the only escape but death is not desired
  9. There are attempts to tell others about the decision
  10. Suicide is consistent with how a person has dealt with stress, pain, or failure in earlier circumstances
Biblically speaking, this is the issue of despair – Psalm 38:6-10
Despair is the place where someone has lost hope
There is nothing more devastating than the feeling that there is no hope
The world offers nothing that can change your circumstances
Family, work, pleasure – none of these provide anything worthwhile
Suicide is the choice to find shelter or escape from that lost hope

There is a hope
The only true escape from despair is working back toward God – Psalm 42:5-11
You can’t just offer God to someone who is in the depths of despair
They are focused on themselves so completely that no one else’s existence is real
In order to transform total hopelessness into some hope requires moving from self-centeredness to other centeredness
Deny yourselves is the rallying call Jesus gave – Matthew 16:24-25
It is odd to hear Jesus using “death” language but that is the weight he is trying to convey
Ephesians 4;17-24 – putting off of the old self focused on self
Romans 7:14-20 – the constant conflict of two natures
In order to turn from despair to hope requires putting that old self, flesh, in a place where it cannot corrupt
Not through killing the body but through killing our will
Focusing on others empowers that death of will
John 15:12 – love one another is the command we are under
One anothering is one of the most important phrases in the New Testatment
There are 56 passages of scripture that use that phrase as an order
There are 39different acts
Taboo Subjects Suicide Left Behind
John 19:25-27

The victims of suicide
I have shared three sermons discussing suicide
It is a sin to commit suicide
Suicide is the fulfillment of a willingness to die
In most cases a person commits suicide because they have reached a level of self-centered hopelessness and pain where death is the only shelter
But I have also shared
God forgives the sin of suicide in some mysterious, gracious, and loving way
A willingness to die is sometimes honorable so suicide should not be viewed as horrible and evil
The path of sinking into hopelessness can be transformed when we think of others before self
But suicide is still going to happen and still going to leave victims
Suicide is a tragedy when it happens but it is magnified through what we perceive as senselessness, selfishness, and suddenness
We do not consider the victim of suicide to be the person who committed the act but the ones left behind

Left behind
In a tragedy, the family, friends are the ones left to face the pain
They are left to deal with the consequences and grief
And the tragedy of suicide compounds the pain as families and friends ask the questions
The sad experience of experiencing this loss is the feeling of isolation
It is true that no one else knows the pain that a family experiencing loss is going through
But loss is not something that is experienced alone
It is something that is shared among people close to the one who was lost
Jesus knew the pain of loss
Luke 7:11-15 – Jesus restores a son to his mother
John 11:5-11, 33-35 – Jesus loses a friend
John 19:25-27 – Jesus cares for his mother
Jesus knew that pain is not faced alone but had to be faced together
As the body of Christ we experience the pain of loss together: 1 Corinthians 12:26

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