finding truth matters

Suicide hurts. It is motivated by pain, but causes much greater pain. For those affected by suicide the guilt and anguish it produces is almost unbearable. But since suicide is in the Bible, how can we know that it is wrong? How should we regard the sinfulness of suicide? Is it unforgiveable? How can we help avoid suicide? What should those affected by it know after it’s happened?

The funeral celebrant rang me to warn me. He was used to dealing with sensitive situations but this one had a few extra layers of complexity. He decided to get me involved. He outlined the story to me and then told me the purpose of his call. When a loved one dies there is often a measure of guilt for those left behind. But when the death is caused by suicide that guilt is compounded. Suicide hurts. The funeral celebrant told me that a young man with a diagnosed mental illness, who had professed Christianity, had taken his own life and his devout mother (who we will call “Betty”) was devastated. The celebrant told me that Betty would ring because her guilt was beyond his expertise due to her Biblical understanding of suicide.

She did ring within minutes of that call. I listened to her story. Betty told me about the trials her son had endured throughout his life and how relieved she was when he had become a Christian. But after he left for an interstate city he drifted away from his Christian commitment. Things went from bad to worse for him and he could take it no longer. Without warning he committed suicide. And now Betty was unfairly grieving for her son. But her grief was aggrevated because she considered that her backslidden son had died an apostate (rejecting God) and had committed a sin impossible to repent from. Her distress was obvious and heartfelt even from the other end of the phone-line. I spent some time talking with Betty on the phone. In a moment I will reveal what I shared with her that relieved and comforted her.

Suicide affects the down-and-out and the up-and-coming. The destitute and the affluent are not immune from its deceptive lure. “Deceptive” because it seems to offer a way out – an escape – from troubles, but it doesn’t. A colleague of mine shared with me how his brief holiday had not quite been the time of rest and refreshing he had anticipated. A friend of his had rung while standing on the edge of a large bridge. She had rung to say ‘goodbye’. She was about to jump. Thinking rather quickly my colleague asked her, “Are you sure you won’t be taking your troubles with you into the next life? Can you be absolutely sure?” This question haunted her in those next few perilous minutes. His question raised an issue she had not even considered. The thought of taking your troubles with you for all eternity seemed like a hell she was not prepared to risk. He asked whether it might not be better to explore other means of dealing with her troubles. While talking with her on the phone he contacted the Police who went directly to her and gave her immediate assistance in getting psychological help. Unfortunately though not all suicide attempts are prevented.

I have a feeling I shall go mad. I cannot go on longer in these terrible times. I shan’t recover this time. I hear voices and cannot concentrate on my work. I have fought against it but cannot fight any longer.”
Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941

After this suicide note was written by one of Britain’s most successful novelists she filled her pockets full of stones and walked into the Ouse River adjacent to her Sussex home and drowned herself.

Suicide never resolves issues; it leaves them permanently unresolved. It creates pain rather than heals pain. It leaves behind a dagger-wound of guilt and shame that time rarely heals. For these reasons some counselors have described suicide as the ultimate act of selfishness.

When I first studied this topic for a degree in Biblical Studies, that I did many years ago, I was suprised to find suicide mentioned in Scripture. The expression “falling on your sword” is found in the Bible describing one method used by those who committed suicide. King Saul and his armour bearer died this way.

Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.  And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him.
First Samuel 31:4-5 ESV

But this is a peculiar circumstance and rarely the circumstance that most people contemplating or committing suicide find themselves. King Saul and his armour-bearer were facing inevitable and imminent murder. This is worth noting. I’m sure that there are many more tragic examples that war-veterans could tell of their former commrades forced into similar circumstances. The little known English missionary, John Huntington, who served as the first Anglican Bishop of Uganda in the 19th century preached tirelessly in outlying villages. While he enjoyed amazing ministry fruitfulness, his last day, at the age of 36, met with hostility from the elders of one village. They angrily approached him with spears and knifes to execute him. He implored them for the right of final words and choice of death. His stirring farewell went something like – I willingly lay down my life for the cause of the One who willingly laid His life down for me. He then handed the natives his revolver and asked for a quick death instead. They obliged and shot him in the head. One might argue that this was a form of suicide but one would be similarly hard-pressed to regard this as anything other than martyrdom. (As a postscript to this story, a Cathederal was built on this site which held some 6,000 converts brought to the Lord by Huntington’s minstry.)

suicide-noteSoldiers entering into the heat of an inevitable bloodbath may be said to be committing suicide. But no-one would call them selfish. In fact, at their memorials the celebrant often quotes Christ saying no man has greater love than to lay down his life for his brothers...to honour these tragic deaths. Similar circumstances might be used to describe situations where a parent rescues a drowning child in hazzardous waters only to lose their own life. But this type of tragic death was not the purpose of the phone call Betty. Her son had not given his life, he had taken it!

 

SUICIDE UNFORGIVEABLE?

Betty had a very distorted view of salvation. Her concept was that salvation was the result of human effort to accept the grace of God. She believed that salvation could be relinquished if a believer sinned. Therefore, in Betty’s mind, if a sin was not repented of it would cancel out a person’s salvation. I shared with her that salvation was entirely by grace. Our efforts do not save us. Betty assured me that her son had had a genuine conversion experience to Christ. I also assured her the Bible only lists one unforgiveable sin: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration). The grace of God is perhaps grander than many Hyper-Arminians might realise. What I assured this grieving mother was that no man determines whether another is saved or not. Neither I nor anyone else can determine whether someone is saved or damned, but we can determine from Scripture that all who come unto Me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37). The grace of God covers more sin and human failure than semi-pelagians (someone who believes that salvation is faith in Christ plus our efforts to be righteous) know. This poem, written anonymously, makes this point rather beautifully-

I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven’s door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
Nor the lights, not its decor.
But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp–
the thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics, and the trash.
There stood that kid from 7th grade who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbour who never said anything nice.
Herb, who I always thought, would rot in hell,
was sitting pretty on cloud nine looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?”
“I’d love to hear your take”
“How’d all these sinners get up here?”
God must have made a mistake!
“and, why is everyone so quiet, so sombre?”
“Please! Give me a clue.”
“Hush child,” said He, “they are all in shock;
no one thought they would be seeing you!”

“JUDGE NOT”
Author Unknown

The Biblical doctrine of the grace of God destroys the notion that suicide or any other sin is unforgiveable! This does not necessarily mean, as I explained to this mother, that everyone who professed faith in Christ and committed suicide died in a regenerated state (saved). But it at the least counters the idea that suicide automatically causes a person’s salvation to be forfeited. At least we can be assured of is: that genuine salvation is not easily lost. Therefore, the family and the friends of those left in the wake of a suicide have some hope that they will be reunited with their loved one in Heaven. I stressed this point to console this mother.

 

CULPABILITY

One of the most insidious forms of suicide is self-directed-euthanasia. Some people find themselves in a situation where they are in intolerable pain. Thank God for pain-killing medicine, medical technology, hospice care, and caring medical personnel. Sometimes these things though merely prolong the inevitable. There needs to be a distinction between active and passive, and voluntary and involuntary, euthanasia. Passive, voluntary, euthanasia is where a person has an incurable, terminal condition and refuses medical treatment which results in their death. Active, involuntary euthanasia is where someone else makes the decision to end someone else’s life against their will. This kind of euthanasia in morally wrong. But there are ethically questionable forms of euthanasia in between these two poles. For a family member to agree to stop medical assistance for a terminally-ill, incurable, loved one which would lead to their certain death is quite different to actively overdosing them against their will to hasten their death.

Betty’s son was less culpable for his suicide due to his diagnosed mental disorder. Mental illness is generally not well understood by those privileged to enjoy more ups than downs. One person recently confided in me that they had battled with suicidal thoughts for years. They went to their doctor who diagnosed clinical depression. They were prescribed medication. Almost immediately they recovered and felt like a heavy fog had been lifted from off their mind. Their comment to me was “So this is what everyone else feels like!” The thoughts of suicide left. But after a while, they began to feel increasingly guilty for having to take medication to feel “normal”. They decided to come off their medication. After they did, the fog returned and so did the thoughts of suicide. But they could now rationalise that their feelings were not “normal” and should be suppressed and managed.

But not all sufferers of mental illness are so fortunate. For them there are no such lucid moments, despite the ingestion of the best prescription drugs. Sometimes the thoughts of suicide are the result of such intense mental anguish that they can no longer see any hope of relief or point in going on. Scripture presents examples of this including: Ahithophel (2Sam. 17:23) and Judas (Matt. 27:5), whose mental despair was so great that they saw no alternative to suicide. My consolation to this mother included the concept of God’s infinite mercy and grace in allowing for her son’s mental incapacity. I have been by the bedside of the dying who have been severely impaired by massive amounts of mind-altering pain-killers who have had little control over the statements they were uttering. Sometimes even the most devout dying saint has been given to swearing and insults in a state of pharmaceutically induced psychosis. I’m reasonably sure that the grace of God extends to people in such situations who surely can not be held culpable for their out-of-character behaviour. If this is the case then it’s also reasonable to suggest that clinically-depressed people who find themselves going out of their minddue to excessive drug abuse may also not be entirely culpable for their fatal actions. I have stresed “may”. We can not think that someone will automatically be saved for heaven just because their drug-abuse deprived them of total responsibility for their actions. But, at least it opens up the possibility that Christians who take their lives while affected by a diagnosed mental illness or in a state of drug induced surrealism may not be culpable and therefore do not automatically lose their salvation merely because they commit one final mistake.

 

ALTERNATIVES TO SUICIDE

Alternatives to suicideOne of my greatest fears in writing this is that a Christian may distort what I have written and use it to justify their suicide. Nothing I have written justifies committing suicide. I have attempted to show compassion in seeking to understand the turmoil and inner anguish that someone who takes their life experiences. But I do not condone their actions.

I would therefore like to offer some alternatives to suicide for any Christian (or non-Christian for that matter) feeling that there are no alternatives to suicide.

1. Even though it feels like no-one cares, they do.
You are not alone. Talk to your pastor. If you don’t have one, open the phonebook and find one near you. You might think that your pastor is too busy to even notice you. I could almost guarantee you that this is not true. Nearly every pastor I have met thinks about his people prayerfully almost all the time. But not all pastors are mind-readers! The same thing goes parents, siblings and especially your spouse. Talk with them and let them know how you’re feeling.

2. If you are constantly ‘down’ and battling continually with thoughts of suicide, consult a professional.
This is not normal. Your doctor needs to know about this. They are usually trained to help in these situations. If your GP can’t help they will refer you to a caring professional who can.

3. Take care of yourself.
The world looks a different place when you feel well. Sometimes this is out of your control. But doing something as simple as cutting out alcohol (a depressant), and becoming physically active can radically change your whole outlook. The principle of the Sabbath not only means rest but it also means ‘no work’. What do you do when you’re not doing what you have to do? Do you enjoy leisure time?

Caring for people who are potentially suicidal begins by listening. Most people considering suicide feel that there is no-one they can talk to. Letting people know that they can talk if they want to talk can be a great help to someone suffering suicidal thoughts. It’s no guarantee that they will talk though, but these sincere offers are nearly always welcomed. Taking seriously people’s soul-pain rather than simply dismissing their troubles as “silly” or “stupid” shows healthy concern.

 

DEALING WITH A SUICIDE

I hope you never have to. But if you do, it is never your fault. People are responsible and accountable for their own actions and this includes suicide. It is an incredibly selfish action. It is often used as a threat to manipulate friends and family. This is called emotional-blackmail. A friend of mine recently shared how his grown son had phoned him from interstate and threatened to commit suicide if his dad didn’t give him a certain amount of money. The dad’s response was “Goodbye son, I’ll miss you” and then hung up on him. The father immediately burst into tears wondering whether he had done the right thing. His anguish was almost unbearable. He honestly didn’t know if he would ever see his son again. That was about five years ago and today he and his son are as close as they’ve ever been. The dad still doesn’t know if he made the right decision or if he would make the same decision again, but in this instance he refused to be emotionally blackmailed.

When the person who has committed suicide was a professing Christian who has reduced culpability for their actions, we should not consider that their suicide is an unforgiveable sin (even if they can not repent for it). We should acknowledge that God is a just and merciful God whose grace extends beyond human tolerance and leave people’s ultimate destinies in his hands. This was the theological counsel I gave Betty.

© Andrew Corbett, 20th October 2006

Impossible Faith

Some people find faith in God to be impossible. These people have reasons for their impossible faith. Their objections may be intellectual, moral, or emotional. There are three well-known figures who each exemplify each of these objections to faith in God. Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy and Bob Hawke each respectively held these particular objections to Christianity.

The Reliability of The Bible and How Best To Interpret It

The Bible is the most influential book of all time. It’s contents have changed the course of history. It’s story has formed the pattern for all the great literary classics. It also makes the astounding claim that it is the uniquely authoritative revelation from God and therefore has the authority to command our moral behaviour. But if the Bible is not reliable, then its claims are indefensible and Christianity is without foundation! Yet despite this glaring vulnerability, the Bible has withstood rigorous scrutiny and repeated attempts to refute it. Here’s why it is indeed reliable.

What Is Heaven Like?

I honestly used to think that Christianity was all about having the assurance of going to Heaven. But as I learned more about the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth I became curious about the relative scarcity of references to Heaven in the Bible. Yet, while my understanding of the place of Heaven in my Gospel proclamation has been refined, some God-Channel evangelists have headed in the other direction and made Heaven central to their Gospel. Some of these evangelists now even claim to have the spiritual power to make repeated visits there!

Presumably God, the Supreme Being, has a supremely beautiful home, in a supremely magnificent neighbourhood. Amazingly, God invites mankind to move into His neighbourhood- for eternity! But what is Heaven like? Is it possible, as some are now claiming, that we can visit Heaven? While I am going to lead readers to conclude that Heaven is not the Gospel’s focus, if it is the only reason someone is motivated to convert to Christ, then we should rejoice!

The Tragedy of Suicide – And How We Can Help

Suicide hurts. It is motivated by pain, but causes much greater pain. For those affected by suicide the guilt and anguish it produces is almost unbearable. But since suicide is in the Bible, how can we know that it is wrong? How should we regard the sinfulness of suicide? Is it unforgiveable? How can we help avoid suicide? What should those affected by it know after its happened?

The funeral celebrant rang me to warn me. He was used to dealing with sensitive situations but this one had a few extra layers of complexity. He decided to get me involved. He outlined the story to me and then told me the purpose of his call. When a loved one dies there is often a measure of guilt for those left behind. But when the death is caused by suicide that guilt is compounded. Suicide hurts. The funeral celebrant told me that a young man with a diagnosed mental illness, who had professed Christianity, had taken his own life and his devout mother (who we will call “Betty”) was devastated. The celebrant told me that Betty would ring because her guilt was beyond his expertise due to her Biblical understanding of suicide.

True For You But Not True For Me

Have you ever heard someone say, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me!” It’s the kind of sentiment which might be appropriately limited to our experiences and our emotional responses to them, but it can not be true about those issues which effect us all, known as universals. These include what we consider to be morally right or wrong, whether a fact is true or false,  or whether we should regard something as either good or bad. For example, one of the universal laws that is not subject to personal opinion is gravity. Someone may disagree with it, but their disagreement doesn’t change its reality.

The kind of judgment needed to distinguish right from wrong, true from false, or good from bad, must allow for those things which are universal and thus common to all. This kind of truth, what Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth’ is also not subject to context, circumstances, popularity, or fashion (Beckworth & Koukl 1998, 20). Neither is it restricted to a time or place. Thus, what can be known as true has generally been acknowledged as such down through the ages by various peoples located in different parts of the world. Philosophers refer to this kind of truth as…

How To Handle A Crisis

The definition of a crisis is a calamity or event which disrupts a person’s sense of well- being and lifestyle. It is generally short term and requires immediate action in order to restore balance and control in the person’s life.  The results of crisis are: anxiety, bewilderment, confusion, desperation, anger, helplessness and even apathy. There is an increased sense of dependency upon others, a sense of urgency, and decreased efficiency in decision making and performance. The account of Judah being sieged by the Assyrians in Second Chronicles 32, involves all the aspects of a crisis. The major distinctive is that it involves a nation of people rather than just one person. The “helper” in this instance was their leader – King Hezekiah.

Roman Catholicism Compared With Christianity

Any discussion about religious wars, clergy violations, or child abuse, and it won’t be long before the The Roman Catholic Church unfortunately features. But I want to have a different discussion. And unlike most of the ‘discussions’ of this nature, I’m not on a mission to attack, ridicule, or mock anyone. Rather, I want to look at what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches and asserts and compare it with the Bible’s teaching.

I’ve been a denominational minister for over two decades, so I know that it is possible to be a part of an organisation with which you disagree on some points.  I understand that this is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church as there are many priests who do agree with all that their Church asserts. For the purposes of this discussion, I have chosen to take the official Catholic positions on the matters I am comparing with the Biblical data. It is my hope that my Roman Catholic audience will acknowledge that I have represented their views fairly – but it is also my hope that I can appropriately demonstrate how these core views compare with the Biblical prescriptions.

Soli Deo Gloria

The final statement in The Five Pillars of Biblical Christianity is Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone! The reason we are saved is so that we can glorify God. In one sense it is true that reason Christ died for us was to save us from our sins and the just wrath of God for our sin. But the main reason Christ died to redeem us was for the glory of God.

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
John 5:44

The glory that comes from God is when we give God glory. One of Christ’s last prayers was that His disciples would see His glory (John 17:24). Therefore God’s glory, His radiant magnificence, is visible and apprehendable. God’s glory is described several times in Scripture. In this sense, God’s glory is a visible reality (a noun). God’s glory is variously described as being like a cloud (Exodus 16:10), a devouring and consuming fire (Exodus 24:17), fire and smoke-like cloud (2Chronicles 7:1), and a brightly glowing cloud (Ezekiel 10:4).

Where Are The Dead?

Sitting across from me in my office was an older middle-aged man who had just read my draft commentary on the Book of Revelation. He had come from Queensland to visit friends in Tasmania and while in the neighbourhood, dropped in to see me to have chat and get a later edition of my book. He asked a lot of theoretical questions and we discussed the implications of what we discussed. Not until he returned to Queensland did I get an email regarding the chapter on the Resurrection. It was at this point that he confided in me that he was in the advanced stages of cancer and that his query was far more than theoretical.
The ancients believed that death was merely a change of location for the soul of a person. The place of the dead was called “Sheol”. When Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead: “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen. 37:35 ). When the judgment of God came upon Korah and his rebellion.

TULIP, The Essence of The Reformation

Jesus Christ taught that following Him was only possible through the miracle of conversion. He taught that for someone to authentically claim to be a Christian they needed a spiritual encounter that changed their heart and mind. Without such a miracle, known Biblically as ‘regeneration’, no one could merely decide to be a Christian.
It’s important to appreciate the geo-socio-politico conditions at the time of the Reformation. This was the time when John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and others dared to defend the Biblical revelation against a militant Papal Church which had previously executed similar voices (Wyclif, Tyndale, Savonarola, to name a few) for daring to defy the teaching of the Papacy. One of the central claims of the Papacy was “Universalism”, the doctrine which taught that Christ’s sacrificial death was repeated over and over through the celebration of the Mass and was effective in saving all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church (thus, universal salvation was activated by works). Since Salvation was universal (everyone is automatically saved), the Papal Church was more concerned about administering this salvation through having people in communion with it, or alternatively, disfellowshipping (or, ex-communicating) those who it disliked. Calvin on the other hand saw that Scripture did not teach universalism, but conversely- that not everyone would be saved.

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@FTMtweets

- April 22, 2018, 12:04 pm

RT @DrFWBoreham: Read Dr.F.W. Boreham’s essay, ‘Sister Kathleen’ written in 1918 - https://t.co/6Bzvci8SBq https://t.co/j0JAdAD8Q8
h J R
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- April 21, 2018, 11:57 am

Why Charles Darwin found it impossible to believe in the God of the Bible … https://t.co/YD6y3pdiOF #apologetics https://t.co/V820gazbvo
h J R
@FTMtweets

- April 20, 2018, 5:24 am

Christians claim that the Bible is divinely inspired and without error! But just reliable is the Bible really? Chec… https://t.co/yMSPikQMHD
h J R
@FTMtweets

- April 19, 2018, 7:15 pm

How could a good, loving, forgiving, all-powerful God send anyone to Hell for eternity? https://t.co/VZuTBfi2Tjhttps://t.co/TnjaanPXDQ
h J R
@FTMtweets

- April 18, 2018, 6:15 pm

How can there be a good, loving, all-powerful God if there are natural disasters which kill thousands of innocent v… https://t.co/8tQVr0XS49
h J R
Dr. Andrew Corbett

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