Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Suicide

I was very struck this week catching up on the BMJ (I tend to only read the obituaries to make sure I'm not mentioned), in reading about a correction. Someone had written a tribute for a colleague which had then been inaccurately reported as saying the deceased, 'committed suicide'. The BMJ apologised noting that the terminology recommended internationally (and endorsed by the Samaritans, www.samaritans.org) was 'died by suicide', or in North America, 'took his own life'.

I regard that as a good thing. Not least before suicide being no long regarded as a criminal act it is not something 'committed'. However it is more difficult to find correct language for someone professing Christian faith. Is their suicide a sin in the sense of a rebellion against God's rightful sovereignty?  Well I guess in some sense that is true, and yet what Christian hasn't often and sadly rebelled in less dramatic ways but without incurring the stigma of suicide.

As one writer points out the extraordinary words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8 give us considerable grounds for hope. Since neither life nor death-not even death by suicide-can separate us from the love of God, why should a momentary act of tragic self-annihilation be regarded any differently to other less obvious failings?

Of course more to say. Check out some helpful resources from John Piper here, and the Gospel Coalition.

I can only recall three suicides in my long career at Olney. All so sad in their own way. My first was many years ago and was of an elderly lady who found a chronic neurological condition intolerable. Her aged husband called me to her bedside where she had suffocated herself with a plastic bag. It was such a sad scene, and my immediate instinct was to spare him pain by suggesting that she died of natural causes. Of course I would have been wrong and was corrected by a friend who was deputy coroner with whom I discussed the matter. The aged spouse looked at her and said gently, "I still love her you know". Now I realise Dolly Parton wasn't thinking of this, nor indeed theologically, in her wonderful song, 'I will always love you', but it carries such a powerful message that I frequently come back to. The power of unquenchable love. And for those of us privileged to experience it, the relentless love of God.




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