Is Suicide a Growing Epidemic or a Sin That Leads to Hell?
- Amanda Idleman Contributing Writer
- 2022 20 Sep
I heard one anecdote from a local pastor that since 2020 they had attended more funerals for suicides than for those that died from contracting COVID-19. While both are tragic ways to die, his experience highlights the severity of the suicide epidemic in our country. Hopelessness and depression are common in the lives of Americans today.
Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in our country, making it something that so many of us are touched by. On top of the number of actual deaths, 1.2 million others attempted suicide in 2020. It’s clear that way too many of us are struggling to see the value that our lives hold. Many homes, families, lives, and communities are personally affected by the tragedy of suicide.
It’s time for the church to start talking about this issue.
Lifeway Research did some important work in helping start the conversation about this epidemic. I know I grew up believing that suicide was that fatal sin that dammed the fallen to hell. As an adult and a person that has struggled with my own mental health, I see that there is so much more to the story. Thankfully, the conversation around this issue is starting to grow more robust in faith communities, and we can start to understand mental health struggles with more facts, truth, understanding, awareness, and compassion.
Common Beliefs about Suicide
Lifeway revealed that few people believe that those who commit suicide are selfish (36%) or are automatically going to hell (23%). Those who have endured the heartbreaking loss of a loved one by suicide are much more likely to see it as an epidemic. Knowing someone's story changes the narrative that is being conveyed about an issue. Those that are personally affected by this tragedy see that the decision their loved one made was much more complex than a selfish or evil one-time decision.
Religion seems to make a difference in how we approach this growing issue. Those with an evangelical belief system are more likely to say suicide is selfish and automatically leads to hell. Those who do not identify with a religion are more likely to disagree with the idea that suicide is selfish and will send someone to hell. People who attend services at a Christian church less than once a month are less likely to agree that suicide is selfish and leads to hell. Americans are twice as likely to see suicide as an epidemic to be stopped rather than a sin they can judge.
Overall, those who are closest to those who have lost their lives to suicide are the most likely to see this issue as an epidemic and less likely to judge these actions. This is why sharing your story and struggle openly and honestly when it comes to mental health struggles is so important to helping to change the narrative around these issues. People connect to stories but are quick to judge statistics.
Suicide and the Church
We do know that every life is precious, and the decision to take a life is a tragedy. God made every person in his image and desires them to live out their days here in the land of the living with purpose and faith. The decision to take your own life is heartbreaking and always leaves devastation and sadness in the lives of those who are left behind.
The Bible teaches us to love our neighbors as God loves us. This requires that we look past what, on the face, feels like a selfish choice and do our best to understand the struggle that can plague the minds of the mentally ill. Suicide is an awful side effect of many mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. People make this terrible choice when their mind closes down to all other options, and they become so hopeless that ending life feels like the only way forward.
Stress and trauma can even rewire the brain to make you more disposed to struggle with suicidal thoughts. Childhood abuse and trauma can be risk factors for considering taking your own life as you get older. These experiences can switch on genes that put you at risk for mental health struggles.
The stigma around suicide that continues in parts of especially the evangelical church gets in the way of loving neighbors well. We cannot be a part of the solution, comfort, or prevention if we don’t take time to understand the problem.
How can a suicidal member of a congregation feel comfortable sharing their thoughts if he feels that everyone will judge him as a defective sinner due to his struggle? Statistically, older white males are the most likely to commit suicide. They are not going to let down their guard to speak about the war going on in their minds without being invited.
If the church wants to be a part of supporting and loving a world that is struggling under the weight of anxiety, depression, chronic stress, loneliness, and more than we have to stop viewing mental illness as a spiritual defect and start seeing it as an epidemic that requires compassion, care, support, medical intervention, and more to overcome!
God’s Role and Our Role as a Church Community
In the end, God is the one that is the ultimate judge of our souls. He is the only one that knows if our choices are a part of a surrendered heart to the Lord or are a part of our rebellion against him. We have to trust that He is good and loves his people well, even when they are stuck in a pit of mental anguish. Our role is not to be a jury and judge but to the loving arms and feet of Jesus to those around us.
I know in my worst days of mental struggle, the only thing that stopped me from going down to the pit of utter hopelessness was the knowledge that my community would miss me even if I didn’t feel equipped to love them well. Let’s be the church that steps into the mess and is there in the darkness with people that are struggling. Not a place where those who struggle are afraid to speak their truth.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Alexey_M
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.