Friday, August 31, 2018

Death is not the answer nor a real choice. . .

Driving into work the other day the voice over the radio proclaimed the urgency of suicide rates up some 24% in the state of Tennessee (where I reside).  Some states have seen the rise go even higher -- 30% increase or more!  Of course, the suicides of several rather public figures (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdaine) has brought this back into the news.  We will see how long it lasts.  45,000 Americans murdered themselves in 2016; among some age groups and genders suicide is a top cause of death for that group.

The great temptation is to write all of this off to mental illness or unique circumstances in the lives of those who try or succeed at taking their own lives.  At the same time we view this as a problem, we are in the process of normalizing suicide as the reasoned choice of those who believe they have physical or mental burdens of pain or illness too great to bear.  Indeed, we want this to happen in a medical setting with a professional either overseeing or administering the lethal dose for those who would welcome death in their retreat from life.  We are of several minds on this subject -- at least as a culture.

Yet I cannot help but wonder why depression is so prevalent and suicide on the rise when we live in such a liberated society.  After all, every form of sexual identity and gender choice is lauded in the media and celebrated in pride parades all across the nation.  We seem to have come to some terms with it all -- it is normalized for our children and youth in the social media and entertainment industry even if it is still not quite normal for older folks among us.  We live in a world with seemingly endless forms of entertainment on the internet, video games, live, streaming, and podcasted versions of everything from comedy to music to shows of all kinds.  We have more free time than any generation before us.  We have more resources to spend on our desires and more freedom to explore them without prejudice from law or enlightened culture.  Why do we struggle then with depression and suicide?  Is it just in the water or food chain?  Or is it an epidemic that is the fruit of such sanctioned happiness of any kind and at any cost?

What happened to the promise of modernity?  To the claims of enlightenment?  To the gift of technology?  To a life freed from work to explore desire, interest, and whim?   Could it be that all of these have failed us?  We put our trust in the idea of unlimited freedom -- even the freedom to choose death -- and it turned out to be only greater bondage.  We put our hope in a life defined by entertainment and shaped by the unbridled pursuit of happiness -- and it turned out not to be so happy.  We expected that if we removed all taboos and left everyone to explore themselves and their wants unhindered by values or morals except consent, all would be wonderful -- and what we ended up with was not so wonderful at all.

The odd thing is that the people who seem to be happiest and most content are not those who have mined the fringes of desire and old taboos or entertainment's many shapes but ordinary old Christian folk with a conscience and a God who forgives, who fellowship not on a web page but around a table on Sunday morning, and who seek not to be freed by their desires but to control them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The odd thing is that Christians are not immune to depression or to thoughts of self-destruction or even destructive acts but these orthodox, church going folks seem less troubled by them than those who, it would seem from the outside, have it all just the way they want it.

Augustine was right.  There is no rest for the soul until it rests in the Lord.  We were created for our Creator and our lives will remain somewhat disordered until this order is restored.  Faith is not the great constrictor of freedom or self-fulfillment but the only real path to it all.  Faith is not the safe choice (at least according to the world around us).  Faith is, however, the only path that offers real hope for those in despair even to thoughts of death.  Faith does not promote the lie that we are all okay and our desires and wants are equally okay.  Faith admits what the heart informed by the conscience already knows.  But it does not stop there.  It points us into the open arms of our suffering Savior who bore the pain of our sin for us and now speaks peace to our troubled and weary souls.

I am not at all suggesting that if all those who thought of taking their own lives went to church that everything would be hunky dory.  But, unlike the world which insists Christianity makes it worse, I believe it does make it better.  This is, after all, the God who does not quench the dimly burning wick nor break the bruised reed.  Thanks be to God!


Jerry Gernander said...

As Sigrid Undset writes of her character Kristen Lavransdatter: "Kristen wept for all the choices God allowed her to make," or something like that.

Janis Williams said...

What is so puzzling is the fact our media lament the suicide rates among those we consider to have the best lives to be had on the planet. However, assisted suicide, or suicide clinics and the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in some places across the globe is touted as the answer for those who suffer. We love to play god. We decide who is worth ‘keeping’ and an individual is allowed to decide whether their life is worth living. Actually, it is not puzzling. Humans are living contradictions. We hate God, but we want to be god.

Jerry Gernander said...

Sorry, here's the actual quote from Kristin Lavransdatter; it's much better:

"Now here she sat with a contrite heart - not because she had sinned against God but because she was unhappy that she had been allowed to follow her will to the road's end."

ErnestO said...

Pray that our brothers and sisters are not considering suicide......and if they are, may our elders be the first to take action - right after prayer