I think Christians have a hard time talking about suicide, because doesn’t everybody have a hard time talking about something as weighty as suicide? I’d like to make my own attempt to bridge that gap and give some real talk.
Jordan Peterson is one of the people I’ve seen honestly wrestle with this in a real way with the appropriate weight that it deserves. Though I can’t find the link, I remember him once saying, “The question ‘Why are you anxious and hopelessly depressed?’ is the wrong question. It’s easy to see why! Life is full of unimaginable suffering! The right question is ‘Why isn’t EVERYONE anxious and hopelessly depressed?’ Are we all just blind?”
The problem for Christians is that we have a pre-packaged answer that doesn’t seem to have much persuasive weight — “Jesus,” or “the gospel,” or “grace” — or something like that. Are these answers true? Sure. Are they sufficient for someone suffering? No, not at all. They are maddening because they feel false because the speaker doesn’t understand. Is “grace” a true answer? Sure. But if you give that answer, do you think you’ve even scratched the surface of what “God’s grace” even means? I doubt it. And if you don’t understand what you’re saying, how is it supposed to help?
If someone wants to die, it is wrong to give them a happy-ending answer. If they want to die, they’ve exhausted every happy-ending answer, finding them wanting. I can say that with authority, because I’ve been one of those people who wanted to die. The scariest part of suicidal thoughts is not the passionate and agony-infused wish for everything to end. It’s sitting down and thinking, “Why not?” and coming up empty. If you haven’t been there, you won’t get it. If you’ve been there, you get it.
In my opinion — a non-professional and personal-experience-based opinion — all talk about suicide to someone in that place should meet the emotion as emotion — not something to be “understood” — or the person should be silent.
But that’s not a statement of “If you don’t get it, just go away!” Instead, I mean something quite different. I will never forget the experience of sitting in a hospital and wishing I was dead. My father knew that, and he delivered the perfect message: He sat in my room with me in silence for 36 hours. Neither of us spoke. Then he broke the silence on day-two. He moved his chair and said, “Okay, Caleb, I’m going to make you play a game of cards with me.” That silence and that message — from someone who did not understand — was exactly what I needed. I later heard more from others who did speak from experience and did understand. But I wouldn’t have gotten to that step if that person who did not understand had not first sat with me in silence for 36 hours.
So, with that background, I hope you can understand where this poem comes from. I’m sorry if you don’t like my poetry, and I don’t even know if it’s good. All I know is that I tend to get very technical when I write, and I struggle with beauty, which is a function of emotion. The only way I can attempt to infuse emotion into my writing is with meter and verse. If the emotion isn’t there, it isn’t worth writing.
This poem is a “true story,” so take it that way. But it’s not true in the sense that every line is “true.” It’s true in the sense that it is an honest expression of the emotional state that leads someone to desire to take their own life.
As a disclaimer, I’ll say that though this is a true story, this IS NOT MY CURRENT STATE. So, thank you for your concern, but please do not call me to see if I’m okay (unless you were going to call anyway). And definitely don’t call the police to ensure that I’m okay. I’m fine. As people smarter than me have said, the exercise of writing it out is part of what makes things better. My hope in sharing it is so that people who struggle writing may get some perspective.
As a tool for interpretation, I’d like the reader to realize that in the Bible, the English word “soul” is nephesh in Hebrew and psyche in Greek. Both of the original words mean “breath.” Likewise, the English “spirit” is ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. Both mean “wind.” With that in mind, here is an excerpt of one of the most personal things I’ve ever written. I’ve removed the most private and painful parts (the poem is much longer). I hope what remains is beneficial.
The Wind of My Own Breath
By J. Caleb Jones
“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Who wrote this song to be so wrong? It is not sweet to me.
I’ve seen and I no longer long
For what is praised within that song.
I want this grace away from me.
I hate what you have let me see.
I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
But God, please take this sight from me and wipe my memory.
I once was blind to all you’ve done,
Blind and deaf like everyone.
But make me blind, Lord, once again.
Make me blind like other men.
I read of God the merciful, compassionate, and kind.
So, carelessly I voiced my prayer, mistaking what I’d find.
And gratitude I hoped to give
For every day you’d let me live.
But now I don’t want anything
From God in Heaven, Christ the King.
I wished to know what I’d received apart from what I’d earned
I wished to gain some hope and help from what I might have learned.
A fool was I to ask to see
The full accounting rendered me
Of grace from God, in heav’n above,
Bestowed through some mistaken love.
For God displayed his grace to me, but this is how I saw:
The things He gave me, one by one, He started to withdraw.
Though many dangers, toils, and snares I thought I’d overcome
I was naïve, because to every snare I have succumb.
With wisdom, plans, designs, and thought
I hoped to do the things I ought,
Accumulating through the years
What’s needed for respect from peers.
Not vanity or pride or fame –
But humble honor to my name.
But years have passed and now I see
A shell of what I hoped to be.
The people giving their respect
Sure wouldn’t see what they’d expect
If they would see the thing I see:
The wretch I realize is me.
. . .
Amazing grace from God to me, more fine than gold or gem,
But since this grace came into view, I don’t want it from him.
God’s grace, like purest glass displays
His glory, spread in splendid rays.
But stand beside that purest gift,
And let the light’s direction shift,
You will not see your sovereign Lord;
You will not see what you adored;
You will not see your hopes renewed.
Instead, you’ll see what Heaven views.
Reflected in the grace was shown
Myself. Myself. Myself, alone.
So let me pray again and hear my hope and heart’s request:
Please let me set the terms by which you’ll let me die and rest.
I do not want a soul that’s saved.
I do not even want a grave.
This body, spirit, soul, and mind:
Let no one ever come to find
A speck of flesh or hair or nerve.
Let no one see, recall, observe
A single second of my life,
And let there be no afterlife.
My hope is nothing – zero – naught:
Not a cell, and not a thought.
I do not want this grace you give, no matter what it’s worth.
I want my blissful ign’rance back. Please let me leave this Earth.
So God, I beg, please hide your face,
And block the light. Remove your grace.
I want to disappear from all
The universe. Let me withdraw.
I want to be erased, a void,
And comprehensively destroyed.
I pray, requesting this reprieve.
Oh God, my God, please let me leave.
But then I see that someone called because they thought of me.
They left a message, and within, they passed some love to me.
Within this shade of death, I see
My prayer rejected: they still see.
So how inhuman are you, Lord,
To fail to let me be ignored?
In rage and sorrow I still see
That others still waste love on me.
This last request of suicide
Is one more thing you have denied.
Amazing Grace still comes through Christ, and even now, it’s clear:
No matter what I’ve done or said or hope or wish – He’s here.
My soul is wounded, slayed, and bare.
My strength is gone in my despair.
I have brought on my affliction.
I achieved my crucifixion.
Help me, God! My spirit’s shaken!
Why, my God, am I forsaken?
Lord! Eloi! My God on high!
Eloi, lema sabachthani.
God! My God! Please answer me!
What have you brought down on me?
And here I sit in silence – not a thing or soul around.
The wind of my own breath becomes the only present sound.
Wrap-Up and Tips for Application
I hope that gives some perspective on what to think or say when someone is depressed. I hope that people understand that depression isn’t merely a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. Sometimes in life, NOT being depressed is the chemical imbalance.
Depression isn’t something that can be “explained.” Now, of course depression has theoretical and physical things attached to it, like dopamine and lack of sleep and the need to eat a good meal. But at the end of the day, depression is not “understood.” It is “felt.” It’s not a shortcoming of the physical brain. It’s not even a shortcoming of the immaterial rational mind that traditionally connects to the brain. It’s not a shortcoming of the stomach, the heart, or any part of the physical body, though those things are definitely relevant to the experience.
In my experience, depression is an injury to the immaterial soul – to the “psyche.” That’s why you go to a psychiatrist or psychologist when you’re depressed and not a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist. The thing in trouble is not material, even though material things can make you aware of or exacerbate the trouble.
Thankfully, our God is not limited to the material, even though he knows it. He does not operate on brains (even though I’m sure he could). He is also not limited to the abstract and immaterial. He is also not theoretical (even though he forms some good theory). He isn’t a set of principals (though he has good principles). He is much more than these things.
Instead, the Bible reveals that God is extremely personal, and “real” in the ordinary sense. He knows the trouble of mankind and even lived through it, but he does not fail or fall when he encounters those troubles.
And as the life of Jesus Christ demonstrates, he also “feels” in the quite ordinary sense. He loves. He cares. He ate. He slept. He was present. He was absent. He was silent. He spoke. He liked to be alone. He liked to eat with friends. He laughed. He wept. He taught. He joked. He was joyful. He was acquainted with sorrow. He died. He rose.
And he not only raises bodies from the dead, he pulls souls from death to life. That “soul” that is pulled from death to life isn’t some theoretical thing. It is what you have to look at when every distraction, every lie, every gift, every bit of ignorance, and every good thing that you mistakenly thought you did on your own is pulled away. All that remains is “Myself. Myself. Myself, alone.”
The poem above is about dying in all but the physical sense. It may sound abstract until you or someone you love confronts all that must die before we truly know and see the living God. If we can’t see him, then maybe we get another lie to last another day. Maybe we die. But when we see him, we will also see ourselves. In my experience, there is no middle ground.
That is what eternal life is, to see God. But unlike cartoon versions of clouds and harps and halos, we see the reality is far more difficult and dangerous. All souls live forever. After all, “soul” means the same thing as “life.” But in the Bible, life is only eternal when it is with God. When someone lives without seeing God, that “life” isn’t even called life, even though existence and sentience still remains. Instead, it is called “the second death.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4)
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:23-25)
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:10-11)
The next time you ask to know God, brace yourself for what is to come.
Feel free to share if you found this helpful or if someone you know might need it.