A Message from Pastor Hale
Could self-murder and other godless reactions to suffering and the mere threat of death, cause more death and anguish than the virus itself? The sinful response to being made powerless and helpless has not been pretty among those who think they are god-like and in full control of their own lives. The hope for Christians, thankfully, is outside ourselves – it is not in regaining some ideal of personal control over the world and our future. “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” 2 Thess. 2:16.
The world cannot understand why people – young, affluent people, at that – do not want to live. We have so much wealth, freedom, entertainment, and pleasure – it seems. But these are not what we need, or were created for. What we were built for is meaning, purpose, and divine hope. But society has tried to get rid of the last category (eternal blessings) to make the first category of blessings (temporary things) more complete.
In the article “The Curious Case of America’s Suicide Crisis” (Charles Fain Lehman, freebeacon.com, Feb. 15) the topic is introduced thus:
Every year since the turn of the millennium, the number of Americans dying by suicide has risen, with nearly 50,000 deaths in 2018 alone.
That steady increase began after almost a decade and a half of decline and has proceeded at such a pace that 2018's per capita suicide rate is the highest since the start of World War II. Suicide is now among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, the second-most common cause for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, and the third-most for those between 25 and 44.
These figures are a tragedy. But they are also a mystery. Experts have been unable to pick apart a statistical story that grows stranger the closer you look. What, they have been asking for years, is behind this unrelenting increase?
Christians should not be surprised that children do not thrive and have solid purpose when they are told that there is no god over their lives, that they are meaningless evolutionary accidents, that affluence is a replacement for godliness, and that their life is their own to do with as they please.
To murder oneself, in the world’s selfish thinking, is the ultimate assertion of authority over one’s body and destiny. It fits right in with the mantra of: “Be who you are” or “Be whatever you want to be.” Sin begets death, it cannot choose life or obedience or righteousness. The more we are free outwardly, the more license there is for sin to rule.
Children might not like discipline, order, and strict rules, but they need and crave them. They were created for it in God’s order. The 4th commandment (Honor your father and your mother), the first one dealing with human relations, is the basis for human life on earth. We are born into a hierarchy – a divine order. Without it, kids are free to be rebels, but ultimately they will be aimless and left with nothing but their own guilt and sin – which can only lead to death temporal and eternal.
Millennials and Gen. Xers are often so shallow that they think the promise of a grand retirement or a big house or radical political change will fulfill them. The boomers who brought in this change, were actually taught to work as children and to have some respect for authorities and life, even if it was not fully ingrained or passed on to their kids. But the newer generations have been inculcated in hopelessness and disorder. They search for deeper meaning and do not find it in this world’s goods.
We have a religious crisis – a problem of unbelief, not a scientific one. Studies and psychologists cannot give meaning. Freudian approaches to mental health cannot find wholeness solely within sinners, who are doomed under God’s wrath. All the psycho-babble, mental health talk, and increased awareness of materialistic explanations of despair have not helped – the problem of self-murder and loss of meaning has gotten exponentially worse since the rise of these so-called sciences. The war on depression seems to have been lost – to the world without hope in Christ.
Older generations that still have a shred of moral values cannot understand why youth who have been spoon-fed this garbage that the world is only material, are not healthy spiritually. Young, healthy people cut and harm themselves. They see addiction as a way to deal with boredom, and also murder themselves. They live as animals, because that’s what evolutionary pseudo-science taught them they are.
The truth is that the more we submit to others, in Christ’s love, the freer we are. Not physically, but mentally – in the conscience. But we cannot submit to a God who is not loving or present. The young want to feel bad (think of the success of recent horror movies, the rise in risk-taking behaviors, and the therapeutic tattoo and body modification movement), because they are numb from the world’s self-esteem worship – being constantly told they are good, while death is inescapable and life is said to have no meaning. No wonder death looks so appealing to those catechized so well in hopelessness!
The meaning of life for the Christian is not grandiose or earth-shattering. Forgiven and declared righteous before God. We are called to serve Him, not ourselves. We work diligently for someone else – Christ, our master. We are put into our earthly place – the very place we were made for and called to by Jesus – first by our physical biology.
Marriage, in faith, becomes a holy place of safety from sexual temptation that gives us a divine duty and person to serve. Children are not just slavish work and wealth vacuums, but offer a lasting legacy which bank accounts do not. Families and churches provide community, to keep us from being alone. And most of all, eternal life in heaven offers hope beyond all earthly suffering.
This crisis of suicide is incredibly tragic, even more than the worst plague, because it is unbelief and a rejection of God’s goodness. It is worse than the murder of babies and the elderly. It cuts one off from the only cause of hope: hearing the Gospel of Christ. It is a heinous sin and makes a satanic confession. While many have tried to Christianize it, death is never something the Christian seeks and wills for himself. Of course, even in the seconds before death repentance is possible, and not every suicide is in their right mind, but the trend of those hopeless, actively seeking death is undeniable. We cannot excuse this godless act or make it Christian. Sinners are forgiven in Christ – sins themselves are not to be excused or made ok.
Christians preach to the living, not the dead. It does no good to sugarcoat the horrific selfmurder of people we know. No allowance, permission, or excuse for self-murder can ever be Christian. After honoring parents, God makes His will clear: “You shall not murder.” No asterisk is there for self-murder. God’s will is clear.
The experts are befuddled: “Anyone who tells you that they know exactly why the [suicide] rates are going up or going down is lying to you… we truly don't understand this really well.” This is not a crisis of cell phones or TV’s, but of submission to God’s will. The people who have told us that there is no god, no eternal meaning, and no absolute morality cannot admit they have failed and should repent – so it must be a mystery to them.
Martin Luther on Suicide
It is often cited that Luther had a liberal, modern attitude toward suicide. Luther’s oftreferenced thought is from the Table Talk, which is not the written words of Luther himself, but purport to be recorded from Luther’s informal conversations (around the table). The muchquoted passage reads:
I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.
These words do not approve of suicide at all, nor does Luther make it an acceptable act for a Christian. He does not say all suicides must be treated as Christian and given a Christian burial (the 2003 Luther movie is inaccurate in depicting Luther as an innovator in suicide burial practice). He is really making a theological point that only faith saves, but we do not know the state of a man definitely from a past act. The real problem with suicide is that precious little time is left for repentance and hearing the Word, if successful.
If a suicide is not “certainly to be damned,” Luther does still allow for the probability that many are damned for the sin of self-murder. The only exception he gives is for the person who is not thinking clearly and not in control of his body – instead, Satan is. The underlying doctrine is that faith and the Holy Spirit living in a believer are not compatible with the complete rule of hopeless, self-harming thoughts in the mind. Luther basically says that only a person out of their mind can do such a thing as take his own life. For the person acting consciously and in clear control of his faculties, Luther does not give any hope at all. There is always hope with Christ, but not in the acts of sinners. Murder of the self is to be accepted no less, or treated more gently, than murder of another.
If social custom and legal justice do not condemn suicide (murder of oneself), then certainly Christian thinking must still be formed by the 5th commandment: “You shall not murder.” It is an evil, hopeless act. It can never be a Christian confession or good in itself. And not being God, who sees the heart and faith, we can only judge another sinner based on one’s public confession.
Luther did not crusade to treat suicides differently in church settings. He upheld the tradition that the body of a suicide should not even pass through the door – it must go through a window or exit some other way, as was the custom. This seems harsh and uncomfortable – but choosing death is not pretty or good – it is of Satan. By softening the stance on suicide, the world has only encouraged and glorified it.
But the fact that a person’s body is not honored with a Christian funeral or committal is not a problem for God – who will judge the living and the dead. But pastors can only go by someone’s public confession – they cannot judge one’s faith. To blithely accept every successful suicide and treat them as Christian is to bless and advertise murder as faithful.
Pastors and churches do not judge one’s heart, but if one’s last act is murder, there is not much positive to provide as evidence of faith. Pre-murder actions, even going to church, do not cancel out self-murder. Complete despair, the willingness to no longer live as God calls and wills, and utter hopeless are the opposite of hope and trust in God’s goodness. We have no authority to take our own lives. It is the ultimate rebellion against God. The sin itself must be condemned and warned against.
Murder, as a conscience decision and act of the will, is incompatible with belief in Christ through the Spirit, as are other public, on-going, active sins: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But many are deceived, thinking decent outward actions must mean a person believes and will always have faith. But sadly many do fall away and give up all true hope.
Funerals are for the living, though they do give a confession of the dead person’s life. Luther did not intend to boost the reputation of suicide or excuse it in any way as Christian behavior: “However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to...” Luther did not say we should treat suicides positively in practice, though he makes allowance that we are not God and can be wrong and do not see the full picture of man’s heart.
Suicide is satanic, as an act. Faith is not an act, but our acts can deny the Spirit, given in faith. The church on earth cannot judge faith in the heart. It must stick to acts and words. So judge the deeds and one’s confession and leave the soul to God. Luther’s words are not an excuse to baptize self-murder. To die by choice in despair is not Christian, since the believer has life in Christ, because He has already died to sin and the devil in baptism. The believer may not let Satan reign in the most despicable act possible: suicide. Amen.