By John Espy
I remember coming out of church one Sunday morning, after the pastor had delivered a rapturous sermon describing the joys of heaven. A friend, a devout believer who has made several suicide attempts, asked me quietly, “So why shouldn’t I go there now?”
It is an excellent question, and one the pastor had not even thought to anticipate and answer—and if we’re honest, most of us wouldn’t know how to answer this question either. Suicide and depression are in the news more than ever—it seems barely a week goes by without a mention of a teenager who committed suicide over questions of sexuality and identity or other issues of brokenness. You might not be suicidal (or depressed) yourself, but chances are, someone in your life or someone who will be in your life will hit a point of despondency. And they may even ask why they should continue living. So what would God say to a person weary of life and eager to end the pain, one for whom heaven is not merely a hope but a compelling temptation?
Breath of Comfort, Breath of Life
First, I think He would respond as He did to the broken city of Jerusalem:
n the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:4-6)
In this prophetic story, the newborn, a little girl, receives no parental love, none of the care and affection that are every child’s natural rights. She is despised, unwanted, regarded as “abhorrent and loathsome” (v. 5, Amplified). From a human point of view—in the eyes of the broken and corrupted people who should have been her guardians—she is an unwanted burden, just so much trash. So they discard her, dumping her in a convenient vacant lot where she will either die of exposure or become the helpless prey of wild animals.
This little child has not been welcomed into the world, made much of, loved, and comforted. Already, for her, life is only a problem. She is described as “kicking about” in her blood; years later, her blood will still be “clinging” to her (v. 9, Amplified). “Blood” speaks of family and nation. Like so many of us, she is struggling with what amounts to a generational curse; she must contend with inherited addictions and cravings, and also with toxic and loveless relationships. Truly, a dispassionate observer might say, this is a miserable specimen, and the best thing for everyone concerned would be to put her out of her misery.
But the Lord, the Creator, is never a dispassionate observer. Before the wild beasts can come, He passes by. He does not happen along; He sees, and goes out of His way. He stands over her, and He speaks a single word: “Live!” (In most of our Hebrew manuscripts, He says it twice, which adds emphasis.)
To us, this may not seem like much. Talk is cheap. But God, who spoke into being the heavens and the earth, utters no empty words. When He says, “Live,” He imparts life; His word has the force of an irresistible command. To Him no life is worthless.
Don’t Harm Yourself!
Another passage that shows us a glimpse of God’s heart toward those who consider suicide is found in the Book of Acts. Paul and Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison for preaching the gospel in the city of Philippi. Yet they sing praise to God, and, around midnight, He sends a most peculiar earthquake. No one is killed or injured, but every cell door opens and every chain is broken. All the prisoners are set free.
This is good news for everyone except the jailer. Jolted awake, he sees the doors standing open. He will be held responsible; if even one prisoner escapes, he may be executed, perhaps after torture and humiliation. He draws his sword and prepares to kill himself.
Paul’s voice rings out: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28). Paul is not speaking calmly, but shouting (NIV), yelling (Living), crying with a loud voice (KJV, RSV); literally, he “sounds a great sound.” It is vitally important to Paul that he be heard. Shortly before, this man was allied with his enemies who wished to silence the word of God; it might seem as if his death would be one more sign of God’s victorious power. But Paul does not see it this way, and apparently neither does God. The Gospel triumphs when the jailer believes and is saved—saved not just from suicide but from sin and Satan’s dominion.
Perhaps you have already been “saved,” have believed and prayed the prayer and been baptized, and yet feel like killing yourself. Still, Jesus cries to you with a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself!” Everything that you think you have lost forever is here, right here, in His hands; and He is working now, not to destroy, but to open doors for you and to loose your chains. Like the jailer, you will be “filled with joy” (Acts 16:34; Amplified: leaping and exulting) again in this life. For the Lord does not desire that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
The Eternal Outcome
We close with a picture that comes from the Book of Revelation:
hen I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads … And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (14:1-3)
We do not know exactly who these 144,000 are, and opinions differ as to whether their number is exact or symbolic. But they are people, and they have suffered (in 7:14, the 144,000 and others “have come out of the great tribulation”). Now they sing a song, which no one else can learn. This seems odd.
Why should this be? I can only think that it is because angels don’t have to go through suffering, and walk by faith, in the same way people do. This would also explain why Jesus the Lamb, who did suffer and walk by faith, stands with the 144,000. Perhaps He sings with them.
I want to go one step beyond the text, building on this powerful picture. John speaks of one great chorus, a united song. I want you to imagine, instead, a series of solos.
Each of us has a song to sing, not with words and music but with our lives. And one day all of heaven, the host of glorious beings and the Father Himself, will fall silent, listening as the song of your life is played. Perhaps the great Church of God will provide background vocals, and Jesus Himself will sing with you; but it is your song, which you and everyone else will hear, complete and perfect, for the very first time. Don’t cut short your song. If you end your life before the last verse planned by God, I fear it will leave a gap, a silence nothing can fill, because no one else can ever sing your song.
I don’t know how the song of your life will sound, but I can promise you that, when you hear it, everything will be worth it. The last verses will be the sweetest. But the part that will rock heaven will be the passage when the music almost stops—and then the voice of God is heard, declaring, “Live!” and the song takes wing once more.