Introducing the Why

Jimmy Phillips

writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is director of marketing and communications for San Joaquin Community Hospital.

​Between Suicide and Salvation

I don’t remember how old I was, probably about 10. I do know that I’ll never forget the morning my dad shared the startling news. “George1 committed suicide yesterday.”

George had recently started coming to our little church. Middle-aged, with a sleeve of tattoos and a child from a previous marriage, George was obviously the product of a rough life. My dad hit it off with him, and he’d been to our house fairly frequently. Although I didn’t know George that well, the news still hit me like a bolt of lightning. For the next couple days it was the last thought I had before falling asleep, and the first thought I had as I woke up.

What could possibly drive someone to commit suicide? Especially someone who’d just started coming to church and seemed to be turning his life around? I’m not the first person to ask that question.

Nearly two decades later I sat in a funeral with family and friends who had gathered to mourn the loss of a young father who’d ended his own life. It was gut-wrenching. It was the kind of day—despite the pastor’s best attempt at providing a glimmer of hope—that made you feel like darkness would never relinquish its grasp.

Although I hadn’t known the individual, the hopeless despair that filled the sanctuary that afternoon filled my eyes with tears. What could possibly drive someone to commit suicide? Especially someone who had so much to live for?

On a micro level, the answer to that question is always deeply personal, varying case by case. However, looking at these situations broadly, we find commonalities. Those who take their own lives have reached a breaking point where they see themselves as hopeless, beyond anyone’s reach. That despair leads them to do the one thing they can’t take back. The next thing you know, loved ones are gathered in a church asking “Why?” and lamenting all the missed warning signs.

Filled With Hopelessness

Although suicide is an extreme reaction, at some point in our lives we’ve all been enveloped in despair that leads us to question the point of all this. Though most people don’t commit suicide or even consider it, we’ve all been broken in different ways.

As Christians we often find that this despondency is directly related to our own actions—our sin, as it were. The apostle Paul seems to put the nail in the coffin, confirming what each of us knows about ourselves: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12).

Yes, we are all sinners. At times the reality of our human nature is something of which we’re keenly aware. Yet awareness of our own weakness and frailty is not evidence that we’re beyond saving; in fact, it proves exactly the opposite. Notice what Ellen White wrote: “The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you.”2

Paul once called himself the chief or foremost sinner (1 Tim. 1:15), using the present tense. He was not lamenting his past mistakes; rather, he was acknowledging his current state.

Those on the brink of taking their own lives lose themselves in hopelessness, fully aware of the depths of their own depravity. They think they’re beyond saving.

That’s not unlike those on the brink of salvation, who clearly see their imperfections and weaknesses. But they realize that the story doesn’t end there. They understand that the atoning righteousness of Christ is the only thing that can save them.

It’s the only thing that can vanquish the darkness.

  1. The name has been changed to ensure the privacy of the individual and his family.
  2. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), pp. 64, 65.
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