Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
What makes a man fall on his sword, what makes a man choose suicide? 1Sa 31:4, 5;
What I want to arrive at is some understanding of what underlies this act that runs so contrary to human nature’s will to live. Suicide is a dark seductive tunnel. I want to go into this unapproachable dark hole and hopefully emerge changed.
Saul chooses to fall on his sword rather than the alternative. Samson pulls the house down round his head.
Having just emerged from a prolonged period of wanting to commit suicide I can tell you that it is like falling into a mill race. A dense, stream, concentrated, channelled tight to fast force feed water to the mill wheel. A narrowing of the way, a pinching that forces great volume through a narrow gap.
We get a number of parallels in scripture. Balaam’s donkey forced through an opening between two walls crushing Balaam’s foot… Johnathan and his armour bearer passing through the two sharp rocks on the way to the Philistine garrison. Then in Greek the word synechó gives us further insight into the forces that assail one when suicide is contemplated. It speaks of a lump of clay being pressed in the hand, a besieged city, a ship being forced through a narrow channel coursing with tide, a crush pen for cattle, a prisoner held; unable to move. It also speaks of someone who is surrounded by business as well as being afflicted with sickness and suffering.
Paul talks about being pressed… by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. The image of the olive press; the weight of stones, oppression till the oil emerges drip by drip. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. The pips squeak! This is a point of decision, this is being on the horns. This is having a stake up the bum, fearsome pain, wriggling and knowing that it is getting deeper and deeper but it is so sore you cannot stop. What we are looking at here is man dangling over the fire pit. But this figurative language means little. Phl 1:20-23;
Sampson, Saul, Ahithophel real men; allegories of where tribulants find themselves.
Sampson… one can speculate; he must have felt hopeless, his one chance of being active in vengeance upon those who had taken his sight, freedom and strength lay in destroying enemies in an act of self-destruction. The tribulation he suffered made him prefer death rather than life. One can also speculate that he felt a sense of frustration at himself, blind, bound, he had mucked up his life’s calling, humiliated at being duped, reduced to being a baited bear, he wanted out. The future is bleak and holds only disgrace, pain, suffering and humiliation; he chooses suicide.
Terminally ill patients face similar tribulation: death a certainty; pain, trouble, incontinence and the humiliation of loss of independence awaiting them, choose to end their lives. In this press the question is asked. Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; Job trapped like Sampson and Saul: The past was glorious but has been swallowed up by darkness. The present, humiliating and unbearable; vexation, frustration, encircled by pain, we are forced to ask, why? In this state we look at the present and the future and compare one against the other. We would not do this in the rose garden with chocolate croissants and coffee..
The realisation that the present is transitory. The ‘present future’ is hopeless. Trapped in a body less than perfect they see the only way to ‘eternity future’ is through death.
Job gives us a portal to this world: the ‘present future’ is hedged off; hope replaced with darkness. He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. Job is a tree uprooted; life desiccating… no hope, the future is black. To carry on in the light of the circumstances makes no sense: I loathe it; I would not live alway: let me alone; for my days are vanity. my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. Crying out for death along with Moses: kill me, I pray thee, out of hand… Until one has been in this narrow strait it is madness to hear a man call out to God: Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off!
Death is preferable to life and to have died in the womb far better than this life of misery.
Job 6:8, 9;
Once proud men choose death when humiliated by having their wisdom rejected; Old, sick and those who have had a change of status find themselves on the outside. But it is more than this: men get their sense of purpose, self-worth, identity, their self-image from their work. When this work is removed their purpose for living disappears. To find that your best offering is scorned, the best work torn down and cast to the swine, or even worse not even looked at is humiliating and demeaning. Frustration and vexation of spirit results in wanting to tear the whole house down.
Suicide is not just in the physical, it has parallels in the soul and spirit. The ‘erets’ of the spirit destroyed as surely as cutting your throat.
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; Holy Land destroyed by sin and degrading of the body, realisation that Holy Spirit has left, a sell out to the world; suicide. Hos 13:9;
Suicide and requests for death are surely only for the rebellious sinner? The good guys never suffer the warfare of wanting death; right?
Wrong: the tribulations of life become too much for even the heavies of scripture: Moses, Elijah, Job, Jeremiah Jonah, Simeon, Paul, (this is a quick incomplete list. I suspect that Isaiah would be added to this list if I did the digging but it gives you an idea) all wanted death rather than their present with the contemplation of what was still to come.
Let’s bring this home, to your world, out of the storybook bible of then; let’s talk you, now.
Contemplate a slow painful death, a death that humiliates and grinds dignity like a mill: Adult nappies, bum wiped by strangers, loss of independence, privacy and dignity, being fed like a baby, trapped in a wasting and wilted body, incontinence, bed sores, projectile vomiting, racked with pain, without any way to escape. No way to turn in bed without more pain. Lie still and the ache increases. To be turned, touched is agony.
Add to this the pressure of family that are cash strapped, financially and emotionally bleeding, paying for care; pressure from without and within, unable to cope with the mind games, running from reality… finding a way out becomes urgent.
To this add family that resent the extended life of the terminally ill; the interminable sitting on the edge of the cliff looking down into the abyss, wanting a result one way or the other to end the tense wait. I wonder if I should give him a push?
Families tired of waiting for death, want to get on with their lives resent the ball and chain that bed ridden relatives represent; a drain on precious finance, limiting freedom, often an embarrassment. The inheritance dribbled away on a hopeless cause. Enough, just die!
It is no wonder euthanasia is becoming popular with the terminally ill and their families. There being no prohibition on suicide in so many words in scripture. Thou shalt not kill. We find that the bible understands suicide and accommodates it better than the church does. God has compassion rather than judgment for the suicidal. There is no judgment for suicides, it is regarded as death not self-murder. No judgment and definitely not for one who is under grace and not law. The church has a hard-arsed attitude to suicides; separate burial grounds and no church service… but we don’t find this in scripture and I would welcome anybody who holds a different view to help me by pointing out the references to me as I might have been blinded by my need to justify suicide within myself. Thou shalt not kill. this seductress lures me in In the twilight, in the evening of the day, In the middle of the night and in the darkness.
… a woman With the attire of a harlot, she caught him, and kissed him, …I have spread my couch with carpets of tapestry, With striped cloths of the yarn of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed With myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning;
Logic tells us that our bodies are not ours to dispose of when we choose; they are the temple of the Lord no matter what state they are in.
Friends have pointed out that no matter what the state of the body and the mind we glorify God by our mere existence.
In conclusion: suicide is a reaction to failure and regret in the past.
It is about present pain and failure.
Lastly, the expectation of pain, humiliation and degradation of a hopeless future.