A Christian reflection on suicide

By Richard Ploch | Aug 18, 2014

We came home from a high school reunion where we learned of a beloved classmate’s suicide, to the news of Robin Williams’ death, and then a CNN special report on the crushingly high rate of suicide among our veterans. I also knew of a ministry colleague who started his car and lay down below the tailpipe. To compound the confusion and grief of his parishioners, his death happened in the attached garage of the church’s parsonage.

Most pastors are called on to counsel a highly agitated person or visit family members after a suicide occurs, and most all of us have friends in which it’s been a family tragedy. A search of the Internet shows that the No. 1 cause is depression and the No. 1 method is by handgun or rifle. Some suicide attempts are cries for help, but when a gun is available, the cry is silenced.

A pastoral care website — www.pastoralcareinc.com — has the heartbreaking news that suicide is the third leading cause of death among children, teens and young adults ages 10-24, and every year about 125,000 young people are brought to emergency rooms to receive treatment for injuries that were self-inflicted in the course of suicide attempts — 342 each day by our young who have lost hope for happiness.

The VA reports that at least 22 veterans commit suicide daily and young male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to kill themselves than civilian males the same age.

In the Bible, Saul, Samson, Judas, and four lesser known Bible characters took their own lives, and the question is fair, “Do those who commit suicide go directly to hell?” The Bible doesn’t say.

What is a Christian response? We must talk less about sin and more about virtues; look for the sad and lonely and bring the light of friendship, encouragement and the Gospel. Help provide more inpatient and outpatient treatment programs for our neighbors through mental programs, realizing that taxes are not a bad thing. Our taxes help provide the professional services to the poor and mentally ill, and we need more doors to open when families are in crisis. Giving help to those in hard times is what Christians do.

And for all who pass from life before us, we remember the words of St. Paul, “For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life … neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below — there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Comments (9)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 18, 2014 17:25

The suggestion is that we need to pay more taxes in case more people need to be sad and depressed and want free help?  Wouldn't it be more appropriate for family, friends, and churches to fill any gap instead of the government?  If the Constitution exists to protect me from an oppressive government, how is giving government the ability to take from me with no limits in my best interest?  I already see this happening with healthcare!  Who is to define what "healthy" is and what it will take to give everyone a "right" to be healthy -- especially those who abuse their health!?  That's a recipe for social chaos as government now has the power to just declare people are entitled to "more" of something and reach into my pocket to take it.


Even God saw the need to put a cap on what the church collects.  Tithing (10%) is considered "enough" even though a church always appreciates more from those that believe the church is using their contributions wisely.  Man hasn't yet figured out how to be so wise as to cap what man "needs" from others at 10%.


No, sir, I am just fine taking it upon myself to personally counsel friends and family with their emotional wellbeing.  In the case of Mr. Robin Williams, I wonder if his family should have been closer to him and helped him more.  I wonder if his self-inflicted history of drugs and alcohol effected his mental state.  I wonder when the last time he attended church or if any of his congregation reached out to him when he quit attending.  I do not wonder if my paycheck ought to have been shorted $5,000 last month to pay for a counselor to give a man help that I've never met and have no reason to meet.  If we need to redefine that as what we ought to be doing, then there are millions of hurting souls in North Korea that can use our taxes to help them too.


Giving help to those in hard times indeed is what Christians do.  Do that through the church or privately as much or as little as you feel is right.  For me, I answer to God -- not Uncle Sam -- to determine what it right.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 19, 2014 09:56

                As you do so often, Mr. Lilly, you let your prejudices shine thru.

                We the people have an obligation to provide as much help to those who chose to serve, as possible. As well as those not able to provide it for themselves.



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 19, 2014 10:00

You may provide as much help as you like.  In fact, I will applaud you for volunteering to fund someone's counseling.  Please let us know when you do so.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 19, 2014 12:49

            Barb's brother. Last year. From spring to Dec. 22 when he passed.

             He asked us to take him to VA in Spring for tests. He required many. Diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable cancer eventually. We took him to radiation treatment for the 20+ tumors on his brain. Had to move in with him for the last 5 months.

              We are still dealing with the aftermath.

               Barb had contact with Bill about every since about 2000. She obtained his disability thru contact with Hal Rogers. Bill moved in with us for about 6 weeks. Bought a house. He had severe PTSD. Required constant "counsoling".



Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 19, 2014 13:10

An excellent example of family taking care of family.  There's just no better solution for that situation and I'm glad you were able to give a veteran some much-deserved love.  I do hope the VA treated him well. 

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 20, 2014 08:49

              Asheville VA was excellent. They jumped on Bill's case immediately even though he was an alcoholic and emaciated by waiting too long to do something. However he was a special case. In the front of his folder was a recap of him being in an "experiment" whereby 20 new grunts were given a swap and told not to apply it until told while something was applied to their wrist. He and one other person swabbed off the material immediately, In 6 months the others were dead. It was mustard gas. He and the other guy were asked to come back to FT. Benning, Ga for a follow-up in about 1992. They told him the material was highly carcinogenic. Because of Hal Rogers investigation, this was verified and was right there for all to see when they opened his file.

              We miss him everyday. Barb and younger brother call each and have long talks about it daily.

               Local Hospice was also excellent.

               The only person we had a problem with was an EMT to wanted Bill to just jump up and get on the gurney.

                Asheville VA was swamped with people. Many came from areas where their VA was not so good.

                The common complaint from staff was that like Bill, most waited too long to get care. Many have no one to help them at all. Or their family refuses like Bill's kids, mother other family members but one brother.


                   See ya, Bill.



Posted by: John C Sanderson | Aug 21, 2014 01:29

You know, Mr. Lilly, offering personal opinions and observations is one thing, and pontificating is another thing altogether. You are guilty of a lot of self-righteous pontification in this post.


1. I believe Rev. Ploch made his point that part of our tax money should be going to help those among us who are suffering. I don't see him suggesting anywhere that taxes should be raised. There is no need for you to hyperventilate and suggest that government can take from you without limits, or that government based services designed to provide for the mental and physical well being of our citizenry are recipes for "social chaos." Just calm down, and take a deep breath.

2. And no disrespect intended here, but I think the concept of "tithing" is a little more complex and rooted in ancient history than simply offering it as a "God given" limitation. As best I can tell, there really is no mention of tithing in the New Testament, and a lot of the rules laid out in the Old Testament - one of which has to do with tithing - were part of the theocratic society that existed under ancient Judaism.

3. While it may be very gracious and generous of you to offer to "counsel" your friends and acquaintances regarding their "emotional well being," I'm guessing you're not a mental health professional. And the fact is that some things are best left to highly trained professionals. Dealing with severely depressed individuals, or people with addictive tendencies, or people who become suicidal/self-destructive is a job for people with some actual knowledge and specialized training, not for people with good intentions. Surely you wouldn't offer to do a root canal for a suffering acquaintance, so why would you think you can replace a professional when it comes to mental health?

4. And seriously, it is most inappropriate for you to pass judgment upon Robin Williams or his family or his church. How well did you know Mr. Williams to be able to make the assessment that his "history of drugs and alcohol" was "self-inflicted" and that it affected his mental state? Why could it not be that his "mental state" (i.e., clinical depression - a medical condition) led him to his struggles with drugs and alcohol? What do you know about what anyone near and dear to Mr. Williams did to try to help him? I'm guessing you don't know a thing about his intimate family matters, so comments like these are definitely best kept to yourself.

5. I can only conclude from your final few comments that you don't care one whit for anyone other than your immediate family and close acquaintances. You will offer to care for them, but evidently you are willing to sit on your hands in silence while others you don't know personally may suffer immeasurably. The fact that people like yourself - i.e., people who profess to be caring, Christian folks who follow the teachings of Jesus, and so on - are willing to allow someone you've "never met and have no reason to meet" to endure a life of abject poverty or physical pain and suffering provides even more justification for the creation of societal "safety nets" that are operated by our duly elected governments. Government isn't the answer to everything, and virtually no one argues that it is. But neither is government an inherently evil entity with designs on taking your money and your personal freedoms from you. One of the intended purposes of our government, according to the Preamble to the Constitution, was to promote the "general welfare." In my opinion, that means that, as a society, we need to help one another, and honestly, someone's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) shouldn't have a thing to do with it.

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Aug 21, 2014 07:56

Point #1: I see your point.  I might have mistaken "more doors to open" as a call for more resources.  (I'm breathing deeply now.)

Point #2: New Testament folks also recognize Old Testament.  Tithing is still accepted guidance in Christian churches.

Point #3: I'm sure there are extreme circumstances that are best served by highly trained professionals.  I wouldn't consider myself a highly-trained mental health professional.  But if we're talking generalities, most people can pick up most of the slack -- if there is any.  It's too easy to think "someone else will do it".  Shared accountability is usually not effective when something needs getting done.

Point #4: I do not judge Mr. Williams.  I simply wonder if there were ways that could have (should have) helped him before resorting to "he needed professional help" (that taxes might fund).  I think we can all benefit from some reminding that we're all related to family, friends, neighbors, and churches.  Yet so many don't even know all their neighbors -- much less know them enough to recognize when/if one might be troubled.

Point #5: I'll throw the personal attacks out and just respond by stating that we agree that government isn't the answer to everything.  Since we all have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, it could be debated that when one no longer wants his life, that might just be none of government's concern.  That encroaches on the subject of morality - which is defined by religion.  So I would disagree that helping one another has nothing to do with religion.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. Sanders.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Aug 21, 2014 08:31

               There is not nor has there ever been a "right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." The DOI was never used as a Founding Document except to declare OUR independence. It was however derived primarily from George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights(June 12, 1776) Article 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety".

            By this means We are a limited-governance republic whose duty is to equally protect its citizens.

             People of Robin Williams stature/wealth do not need taxpayer provided government services that they can afford to obtain on their own dime. It is "the least of" US that do.



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