Last week I found out that a friend of mine had ended her own life. I was shocked to receive the news. She was a lively person with an outgoing spirit and happy go lucky attitude. I would’ve never imagined her doing such a thing, but apparently, she did.
She worked in an establishment that I frequented every day. I know several of the people that patronize that particular place and most of the employees call me by name. She had become an important personality in that place over the years. In fact, because she was such an outgoing person and much louder than the rest, the silence the day that I found out was deafening. Not only was she silenced, but also her demise had silenced the otherwise vocal crowd.
It was shock, no doubt. I noticed pretty quickly that the folks there were in shock. Well, they should have been. Death comes to us all. We each understand its immanence. But we hardly ever expect it to come to a person voluntarily. We should not expect it that way, by way of surrender. We intrinsically understand that surrender is not an option.
It’s a sad story that I’ve heard more than once this year. It’s an all too common occurrence this time of year. You probably know the stats. More people by far commit suicide between Thanksgiving and New Years than the rest of the year.
It’s hard to say what gets into someone’s mind to drive him or her to the point of taking his or her own life. Most of the time it’s hopelessness and despair. Some circumstance or set of circumstances has clouded their future in such a way as to blind them of any hope. There’s more to it than that, of course, but basically, that’s the case. Hope is stolen, despair sets in, and in a moment, a person sees death as friend rather than foe. Death becomes a solution rather than a problem. It becomes a peace-bringer rather than a life-destroyer. A person who crosses the threshold of considering suicide to committing suicide, surrenders to a distortion of the reality of what death is, if only for a moment.
It’s not our fault, but I don’t believe we always do well as we speak into people’s lives about death. I know there are those who suffer so greatly that thoughts of suicide are chronic. If we better represent truth, it might help those people, but there are those who are more spontaneous. Those caught in a whirlwind of circumstance need our reminders of what death really is. Something that we may not always understand explicitly, something that is not preached enough from pulpits or the lives of Christians, is that death is the enemy and surrender is not an option.
As Christians, especially those of us who are Reformed, we emphasize spiritual death. There is the idea that our persons, our wills, are enslaved to our sinful desires and will not, indeed can not move toward Christ or his salvation. The Scriptures describe this in many places as being spiritually dead. This spiritual death is a result of man’s fall. There is another death though.
Physical death is a result of the fall, as well. “There are two things we must do”, the saying goes, “die and pay taxes”. Each person understands at some level, that we all die physically. Most of us understand that death is the way or means by which we pass from this life to the next. For the most part, people believe in some life after death and that it may be a better existence than this one. Christianity and it’s various cult imitations, Islam, and Judaism each teach of some better existence after a person dies. Most of them teach of judgment as well, where unbelievers are punished, but at least there is taught a continued existence.
The problem is that, although death is the means God uses to bring people from one existence to another, it is not friend but foe. Death itself does not bring peace. Death itself does not end trouble. It is not death that brings eternal joy. Death does not contain in itself an escape from present pain or future fear. If one seeks hope, it will not be found in their own death. There is no rest found in death, because death is merely a passing from one life to another. It is only the next life that may or may not contain those blissful hopes. The lie, in this case, is that there exists an escape from life in death. It is just the opposite.
Death, the enemy of all of humanity, provides no such escape, but humanity is losing its healthy fear of death. To our mothers the message of convenience is preached and the death of the unborn is ignored. To the elderly the avoidance of discomfort is surveyed as the ultimate good and life is marginalized as the perpetuation of pain. War is weighed on the scales of the almighty dollar instead of the graves of soldiers. Life itself has become merely material and philosophically purposeless while personhood has been reduced to the firing of synapses and conciseness is held inside of the brain. Modernity has stolen the sting of death, but it still comes, all the same.
It will come on its own, with or without the new religion of science. Over and over, death is the funnel that sifts men into eternity totally against their will. It comes to the teacher and the student. It takes the parent and the child. It finds the soldier and the businessman. It kills the preacher and the scientist. Death doesn’t need our help and it is no respecter of persons. Whether through accident, sickness, or age, it’s coming to us all. It is a conquered foe, but it has not surrendered the fight. It is a means used by God but it is a tool of the devil. The lie that it is an ally is a lie of the devil. Those who surrender to death have been fooled by the lie and have dragged those who they leave behind into a den of deception with them.
Death steals hope from the living. It robs peace from those left behind. Death compounds trouble for those who remain. It increases temporal sorrow. Pain is multiplied for the mortal. To the living, death preaches a message of regret and loneliness; it expounds falsehoods like worry and despair. It’s gospel is gloom and it’s admonition is absurd, and to make the excuse that your death is some “help” to those living mourners is to become a priest of pain and a schoolmaster of selfishness.
Only in Christ, can a person find healing, comfort, and the solution to death. At the cross, the root of death was cut off and the empty tomb screams Christ’s victory over it. Christ is humanity’s only hope to overcome this enemy. Those lost without him are truly lost without hope. But still they must fight this human condition and hope for a rescuer to save them from their fatal destiny. To be human is to die, but it is not to die willingly.
I am reminded of the humanity in the words of Winston Churchill as he described the necessity and tenacity of the English fight for Britain as they sat on the brink of total destruction in World War II. He told his people, and the people of the free world “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
That is resolve and we should obtain the same fortitude when life seems to overcome our will to fight. As Churchill said in another speech,
“never give in-never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Do not give in. Do not stop fighting. Go to the cross. The battle has been won there. Dwell at the tomb. It echoes of deaths last breath. Pray for rescue! Whatever happens, always remember, where death is concerned, surrender is not an option.
I watched my favorite college football team (TN Vols) overcome impossible odds this year in their first SEC win in some time. The odds for a comeback with less than two minutes to go and a deficit of two touchdowns, could only be overcome by a miracle, it seemed. Perseverance and the refusal to surrender made the difference though. Surrender was not an option and they were rewarded with new life and an overtime win.
I’ll close with one more Churchill quote…
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Don’t ever let life get you down to the point of releasing it from your grip. Persevere! Fight! Never give up!
Surrender is not an option.