The God Squad: The difficult questions behind suicide

Q: I've suffered from depression for years, and at least twice have come close to committing suicide. Many factors made me hold back. For the past six years, the longest period since I first sought help, I've been on anti-depressant medication and receive regular therapy.

I have no current plans to do myself in and don't want to face that choice again. However, for me, the effects of depression have been so erosive that I believe it can be compared to many long-term physical ailments that are eventually fatal. Thus, it is possible for me to envision taking steps to end the pain on my own terms.

I'm not a religious person and am inclined toward agnosticism and sometimes total atheism, so being told that suicide is a sin doesn't register with me. Be that as it may, I acknowledge the hurt that suicide can cause others, which makes me feel guilty. If I ultimately choose that way out, I will try to prepare myself and my loved ones for the aftermath. In my own inner hell, this is quite a burden, but I sincerely feel it may be the best option for me. I think the notion that suicide is sin contributes to this inner hell for others, too, rather than being a persuasive force in refusing that option. Any thoughts? — Anonymous via godsquadquestion

A: Thank you for your painful and eloquent Cri de Coeur (cry of the heart). Your main point — that labeling suicide a sin just makes suicidal people feel more guilty — is true and I make no apologies for it at all. Guilt has an unnecessarily bad name in our culture.

Guilt seems to be the label stuck on anything people say to dissuade us from what we want to do. However, not everything we want to do should be done. Sometimes our burdens blind us to our blessings. At such a moment, guilt can be a healthy reminder that we're not alone in this broken life we lead.

Our lives intersect with the lives of many other people who care about us, and even love us, when we can't find a way to love ourselves. This understanding is accessible to everyone, including those who haven't yet found their way to faith. In fact, it seems this very awareness was one factor calling you back from the brink of suicide.

I'm glad you felt the pull of love through your pain. I pray that when you enter the fog of depression again you'll have a memory of the light that's entered your life along with the darkness. As Isaiah understood (45:7), God is the maker of both light and darkness. To me, this means that God can be found everywhere and at any time. If you can't identify that light of hope as radiating from God, that's fine by me. What I pray for is that you never lose track of the light.

Q: Since moving to the Triangle area of North Carolina over four years ago, I've enjoyed reading your column. As an evangelical Christian, I don't always agree with you, but some of your answers for Christians have contained good advice. Your recent response to "M," however, suggests you believe there's an open-door policy in heaven.

Several passages in scripture suggest otherwise. Psalm 9, I think, says it pretty clearly: "Those who seek the Lord and trust in Him will not be forsaken" (v10). But "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (v17).

I'm not a Bible scholar, but my reading of the text seems to point to a just — as well as loving — God. How could He be a just God if he allowed "almost every soul" into heaven, as you believe?

We're all human and incapable of living a perfect life. Therefore, we can't rely on ourselves for salvation. All men need to rely on God for salvation. As a Christian, I believe that reliance is in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. — D., via godsquadquestion

A: I respect and honor your faith. In fact, I fully agree with you when you say, "We can't rely on ourselves for salvation. All men need to rely on God for salvation."

Our difference is only in how God extends that promise of salvation.

I think the Torah and its laws offer a reliable promise, and you believe that the atoning death of Jesus is spiritually necessary. In the fullness of time, God will sort it all out. As for Psalm 9, the doctrine of body and soul and heaven and hell, as it evolved in rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, was not present. "Hell" in Psalm 9 actually refers to a place called "Sheol," which is not hell but a place people go after death.

When Heaven (the Jewish term is "World to Come") and Hell (Hebrew word is Gehenom) finally did take root in Judaism and Christianity, the Jewish view was not an open door policy, but rather the rabbinic teaching that "The righteous of all nations have a place in the World to Come." I hope to see you there, but if you're right, then after what I hope will be many years of continued life, please give my best to Fr. Tom.

Q: Can you name for me the attributes that you feel God would want a perfect human to exhibit and adhere to in order to reach His/Her afterlife kingdom? While I already have my own incomplete list, I feel compelled to ask you, as a practitioner in such matters, to update my designations. Even if you choose not to use this letter in your column, please send me your ideas by e-mail. I have learned so much from your words of wisdom. — A., West Palm Beach, Fla., via

A: 1. Do justice. 2. Love mercy. 3. Walk humbly with God. I wish I could take credit for that list, but the credit goes to the Prophet Micah (6:8.)

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