A Tragic Week for Suicides June 09 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I was originally heading in another direction on this blog, but two high-profile suicides this week caught my attention. Kate Spade, renowned fashion designer and entrepreneur was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5 at age 55. She had started the business from scratch and developed it into a multi-million dollar empire.

Anthony Bourdain, a gifted chef, storyteller, and writer was found unresponsive in his hotel room in France on June 8, at age 61. He had taken his own life just as he was working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series, “Parts Unknown.” Not that long ago, in 2014, we were shocked to hear of another high profile suicide, that of Robin Williams.

The Center for Disease Control indicates that suicide rates have increased 25% since 1999, to a level of 45,000 in the U.S. in 2016. There was an increase in every state except for Nevada, which already had a higher-than-average suicide rate. Men have a suicide rate that is three to five times the rate of women.

As we know from the news and previous blogs, the drug overdose death rate has increased to alarming levels, with deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016 numbering over 42,000, according to the CDC, a staggering five times higher than in 1999. Total drug overdose deaths in 2016 numbered 64,000, a portion of which may have been suicides. Many families have been tragically impacted, losing children, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends in often very unexpected, surprising ways.

If anything, the rising suicide rate speaks to the hopelessness that many people experience. A suicide can be thought of as an expression of lost hope or result from an unwillingness to deal with difficult life situations. While the high profile suicides involve people who we might think have reached a pinnacle of success and achievement, there are underlying struggles that may or not be apparent to the rest of us. Many of those who take their own lives have experienced tremendous loss, become destitute, or have committed offenses or face consequences that they no longer think they can face. These are not high profile to the world, but are certainly high profile to their families and friends.

These are the very people to whom Jesus calls out “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

When Shashi mentioned the suicides to me this morning, my first reaction was the phrase of the Steve Green song, “People Need the Lord.” It is an oldie, and we don’t sing it much anymore, but I went back to look at the lyrics and oh how appropriate they are for the times we live in:

Every day they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain, Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears.
Chorus:
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.

People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?
We are called to take His light, To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost, For sharing Life with one who's lost?
Through His love our hearts can feel, All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life, Only we can share.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For people need the Lord.


 

If you have or can access this song, it’s well worth listening to again. I cannot listen to this song without it bringing tears to my eyes.

So after our discussion about suicides, I rode my bike to the grocery store to pick up a few things. I came out with a backpack heavy laden with milk, fruits, and a couple of other items, and wouldn’t you know it. There was a young man sitting on the sidewalk outside looking destitute, needy, and asking for some money for food. I initially smiled and said “not today,” conveniently thinking that any money may not go toward the intended purpose. And of course, “he should not be doing this in front of the store anyway.” I got on my bike and got ready to ride away, when the words of the song came into my head, Steve, don’t you know that “People Need the Lord!” I simply could not walk away. I could not do it, as inconvenient and unpredictable as it may have been to go back. I could not go against what seemed to be the Spirit’s clear call at that point.

So, I went back and asked his name, and at my request, Anthony told me a little bit of his story. I happened to have a paperback Gospel of John in my backpack, which we try to use as an evangelism tool at our church. Remembering from some our recent sermons in the Book of John, we started to get into how the Gospel of John is about belief - believing in Jesus, the light of the world. I wrote my name and phone number on the book and urged him to call me if he wanted to go to church and learn more.

It is hard to tell how much of our conversation sank in, but as he headed to the fast food place next door, and we exchanged good-byes again as I passed him on the bike, I was grateful for the “people need the Lord” reminder. Anthony may or may not call or show up at church, but I thanked the Lord for this reminder that people can be hours or days from passing from this earth, and they do, indeed, need the Lord.

Although the focus of BCF has been biblical counseling and discipleship, the starting point is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our motivation for living, and our example of compassion for others. It is only by His grace and mercy that I do not sink into the depths of despair in which many people find themselves in. As believers, we come to realize how often the Scriptures are overlooked as the ultimate source of encouragement, hope, and understanding of the difficult circumstances of life that might otherwise bring us to the same point of desperation as those contemplating suicide.

And where would I be if it were not for that person at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1971 who reached out to me and invited me to a Christian event, where I saw the love of Jesus displayed? Where would I be without Sammy To, the humble Chinese grad student, bringing me into his little discipleship group? These were individuals who had not heard the song “People Need the Lord,” for it had not yet been written, but they knew that I needed the Lord. May God encourage you, as He has me, to pay attention to those around us and be ready to reach out to a world that becomes more and more needy every day.

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Steve Smith