We can no longer deny that America has a suicide problem. From popular shows like “13 Reasons Why,” to rapper Logic’s Grammy-winning song, “1-800-273-8255,” mental health issues are increasingly at the forefront of our cultural discourse.
Last weekend, American evangelicals were rocked by the news that California megachurch pastor Andrew Stoecklein had taken his own life. In a sermon delivered just days before he killed himself inside his own church, the Inland Hills Church pastor spoke openly about an ongoing struggle with severe anxiety and depression.
People are desperate for answers to this issue. Many of us live in anxiety — if not for ourselves, then for the lives of our family members, friends, coworkers, or favorite celebrities. While all of us can agree that suicide and the mental health issues that often lead to it are tragic and heartrending, if we really want to solve this problem, we need to acknowledge that suicide is more than tragic: suicide is evil.
Now let’s be clear: I believe the vast majority of people who commit suicide aren’t evil. But the act of suicide itself is a grave sin.
After a celebrity or community member commits suicide, there is a popular tendency, even among Christian circles, to paint the act as a terrible and unfortunate thing, but not necessarily a sin. Perhaps we do this to honor the deceased, or to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness and severe depression.
But more than a mental health crisis, the despair at the heart of the suicide epidemic points to the fundamentally spiritual nature of this issue. Setting aside an individual’s external motives or degree of moral agency, suicide itself is the ultimate act of rebellion against the Giver of Life. This makes all the difference when we begin to discuss how to combat an issue as aggressive and widespread as suicide.
Pastor Stoecklein’s widow, Kayla, seemed to understand that her husband’s battle went beyond depression. In a message shared on social media earlier this week, the grieving mother of three indicated that the pastor was being pursued spiritually by the “enemy.”
“The enemy knew God had huge plans for your life,” she wrote. “The enemy saw how God was using your gifts, abilities, and unique teaching style to reach thousands of lives for him. The enemy hated it and he pursued you incessantly, taunting you and torturing you in ways that you were unable to express to anyone.”
Of course, there’s the question of culpability — we cannot rule on any individual’s moral state at the time of death. But we can imagine a case where an individual who murders someone may not be morally culpable — that doesn’t change the fact that murder is a serious sin.
“We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us,” the Catechism notes (CCC 2280). “It is not ours to dispose of.”
Further, suicide “offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations” (CCC 2281).
No one is more pleased by the deception surrounding suicide than Satan himself. The Devil is alive and at work in the world, and with evils like the recent revelations of sexual abuse in the Church, the increasing acceptance of state-sanctioned murder in the form of abortion and euthanasia, and the alarming rate of suicide, it’s clear that he has become more brazen in his attempts to claim as many eternal souls as possible.
By trivializing or denying the sinful nature of these acts, we make ourselves vulnerable to their influence.
In a world in which people routinely deny that life has any transcendent meaning, or that God has sovereignty over life, is it any wonder that people suffering from mental health issues view suicide as their only escape?
For decades, the secular Left has promoted a culture of death, and the suicide epidemic is a product of that movement. Certainly, we need to raise awareness of mental health issues and offer support to the afflicted. But the real solution to America’s suicide problem will only be found in a culture that values life.
In our discussions surrounding suicide, let’s be honest about what we’re dealing with — sin — and let us continue to pray for the spiritual healing of those tormented in various ways by this evil.