Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is this life worth living?

Yesterday I spoke in chapel at Wheaton College on the topic of grieving a suicide, because of the suicides of three recent alumni over the past year and a half. The talk hasn't been posted online yet [Update: now available here], but here's an excerpt on whether life is worth living that relates a little to the Advent season:

A larger question that suicide raises is whether life is worth living. Some of you may be wrestling with this right now. And let me say this: This human life is worth living – so much so that God himself came to earth to live it. God didn’t necessarily need to become incarnate in Jesus. In his infinite wisdom, he could have had other ways to accomplish our salvation. But God created this world and our human life and declared it good. And this Advent season, we affirm that God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus. In doing so, he validated the human experience. Jesus tells us that this life is worth living.

When Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t simply tell Mary and Martha, “Oh, he’s in a better place now.” No, he wept because death should not separate us. Death is not the way it is supposed to be. So Jesus brought Lazarus back to life – even though he would die again someday. But the raising of Lazarus is another declaration that this human life is worth living. And it points to the ultimate truth that life will triumph over death.

The Bible has an example of suicide prevention. Acts 16 tells about when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi. When an earthquake opened the doors of the prison, the Philippian jailer thought that the prisoners had all escaped. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself rather than face execution. But Paul cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” He intervened in the jailer’s life and stopped him from killing himself. He gave him a reason to live and led the jailer and his whole family to Christ.

We can do the same. If you see people who are in despair, tell them, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here! We are here for you.” The warning signs of suicide are prolonged depression and hopelessness, isolation or withdrawal, loss of interest in usual activities, giving away possessions, suicidal thoughts or fantasies, and suicide attempts. If you see these warning signs in a loved one, get help! Talk to them about it. Ask if they’re doing okay. Don't worry that you might be giving them ideas. You're probably not. Better to talk about it than to remain silent until it's too late.

My father’s suicide made me look into my own family history, and I learned that there’s some history of depression. And I remembered that back in high school one summer, I was pretty depressed about a girl who didn’t want to go out with me. I was at a summer camp, and I was acting all depressed. I learned later that my roommate and the camp counselors were concerned enough about me that they put me on suicide watch. They worried about me and talked with me to see how I was doing. I’m grateful that they kept an eye on me. They kept me from slipping further into depression. That’s what community does. We are here to help each other through the tough parts of life.

So if you or someone you know is struggling with depression, get help. There is no shame in going to the counseling center. If needed, ask a professor or pastor for help. In an emergency, call a suicide hotline or even the police. This life is worth living. Help one another live.


chris wignall said...

I haven't commented on a post in a while, but this one calls out to me. I am so glad you have raised this from the deep secret holes of church and shone some light. Kudos to you and Wheaton for being willing to surface something so taboo, and moreso for bringing intelligent and sincere theological reflection to it.
Peace of all kinds to you and yours

Chip Gorman said...

Off-topic from your post, but I had a question on The Suburban Christian that came up during our discussion of the chapter on neighborhoods. It was agreed that modern neighborhoods can foster isolation. What was less agreed on was why people succumb to isolation at home. One theory was that work these days is usually more social than in the past. We are overcome with interactions during the day in a way that was not the case in the past, and we are ready for some isolated time when we get home. Not that this is an excuse for ignoring our neighbor, but have you seen anything that would support that idea?

Anonymous said...

This is an important topic for many reasons...not the least of which is your focus -- that life is INDEED worth living. This is an incredibly overwhelming time for so many people that it's easy to despair of the future and lose all hope. I think we've got to work hard to give more of our focus to making faith the center of our lives. Perhaps in letting more of the light of Christ shine forth from us we can help others who feel depressed and overwhelmed resist the slide into an even darker place. And perhaps focusing on helping others can help us keep from sliding down into that hole as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Al for this very personal and deep reflection, as well as the always timely message.

I would love to hear how Christian hope influenced your thinking and life.

Also, do you have too many is's in the title of this entry?

Al Hsu said...

timeforthetruth - Aaugh, typo. Thanks for the notification; I fixed it. Even editors need editing.

Chip - There are probably numerous factors and overlapping reasons for increased isolation at home. Some sociological, some psychological, some cultural. Your group's theory about work being social is certainly part of it. An umbrella reason that would include that might be that there are now more double-income families where both parents work outside the home, so evening family time is more protected. And the general cultural trend to focus on one's own family (especially kids and their activities) leads to increased cocoonity. And for those who have long commutes, by the time you get home, you don't have much time to do anything and probably don't want to go out or interact with others. Lots of contributing factors!

Linda said...

Al, I just finished reading "The Suburban Christian" and loved it. (Especially that discussion on your book buying habits which closely mirror my own. I'll have you know, however, that to obtain your book I did something I rarely do: I ILL'd it! - sorry, no royalty.)

Anyway, I would like to try and adapt "The Suburban Christian" to the small group study I'm involved with. (I have an inherently difficult time with small groups, in that we all sit around talk talk talk, but never corporately LIVE OUT what we talk about.)

Anyway (again), I was wondering if you have any official or unofficial supplementary materials that go with the book - study questions, audio version of the book, or any other ideas that might help me "sell" my group on doing this as both a study and a group challenge.

I appreciate any suggestions you might have, especially at this very busy time of year.

Regards from a complete stranger,
Linda Sexauer
Anchorage, AK

Al Hsu said...

Linda - One of my readers created a study guide/lesson plan/discussion questions based on the book for his church. I can't figure out how to upload documents to the blog for download, so e-mail me at ahsu at ivpress dot com and I'll send you the files.

Laceless Sneakers said...

Al, I wanted to contact you regarding this particular post, but did not feel comfortable doing so openly. I couldn't find an email address or a way to contact you privately. Is this possible? Thanks.

Al Hsu said...

Laceless - you can e-mail me at ahsu at ivpress dot com.