(Editor's note: September is National Suicide Month. This was originally published in print in the AFA Journal, and online here.)
What does God think about suicide?
This was the question Dr. Matthew Sleeth typed into his Google search bar one day – a question that would draw his research, ministry, and focus to one of the most widespread causes of death in America. Suicide.
The National Institute of Mental Health reported that in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34 in America, ultimately claiming a total of 47,511 lives that year.
A former emergency room doctor, Sleeth has firsthand experience with the effects of suicide. In response to the growing devastation of suicide, Sleeth has written Hope Always: How To Be a Force for Life in a Culture of Suicide. (See below.)
“The national suicide rate is 14 per a hundred thousand,” Sleeth told AFA Journal. “That goes as high as 30 per a hundred thousand, like in Wyoming. That’s as high as it’s ever been. In the next year, 10 million will think about [suicide]. One and a half million [attempts] will be seen in emergency departments.”
Furthermore, Sleeth maintains the nation’s suicidal trend is much worse than these statistics communicate.
“It is infinitely harder to kill yourself today than it was in 1930,” he explained. “A better measure of the activity around suicide isn’t the number of people who are dying from it. It’s the number of people who are trying it.”
Because of medical advancements and emergency room technology, many suicide attempts are now thwarted by doctors.
“If we transported that one and a half million [who will be seen in the ER] back to 1930 and treated them with what was available then,” Sleeth said, “I think we’d see rates anywhere between 100 to 300 per a hundred thousand. No society in history has experienced anything like that.”
Sleeth recounted one incident that illustrates the destructive power of suicide. Sleeth was a guest on a Louisville, Kentucky, radio show, and just before going on-air, one of the show hosts asked Sleeth for a favor.
“Somebody I haven’t seen for decades recently got in touch with me,” the radio host said. “He’s lived a very, very hard life. [His] two sons have committed suicide. And he also found his son-in-law’s body at a dumpster where he’d killed himself. [This man] has a gun and a plan – would you mind if he sat in the radio show with us?”
Sleeth said OK, and the man who had lost three family members to suicide sat and listened to Sleeth share his heart. Afterward, Sleeth and others laid hands on the man and prayed for him.
A suicide epidemic should come as no surprise to a culture that regularly and unashamedly devalues human life. From hundreds of thousands of abortions performed every year to soaring murder rates in America’s cities, the inherent value of human life is routinely ignored.
“The great wave of [suicide] is the despair that comes when society unmoors itself from the anchor of God,” Sleeth explained.
Just how did America become a country set adrift in a storm of suicide? Some root causes can be found in the education and media arenas. Both the secular worldview taught in schools and the blatant sin modeled in entertainment only encourage more suicides.
Schools teach America’s youth that instead of being created by a loving and gracious God, with each child having purpose and value, each is instead the product of a “big bang.” In other words, they are nothing more than an accident, devoid of any true worth or destiny.
“If I believe that I’m a cosmic mistake,” said Sleeth, “ultimately nothing has any meaning.”
Progressive media voices join schools in devaluing human life by modeling suicide with productions such as 13 Reasons Why. In this series, a teenage girl commits suicide – a virtual how-to depiction – as one last act of revenge against 13 peers who wronged her.
On April 18, 2017, 14-year-old Anna Bright committed suicide after binge-watching this series. She killed herself in her bathtub at home, mimicking the suicide on 13 Reasons Why.
“Overall, online suicide queries increased by 19% during the first 19 days after the release of 13 Reasons Why,” reported Rebecca Davis, AFAJ writer (AFAJ, 5/18).
“Each year,” Sleeth said, “Americans spend around eleven solid weeks watching television. We spend another five and a half solid weeks on social media sites.”
“If we were to take Paul seriously in Philippians 4:8 about what we should fill ourselves with,” he added, “that’s pretty much the opposite of what I’m going to find on Amazon Prime and Netflix.”
Pinpointing the real answer to the suicide riddle, Sleeth contrasted today’s secular mindset with the truth of God’s Word concerning the value of a human life: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
The Lord values all people and calls His followers to do the same. Conversely, Satan opposes human value and longs to turn children of God from this knowledge. From the beginning of the world, in the Garden of Eden, Satan has been convincing humans to choose the path of death instead of life.
“Suicide is Satan’s plan for our lives, not Christ’s,” Sleeth writes in Hope Always. “Death by suicide results when people listen to Satan’s lies, not God’s truth.”
Reasons for hope
The temptation is great to despair and lose hope at the sight of continual death and destruction in this world. However, this state of suicidal depravity currently raging in America is not too difficult – nor the people too lost – for the gracious arms of Jesus Christ.
Several weeks after speaking on that Louisville radio show, Sleeth received a text message concerning the grieving father who’d lost so much.
It was a photo of the man being baptized.
“When God creates something,” Sleeth summarized, “and He says it’s very good, that’s something worth fighting for. That’s human life.”
That’s exactly what Sleeth continues to do: Fight for human life. His work urges and inspires others to reach out and speak into the lives of those struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, a simple act that can mean the difference between life and death.
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).
Find more hope and healing
“I want those who are depressed among us to live,” Sleeth writes in Hope Always. “I want you to be able to help others to live. We who live in the age of suicide are indeed our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.”
This is his aim – to empower and equip believers to step into the lives of those considering suicide.
Hope Always includes a tool kit, which contains practical resources and Bible verses that will help readers encourage and minister to depressed or suicidal people.