Questions That You Need To Answer

Global University calls them the Great Questions of Life; Forbes lists 35 Questions That Will Change Your Life; Bhudda left home to find answers to six questions.  A vice-presidential candidate, James Stockdale (1992), asked them simply as two basics: Who am I?  Why am I here?

Questions 1However one phrases them, these are questions that we answer every day by our choices and actions.  And our answers define us, help us find our place in the world, and clarify what we think is important.  These questions may be unspoken, but the answers we live out clearly show that we are addressing them.  The next four blogs will deal with what I have come to believe are four central questions that an intelligent person must specifically answer if he or she is to live a consistent and fulfilling life.

I am not in a fight with anyone, so let me be clear.  For the purpose of these blogs we assume there is a First Cause, from which all else in the universe sprang.  We assume there is meaning in life and that we are not just accidents of chemical reactions and survival of the fittest (whatever that means*) and we assume that there is order to the universe.

The first of these assumptions is self-evident.  Everything came from something.  You and I are here because our biological parents engaged in activity that resulted in a mother’s pregnancy.  We can trace this back to the earliest man and woman, and that man and woman came from something.  Whether you are a theist, deist or atheist, this causal relationship is clear, though we will differ on from what that first man and woman came.  Taken to its logical conclusion, The Big Bang, at the beginning of time, was caused by Something, (who for the theist is a Someone).

The second assumption is less obvious until one considers the nature of meaning.  As Lewis noted, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”   I would expand this to suggest that color or shading would be meaningless.  We would never wonder what color a rose is in a universe without light, nor would we wonder whether one thing was brighter than another.  That we may argue over color or shades of brightness is testament that there is light in the universe.  That we argue over whether or not there is meaning is testament to the fact that there is meaning available in the universe.

*(As for the “survival of the fittest,” the naturalist or Darwinian evolutionist must beg this question, a logical fallacy.  If you ask, how do you know this particular animal is the fittest, the answer will be, “because it survived.”  Thus he has defined “the fittest” as the one that survived, begging the question, how do you know only the fittest survived?  The answer will be because those which were not the “fittest” did not survive, this in spite of myriads of “primitive” bacteria, amoeba, and animals that require very specific and limited environments for survival.)

The third assumption is the basis of all science.  Contrary to modern sociologists, primitive man was not a gullible ignoramus who explained what he did not understand by creating gods and demons.  Nothing in one’s experience would lead him to assume a being greater than himself caused a thunderstorm or earthquake . . . unless he had reason to believe there might be Someone behind it.  Men and women have always been basically skeptical of anything we do not understand, preferring natural explanations to Divine ones.  As in the argument for meaning in the universe, no one would arbitrarily create a god or demon to explain something unless he had some experience with “gods” and demons, some reason to associate a cause and effect.  Atheism has always provided a much more comforting explanation and the most natural course for a man, unless one has had an encounter that suggests someone “bigger than me” did this.  That the relations between causes and effects often get confused is not a unique feature of ancient dummies, but continues to plague mankind whenever we run into answers we may not like.

My hope, if you are visiting this blog, is that you will put aside the answers you prefer to the questions it will raise over the next four weekends, and that you will consider altering your world-view and belief system based on logical conclusions to the Questions That You Need To Answer.  The fact is, as we opened this blog, you are answering these questions every day by your choices and actions.  And by those answers, you are defining yourself, attempting to find your place in the world, and showing what you believe is most important.  These questions have been asked before, since the Garden of Eden, if you believe the Creation story.  And you can find assorted answers to challenge your world-view or support your world-view, to whatever degree you need comforting.  But most important is to remember what Paul Little said, “Believing something doesn’t make it true.  A thing is true or not regardless of whether anyone believes it.”

Questions 3Starting next week, March 7, 2016, The Questions That You Need To Answer are:
1. What is truth?
2. Why are you here?
3. How can you hope?
4. Where can you find love?

To Be or Not To Be . . . addendum

Please keep in mind as you read this, my heart.  I am not in a position to judge or condemn anyone, if you have read last week’s blog.  And my heart breaks for the suicidal and the problems that take them to the brink of this tragedy.  I also weep for the families and friends affected by the suicide, but we must be clear in our understanding of what the Bible teaches, as painful as that may be: suicide is never God’s will. 

There are those who think “killing” is always against the will of God, but both Hebrew and Greek have different words for “kill” and “murder,” and it is “murder” that is forbidden in the Bible.  As a wise friend of mine says, “Don’t be impressed; you can look it up.”

Suicide world wideSuicide comes under the narrower heading of “murder,” and not the more generic “killing,” because it qualifies as an act of planned slaying of oneself.  Just as the accidental killing of another person would come under the legal term of “manslaughter” and not “murder,” one’s accidental death does not involve the planning and intention required to make it “murder.”  (More on this in a minute.)  But the planned and intentional taking of another’s life IS murder, and the planned and taking of one’s own life IS ALSO murder.

The Bible never excuses one from suffering or difficulty in life, and in fact, promises that endurance of suffering can merit rewards equal to the suffering (1 Peter 4:12-15; Hebrews 12:7-11).  Furthermore there is a promise that The Creator will not test you beyond your ability to bear it (1 Corinthian 10:13).  And if that relief is to come by dying for The Name of Jesus, there is even a promise of special reward that assures the martyr that his/her death is not in vain (Revelation 6:9-11).  Paul was willing even to die for the name of Jesus (Acts 21:13) which, in fact, tradition holds that he did when he was beheaded under Emperor Nero.  In fact, all the first apostles, except John, died because of their testimony of Jesus.  It is important to note, none of these men were rebellious or troublemakers to the local government; none of them sought to take the lives of others; and none of them sought death as though they were looking for a reward.  But each of them faced death with the assurance that Jesus would be standing at the right hand of Father to greet them, just as Stephen had seen (Acts 7:54-60).

However, this bring us to another conundrum with regard to suicide.  It is my opinion that many suicides are “accidental.”  That many people “attempt” suicide and do not succeed suggests these are actually looking for help and hoping that somehow the “suicide attempt” will catch someone’s attention and bring relief to whatever problems are causing this person to tempt fate.  This may leave room for hope, even for a suicide, as his/her death may not have been as intentional as we or legal authorities may assume.  And we do not know the full extent of God’s mercy, even to one who is struggling with life problems that may have them acting foolishly.  So we must be very careful in judging if a suicide was really “self-murder.”

Suicide 1The fact is that suicide is really very simple.  That anyone would “attempt” suicide and “fail” suggests he/she really was not serious about murdering himself/herself.  The tragedy for many of these is that they over-estimate their ability to survive and such tragic deaths occur as a result of miscalculations on how many pills to take or how close to come to the railroad tracks.  So we must leave such determinations of eternal outcomes in the hands and mind of Him who knows the secrets of every heart (Psalm 44:20-22).

We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and really very fragile.  Destroying a life is so much easier than living through one’s troubles, that it is hard to see how someone who seriously reaches that point of deciding to kill oneself would not succeed.  Recall from last week, that suicide is not an act of bravery or selflessness (with the exception of one who willingly dies to save another).

Suicide 2For someone on Warfarin (a blood thinner), a simple overdose would cause significant bleeding, and simply planning to take it before bed would assure that one would die before waking. Tylenol can be effective if one takes enough, but that is a painful and slow death, even if the overdose is discovered.  Most drugs are poison if taken in adequate quantities, and a simple online search will reveal which ones are most effective and at what dosages.

Some auto accidents are survivable, but there are very few cities that would not have precipices that would guarantee a certain death if the auto were to be driven over one of them.  I have only heard of one person who survived a self-inflicted gunshot, and that was because he chose to try a .22 caliber pistol, which left him unconscious and brain-damaged, but alive.  Any shotgun or a higher caliber pistol, like a .45 or .38 or 9mm can be very effective.

Cutting, such as slashing a wrist, is a very risky way to die, as it usually involves some time, where reconsiderations or interruptions may occur, plus you need to understand somewhat of anatomy to make sure you cut the right direction and artery.  Of course, a jump from a tall location or a step onto train tracks in front of a locomotive are also effective ways of ending one’s own life. Hanging is also a very risky way to die, as people have been known to survive for hours, and this method fails in more than 30% of attempts.

Of course, as fragile as we are, there are many other techniques for suicide, from drowning to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the last consideration is how selfish and cowardly suicide is.

Suicide 3However, as we ended last week’s blog, again, I make the appeal: If you know someone who is seriously despondent, do not fear his/her reaction to your question: “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”  It could be a question than will save a life!

And if you are thinking about ending your life, please, I appeal to you, get help!  It is available, and your situation is not as hopeless as it seems.  As huge as your problems may be, I encourage you to see them as one would see his thumb if you held it just a few inches away from your face.  Your tiny thumb could block the entire sun, and that is what is happening when you allow problems to take you to the brink of suicide.  Take down your hand and let someone guide you to see the life that you are missing.

Most of all, consider Jesus, who for the joy before Himself, did not consider even the suffering and death on the cross to be too much to handle (Hebrews 12:2).  He offers you that same joy, if you will allow Him to enter into your life and lead you.

 

 

To Be or Not To Be . . . That Is Not The Real Question

Suicide or notSome notes on suicide and an autobiographical narrative.  (First note: though strongly considered, and through no fault or credit of my own, I did not commit suicide.)

Hamlet’s most famous speech begins with these words: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  (See the entire speech at the end of this blog.)  But as he goes on in his soliloquy you can see this was not his question at all.  And it is not the question that haunts the suicidal.  It is clear to Hamlet’s mind that he exists and will continue to exist into eternity.  After all, “He [the Creator] has set eternity in the human heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Rather the real question comes in lines 64 and 65:
“To sleep, perchance to dream – aye, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”

And THAT is the question!

“The rub” was a sportsman’s name for an obstacle in a game similar to bowling, but played on a lawn.  The rub was anything that diverted the ball from the bowler’s intended course.  Lawn BowlingSo the “rub” for the person who is suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or for one considering taking up “arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them; to die,” is not whether or not he/she will continue existing.  What diverts many from committing suicide is a fear of what may be beyond.  What “dreams may come” when one leaves this world?  No matter how miserable life is, some people prefer it to death, because there is a chance that the life after death could be worse.

However, in spite of fear of Shakespeare’s “dread of something after death,” every year over 1,000,000 people choose his “undiscovered country, from whose [borders] no traveler returns.”
• The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population.
• On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
• 1.8% of worldwide deaths are suicides.
• Global suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 45 years.
And most of these are in developed nations, not third-world countries where one might expect poverty and hopelessness would prompt such drastic action.

So what would convince someone to take this leap into the unknown, and end his/her own life?  Have you ever been so sad that the sunlight shining in your bedroom window seemed like an intrusion?  Did you ever feel like you were completely alone, even in a crowd of friends and associates?  Were you ever pinned in by choices, and not one of them seemed acceptable?  Has your future ever appeared so unlike what you first imagined it to be that you wanted to change course in almost any way you could?  Where did all my hopes and dreams die?

We have all experienced moments of depression from the affirmative answers to these questions, but somehow, most of us find the strength to soldier on through the rough times and we experience the relief that eventually comes, like Billy Joel’s Second Wind.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhxjNYvJbgM)  If the depression continues for some time we may find help in a professional counselor, or through medication that brightens our outlook.

But there are those of us who through circumstances of our lives or our choices experience a hopelessness that dims any chance of ever brightening; a bleakness that blocks out any sunshine; a dryness that wilts even the root of anticipation that anything will ever get better.  And there I was.

Let me be clear that it is NOT self-hatred nor bravery that motivates the suicidal, though that is what popular psychology and psychiatry will tell us these days.  Either the psychologist is wrong or the Bible is wrong, and I would place the odds highly in favor of the Bible knowing more than the psychologist.  Ephesians 5:29 says “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”

Then how do we understand the guilty or impoverished who commit suicide?  Think about this compartmentalization of our personalities.  When I consider taking my own life, I am divided in my understanding of myself.  The view of the suicidal is that my circumstances, whether self-inflicted or exogenous, are more than I should have to bear!  There must be some relief to this misery, and death appears to be it!  Furthermore there is no consideration for anyone other than oneself; no thinking of how one’s death will affect others, only self-interest.  Thus suicide is an absolute and complete act of self-love, not self-hatred.

As for bravery, which is worse: slowly burning to death in a high-rise building or jumping to one’s death?  For the suicidal, remaining here on earth is a slow torturous death, and the suddenness of a gunshot, needle, pills, or bridge jump is a much easier way out.  Thus, it is not courage that makes it possible to commit suicide, but cowardice of the greater pain.  And there I was.

At 33 years old my life was in the toilet.  Thirty years of trying to be better, of attempting to trust God for something, of hoping that someday I would not be a hypocrite and stop living a double-life . . . it was all crashing in.

Train tracksThe specter of the damage I had left in others’ lives and the lack of any way to make anything right again was like a thumb stuck in front of my face that blocked out the entire sun.  I found myself walking along these train tracks in Iowa and wondering what I would do if a train came along.  The world would be a better place without me in it, would it not?  Would my death be enough vengeance for those I had injured, the lives that were tattered to shreds by my selfishness and disobedience to what I knew to be right?  Who would care, beyond a very few family members, if I was no longer around to be an embarrassment?  Why should I keep wasting oxygen by breathing?  Wasn’t it better to give something back to the world, even if it was only the chemicals of my body to feed the grass?

That is hopelessness.  That is suicidal.  That is selfish.  That is cowardly.

I was fortunate.  A police cruiser happened to drive by the railroad crossing where I was in sight.  Too depressed to even run, I thought maybe the officers would lock me up for trespassing and I could die in jail.  But the perceptive policemen took me instead to a clinic where a godly counselor began to work with me.  (Note, one has about a 50-50 chance of getting a good psychologist, as many go into this field to compensate for their own short-comings; i.e., they were helped so they want to help others, but may lack the intelligence or perspective to do so.  But many are wonderful guides to understanding life’s complexities and seeing past one’s blind spots so that one can grow in mind and spirit.)

Eventually, the thoughts of suicide began to fade over the next two years.  A dark fog still lingered around me for another year, and like a prisoner in a dungeon I marked the days passing; but not to count how many days since I was captured; only to mark one less day the world had to endure me being in it.

What saved me from the “final solution” after the police delivered me to a counselor’s office was less of the advice of the psychologist, good though it was, but a verse of the Bible that came out of my memory, even though I did not remember memorizing it: Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.(Proverbs 18:13)

So with a good counselor’s help, I began to find that God really is merciful, even to me, running a close second to Paul’s confession of being the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  At times the guilt and shame of my actions, attitudes and assumptions still overwhelm me, and the darkness begins to crowd into my mind again, and I wonder if the world will be better when I am gone.  But at those times, I return to my Lord, who took all my shame (YES! even mine!) and nailed it to His cross so that I could be forgiven.

So if you know someone who appears depressed, try a smile and kind word.  Be direct: ask, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”  You do not have to be a psychologist to care about someone, and most of all, that is what a suicide wannabe is hoping for.  If you are discouraged beyond hope, let me tell you from my narrative, the fires may be hot, but they will not destroy you.  There is mercy.  Get help.  (Next week, February 15, 2016, some last thoughts on the worldwide epidemic of suicide and preferred methods.)

“My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 55–87
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—aye, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dis-prized love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.