Several blogs I have written address suicide, e.g. , but to get a really helpful handle on suicide I recommend the book, Hope Always, by Dr. Matthew Sleeth. It is an excellent guide for both professionals and lay people interested in helping friends at the end of their rope. It is a wonderful addition to any library with 24/6 or Reforesting Faith already on its shelf. (Note, I do not have any affiliates or compensation from books or items I recommend in my blog.)
Hope Always is Dr. Sleeth’s latest. With the insight of a director of a large hospital emergency room and the traumas endured there, he writes with an understanding of the pathos that drives people to consider suicide. His personal experience with friends who have chosen this route to end this life did not drive him to despair, but instead to forge deeper into faith that God is the author of Life with a capital “L.”
Written in an easy reading style that will be informative for lay people, without pedantry or complex medical terminology, he presents an argument for life and a plan for preventing suicide, whether the “final option” is one you are considering or you know someone who may be thinking about it. In all likelihood you have been touched by suicide, either a family member, friend or acquaintance who took their own life. It may have haunted your thoughts, or you may have even attempted it, and from Dr. Sleeth’s perspective, many are glad you failed.
The timing of this text is significant, as I expect sequel printings to probably include more on the “culture of death” into which the whole world is moving. Nine states in the USA as of 2019 have legalized PAS (Physician Assisted Suicide). Germany has recognized PAS and suicide itself as a non-criminal act for 150 years and in 1942, Switzerland determined that if a suicide was assisted for non-self seeking motives, the assistance was not a crime. The Netherlands and Belgium seemed to be racing each other in 2002 to be the first to explicitly legalize PAS to go beyond just suicide for the terminally ill, but to make euthanasia an acceptable way for one to end one’s life simply based on a person’s decision without regard for medical reasons. Luxomberg, Canada and Spain have joined this morbid club in the last 12 years, though with some constraints, though these are likely to be challenged in courts. Columbia authorized PAS in 1997 and in 2017 extended this to minors so that even “children could die with dignity.” Taiwan and Australia since 2015 have both passed laws allowing for PAS.
After a brief overview of suicide statistics, The “Life Continuum Scale” he presents in chapter 3 is alone worth the price of the book. It scales from the left side at -10 (Has a plan with deadly means) toward the middle of -1 (Experiencing melancholy and pessimism). Then to the right it scales up to the extreme of +10 (Sacrificially giving one’s life for others). It is the clearest presentation I have ever seen of essential mental health in relation to suicide and gives readers a clear tool for evaluating themselves or others with whom they may be concerned.
Dr. Sleeth then takes us on a tour of the psychology of suicide examining this uniquely human activity. Not even lemmings commit suicide, though this myth persists in popular culture. He reminds us that “There is no one-size-fit-all approach to examining and treating people. Medicine and psychology, like spiritual care, are a combination of art and science.” Yet, “50% of those who commit suicide suffer from a mood disorder.” Thus, he recognizes that while spiritual issues need addressing, the religionist who only tells the suicidal to read the Bible and pray more may miss some critical elements to help the hurting.
However, he goes on to address the real source of suicide, even if it is worked through psychological disorders. As Dr. Sleeth points out, there is one source for the desire for death: “Satan is always for death.” While examining many of the psychological and social factors surrounding desires for suicide with the intelligence of a highly trained physician, Part 2 of the book examines the Biblical worldview of suicide. Beginning with the first recorded suicides of Adam and Eve, Satan convinced our parents to trade Paradise for death! Though the devil claimed they would surely NOT die, Father had told them they would, and they chose to take that chance; to believe the Lie from the father of lies.
I suspect many suicides are still in this vein: someone decides to get attention and “attempt” suicide, expecting to be saved at the last minute, but miscalculations on when someone is coming home, the speed of a train, how severe a pill will be, etc., and they buy into the Lie that the enemy told them, “You will not certainly die.” (Genesis 3)
In contrast, Paul’s announcement to the Philippian jailer prevented his suicide. “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Speaking on this passage to a group of prisoners, Dr. Sleeth told them, “When Jesus is in the house, people don’t kill themselves. They live.” Though many characters in the Bible voiced a desire to end it all, God shows us through them what He really thinks about suicide. From Moses, Elijah, and Jonah, he reveals that even God’s best can feel hungry, angry, lonely and tired (HALT), low enough to throw in the towel and die. But then Dr. Sleeth leads us through the process whereby God brings saving life into the picture. And he notes, “Jesus is still healing the hopeless!” and that He is always FOR life and against death!
Towards the end of this very readable book, Dr. Sleeth provides many helpful links, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Beyond this, he has solid advice for church leaders and participants who want to help people struggling with depression and suicidal intentions. If the Life Continuum Scale is worth the price of the book, he should double the price for including chapter 10, The Hope Always Toolkit! From a simple 12-step program anyone can do, to a list of scriptures to help us “take every thought captive to obey Christ,” to music, movies and books that can lift one’s spirit, he provides practical resources to assist one if you are depressed, or that can be used to help others raise their hopes.
If you have felt like ending it all, do not buy the lie! There is Hope Always!