This post is a bit of a part two to the previous post “Who, being innocent has ever perished.” So, if you wanted to brush through that post for some pivotal ideas that’d be fine. Look for the concepts of: roles, the problem with the question “why,” self-interested mourners, and theological encounters in tragedy.
Each of those ideas will be insinuated in the discussion below.
This might be an all too familiar topic for some; and a fortunately foreign one for others. We are going to be discussing suicide as spiritual warfare as seen in the Book of Job.
First, I want to say that I am not dismissing mental illness as the source of most suicides by framing it within the context of spiritual warfare.
If you suffered with me through my series on the liturgical holidays, you will know that I consider the spiritual and physical realms as a completely unified reality.
Also, I hope that you will not dismiss my point of view as I myself have lived with the thorns, thistles, fears, and despair of bipolar 1 disorder for 10 years– and I take medication for it. I have supported my husband through combat related PTSD and survivor’s remorse for the past 7 years– and he didn’t really find therapy helpful; but he found meeting Jesus as his savior changed everything. I’ve walked through mental illness with friends who didn’t want to stay on their treatment plan and friends who were fastidious with doctors, medication, therapy, and groups. I’ve watched loved ones encounter schizophrenia, major depression, paralysis, and suicide some with support and some with none.
I do not say this in any way to elevate myself, nor do I assume that because I have experienced mental illness within my own sphere that that qualifies me to understand your unique experience of heart-ache and sickness.
I reveal these things about myself entirely to remove any trace of me being glib from this post. And also I want to express that just because I think mental illness and suicidal ideation is spiritual that does not mean that I think intervention and treatment is “un-Christian.”
The reality is that suicide is a spirit of death that has breached the walls of the church and as most recently publicized has been affecting devoted clergy members, which removes any delusions that Christians may have previously held onto that suicide is not a Christian issue.
This torturous state– suicidal ideation and attempts and completed suicides– is now in front of us as the Church in the same uncomfortable manner that Job’s friends had to look at. And that is just what we have to do– we have to look at it. And evaluate our beliefs.
When we go to the house of our friend whose spirit is failing within them, we can’t bring in our fear-based, self-serving, God-in-a-box, forget-Satan-is-real, prosperity-adjacent theology that would rather try to protect our ideas about God before challenging them in the face of life’s harshest reality: death.
God will show up to challenge death. Can we?
So. Did you know that Judas Iscariot’s hanging is not the only time we hear of suicide in the Bible? If the instance of the disciple who betrayed Jesus was the only time we heard of suicide in the Bible, it would be easy to vilify suicide along with the villain.
But. It is certainly not the only place we hear of it. God’s servant Job, the finest man in all the earth, blameless, and of complete integrity (God’s words not mine- Job 1:8), experienced approximately 32 chapters of suicidal ideation, longing for death, despairing, desiring to meet his Maker rather than suffer among God’s creation any longer.
To make this easier for you to see, I am going to strip away the poetry in Job 3:1 – 27:23, so that it will become more obvious that Job’s ten speeches and his friends’ replies are in all reality a mere script of what is even today the typical conversation you would have with a suicidal loved one.
Keep in mind then that Job’s friends are considered wicked.
I do want to put a trigger warning here, even though I usually make fun of them. If you are experiencing a pull toward death and despair, can you please pray about how my rendition of Job will affect you? Please pray about whether this will encourage you or discourage you before reading. Thanks, love you.
Here we go:
I wish I were never born. I wish my parents wouldn’t even have ever had sex so that I could never have been born. Or I wish I would have been born dead and the doctors couldn’t save me. I wish I could have just always rested in oblivion. Why would God create me just to let me live this kind of life. I have no appetite. I can’t eat. (Job 3.)
Ok, let me just say something. You are such a good friend. You have done so much for other people. You’ve seen God work in your friends’ lives, don’t you believe He’ll do that for you? Come on, you know that God punishes bad people. You are such a good person. You know, this’ll all turn around.
You know I had this divine revelation about how awesome God is and how no one is righteous before Him– not even His angels. He is Holy. You need to just pray. Maybe the Lord is maturing you through this. You will have a huge testimony after all this is over. (Job 4-5.)
You cannot understand. I have this weight on me. It’s too much. Why can’t you let me complain? God is letting me suffer so much. I can’t eat. Nothing tastes good. I want to die. I want God to just take me home. A person can only be so strong. I am a Christian. I have always been faithful, I still am. But this is all too much.
Why can’t you just be kind and console me. You are blaming me. You’re acting like I am doing something wrong! You are a terrible friend. Please stop criticizing me and tell me something real. Tell me something true about God that I can hold onto instead of making me feel worse!
What, you’ve never been hurt or suffered? Have you ever been depressed? Have you ever been awake all night waiting for morning and then unable to get out of bed? I have sores all over my body for Christ’s sake!
“God! Oh my God! Help me. You see me. I can’t go on like this. I know You can do something, why won’t You?” (Job 6-7.)
You are talking in circles, Job! You’re making it sound like this is God’s fault. Like He did something wrong. You need to pray. Seek God to restore your right thinking, your thinking is wrong. He is going to restore you. Get that right in your head.
You have to remember what happens to people who don’t believe. Just believe. You’ll be singing praise in no time. You’ll watch everyone who hurt you get theirs when God is on your side ’cause you believed. (Job 8.)
Bildad, I know. I know God is holy and mighty. I know He is just. But how can a person be good enough for Him? He’s God. The creator. He’s huge. He’s miraculous.
I just feel so far away from Him. I feel helpless before Him, without His love.
I’ve got nothing. I have nothing to offer Him or any way to defend myself. I know I haven’t done anything wrong, yet I feel like I can’t draw near to Him. I feel no intimacy. I’ve always tried to please Him, for what?!
I guess I should just pretend to be happy. I’m dying. Might as well put on a happy face.
There’s nothing I can do. I need someone who God loves to convince Him to spare me. I’ve gone as far as I can on my own. I just don’t know what He wants from me.
“Lord, why?!!! What is the point?! Lord, I don’t get it! I thought You loved me. I’m so confused.” (Job 9-10.)
Job, you are talking way too much. Take a break. You’re gunna get yourself in trouble here. You’re saying you’re a Christian, but you obviously do not understand God. You are so off base on what God is like.
You really, really need to pray. There is obviously some hidden sin in your life. You need to repent. You’ll feel so much better. But if you keep on how you’re going– yeah, death will be your only answer. (Job 11.)
Oh, you’re so smart, huh, Zophar? Too bad when you die we’ll lose all your insight. What a loss. You know, I have a little insight myself, yet you act like I’ve never studied the Bible, prayed, been close to God, or devoted. It’s easy to mock me when nothing’s wrong in your life.
I think if you really knew your Bible, if you even paid attention to the wisdom in creation, or even looked at history, you’d know that bad things happen to good people.
You’re such a hack, Zophar. You’re so bent on “defending” God that you are ignoring basic truths. What you’re saying is completely unhelpful.
Prove that God is punishing me because I deserve it and I will happily kill myself.
“God have mercy. It’s too much. Relent, Lord. Please show me how I’ve sinned. I will repent. Don’t be my enemy. Don’t accuse me, Lord. We all die. You are in control. Lord, kill me. I feel dead already. How can I live again? Give me hope that you still love me and have a desire for me to live and to serve you and to have purpose here on earth. Otherwise I’ll die an insignificant death.” (Job 12-14.)
Oh my God! I cannot believe how you are talking! Those words are sinful. Who do you think you are? Surely, you’re not the first person to suffer; and to talk about God like that!
You can’t say there is no way that you deserve what you’re getting. No one is perfect. Everyone has to go through things to mature. You are talking like a baby Christian. You know better…or I thought you did.
You are revealing your hard heart. You’re defiance. That’s why this is happening to you. This is exactly what the Bible says happens to stiff-necked people. (Job 15.)
Wow. Great friend, Eliphaz. Like I don’t know all this. Like I couldn’t say some things about you. But if you were in my position, I’d try to help you not criticize you.
“God, You’ve destroyed me. And now I’m ashamed as people make fun of how I feel. After I do this, Lord, at least let my death remind you that we need someone to help us stand before You. So that we don’t have to suffer under Your holiness. I don’t deserve anything different, but make someone perfect who could help those of us that You hate.
God, defend me? My friends are stupid and they think they know anything about You. I’m so ashamed. I have to die. I have no hope. They’ll just bury any hope I have left with me.” (Job 16-17.)
Stop talking, Job! Do you think we’re idiots? The wicked die prematurely. Skin disease like yours is a sign of wickedness. Their homes burn down. They have no children, no heirs. Surely, you have all the signs of a person who has rejected God! (Job 18.)
Just go away. You guys are torturing me. You just keep insulting me. Why is what I do any of your business anyway? You are using my humiliation as evidence of my sin? Seriously?
I have prayed. I have nothing and no-one left. There’s nothing left for me to hold onto.
Geez, the least you could do is show me a little mercy.
I know that somewhere, somehow, at some time a Redeemer will justify me. I’ll be able to stand before God at last.
I wonder how you all will stand up on judgment day after judging me, as if you know. (Job 19.)
You know, the Spirit is prompting me to say this. I’m so disturbed. Job, you are a blasphemer.
All of your wealth– we thought it meant God’s favor. But we should have realized that you were just a fake. You are a wicked person who got wealth quickly but lost it because you were truly sinful. (Job 20.)
Can’t you just listen to me? You don’t think I have reason to be disappointed with God? Terrible things happen to good people and great things happen to bad people. What kind of God does that? Why did I spend all that time being a good Christian? It didn’t help me! I know you’re going to say that evil people who enjoy life on earth will suffer in hell, and their kids reap the consequences. You can’t prove that. That is so cliche. It’s no comfort to me. (Job 21.)
What, do you think you can help God do a better job, Job? You need to repent. Now that I think of it, I can think of quite a few shady things you’ve done. You’re not as good as you think you are. Stop pitying yourself. You need salvation. If you reject God, there’s nothing He’s going to do about it. It’s your choice. God will save you if you repent and turn to Him. (Job 22.)
I would pray to God if I knew how to make Him hear me. I’ve prayed, believe me. I can’t argue my case to Him; I know He is sovereign. I know that God knows my heart. I know the trials He puts us through purify us. He knows that I have been a true and faithful follower. He knows my heart is pure. But it doesn’t make this time any less dark.
I don’t know why some suffer; why there is poverty or crime or famine; or why people die of exposure in homelessness. Human trafficking. The working poor! Evil people with completely satanic hearts run rampant. I know they will meet judgment. I know that their is no rescuing them from the power of the grave. I know that for sure. (Job 23-24.)
God is awesome and powerful. We all have a sin nature. We all fall short. (Job 25.)
Don’t think you’re doing some good work by coming to talk to me. You have not offered me any compassion or insight. The Spirit of God is completely discerning. His intelligence distinguishes between the slightest shadows. Don’t think that I don’t know you are operating in a wrong spirit. It is not the Holy Spirit speaking through you.
The Lord has put me in this place in life. But I will never agree with you that this is my fault. I will never agree with you that this is the consequence of my sins. Don’t think that your plenty equates to favor. Don’t think because you are more well off than me that you are more spiritual than me. Do not take your mental health to mean that you have spiritual health. (Job 26-27.)
So concludes the discourse between Job and his three wicked friends.
This conversation is difficult to overhear. Where do you think you’d stand? Have you said any of these things to a friend?
But mostly, what is it that makes Job innocent in this conversation and his friends wicked in their communication? Spoiler alert: God sides with Job in chapter 42.
There are two characteristics that put Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz in Satan’s camp during this discourse: accusation and self-sufficiency.
They say a lot of things about God that are true, but they accuse Job. And in their accusation they assume that man’s actions are sufficient to save or condemn him.
Job, on the other hand, remains righteous by standing firm in assurance of his innocence due to a prophetic foreknowledge of an Advocate that can absorb God’s wrath. In other words, he believed that only Jesus saves.
The battle between these two beliefs is the definition of spiritual warfare.
All Satan wants is for us to step out from under grace and into condemnation.
He wants to accuse us, scare us, make us afraid of God, to make us hide from God, and as such, we’d fall into trying to justify ourselves by our own merit. (Does that sound anything like Genesis 3?)
He wants us to try to live in our own will and way, and on our own goodness and strength rather than standing in trepidation, exhaustion, depression, remorse– but!– standing still, in the purity and hope that Christ provides.
To experience mental illness is to experience the deepest dredges of shame. It is to have accusation after accusation whispered in your ear. It is to live under the specter of guilt. And though wicked friends wouldn’t believe it, the feelings of guilt are without cause.
The panic of mental illness is that something rotten– god knows what exactly– will be found out about you. The itchiness of this self-consciousness is like the feeling of standing unclean before the judge.
Yet, Zechariah 3 tells us how the high priest, Jeshua, stood in filthy clothes before the Lord. Satan was making accusations against him, and the Lord said, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan.”
That is my favorite verse in the whole Bible.
What put Job’s friends on the wrong side of the spiritual battle is who they agreed with. They were accusing Job, agreeing with the Accuser.
God had already proclaimed Job as blameless…that is prophetic. What God says just, well, is. By maintaining his innocence, Job was in agreement with God.
Love covers a multitude of sins. God’s love for Jesus covers the multitudes who believe that they need an Advocate (John 16:26-27).
No matter how true or untrue what Job said about God was (his theology), he got one thing right– accusation is of the Accuser, and we stand innocent when we stand on hope in the Advocate.
Win, lose, or draw in our suffering, we can ultimately only throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus.
Jesus did not save us from our sins so that we could become able to do good works and please God.
My biggest fear after my diagnosis was that if I am some sort of maniac, how can I be good? And if I can’t become fundamentally good, how can I be a Christian? I wasn’t able.
Jesus saved us from our sins and now we do please God. Now we are a pleasure to the Lord. We still aren’t able, we just are. Because: Jesus.
But it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. So, those conversations in your head or with your exasperated friends who are trying to convince you to go to church and stop cutting yourself– can come to a full stop! The cross ended the conversation about your worth, and the verdict was: worthy.
Which is wonderful news for a wretch like me, or anyone else who the Accuser works overtime to destroy.
Your anguish, your loss, your disability might make it so that you are never respectable again. But blessing or cursing, plenty or lean, survive or succumb– you are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. He has given you the one thing you need– being blameless in the eyes of God.
“He is blameless.” Job 1:8 & Job 2:3.