Since the sad news that Robin Williams took his own life, I have seen some heated debate over two related issues: whether the suicidal have a choice, and whether suicide is selfish. I may be coming late to the party, but I needed time to sort through what was being said to articulate my feelings on these questions.
As a woman who lives with mental illness, I have faced the specter of suicide myself. I have experienced the pain of mind that makes death seem like beautiful freedom. But I refused freedom at the cost of life, and I may have to refuse it again.
❯ DO THE SUICIDAL HAVE A CHOICE?
Therefore, I was angered by the inconsistency I hear when some say Robin Williams didn’t have a choice. Americans are usually the first to claim we are all masters of our own destiny. And yet, when Robin Williams took his life, some said he didn’t have a choice.
How is that possible? How can he be the master of his own life, and not have a choice to live at the same time? This is impossible; as master, he must have a choice. He either never had control over his destiny, and therefore his suicide was inevitable. Or, he was master of his destiny and he made his final choice. But, it cannot logically be both.
Yet, as a believer, I see the distinction between destiny and choice through a different lens. The Bible teaches that we are not the masters of our own destinies; God is. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, and Psalm 139:16 say that God appoints our time of birth, our time of death, and all the days in between.
I live because my Master gives me life, and He asks me to trust Him. This God, “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” (Romans 8:32) asks me to trust that the seemingly never-ending days of psychological torment, and the hour after hour of searing emotional pain, has meaning and purpose, that, “…our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Light affliction? Really? Yes, really. I don’t think Paul is minimizing our pain. I think he is saying that in comparison to the glory that we will one day see in us, the current pain is light and momentary.
God also appoints my death—the day, the time, the manner—and I am to trust Him in that, too. I do have a choice to trust Him and live while He gives me life. When living with mental illness day after long day feels more than I can manage, I choose to cling tenaciously to God because He first chose to cling to me.
❯ ARE THE SUICIDAL ACTING SELFISHLY?
In talking of selfishness, I’m not speaking of unkindness; like a child not sharing his toys. I am speaking of the kind of selfishness that considers only my pain, and not the pain I would inflict on others by taking my own life.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.—Hebrews 12:1
I am surrounded by witnesses that include my husband, son, daughter-in-law, daughters (who also live with mental illness), and grandchildren. I am to live so that they see me running my race with endurance, living with mental illness, because God has given me this life. For me to take my life would be to take my life from them, without regard for them, a selfish act. But, if I choose to live the life He gave, a life with mental illness, they will witness a life of faith and hope. And from that, they may learn to trust Him with their lives and pains and sorrows.
God is great, and faithful, even when life isn’t.