I have been shaken over the weekend by two deaths. One was closer to me personally. A man, who showed very few signs of being that close to taking his own life, decided last Wednesday night that it was time to end it. He was loved by those who really knew him. He was also a humble servant who was known in his small community as a deeply caring individual. My personal dealings with him, here and there over the course of nearly forty years, were always pleasant. He was kind, gentle and always loved children. He had reached a point of deep financial stress and thus came to believe that he had nothing else to live for in the coming years. Simply put, he lost all hope. He said that he did not fear death. So life had no more appeal and death was preferable. When the news came on Friday morning I was shocked. Various people whom I deeply love are now touched profoundly by this tragedy. My words to them are very few. My thoughts are filled with compassion, thus I pray a lot. Many in my own family are directly touched by this tragedy and they will spend the rest of their lives sorting out, hopefully in ways that work for good, what happened to them all last week. I am not sure I have any answers at all, just more questions. Life is a mystery to me. Death is still an enemy and ending one’s own life is inexplicably stressful to all who are touched by the ordeal. Please pray for me as I seek to listen and give any counsel that is appropriate. I expect that the only counsel I will have is likely to be that which comes from being a good listener.

To add to this sense of death’s finality, and to the grim reality of suicide itself, I witnessed the aftermath of a public suicide on Friday morning in a most shocking way. I was not there when the man died but I must have been there within only minutes of his death. As a friend and I rode the commuter train into Chicago Friday morning we noticed that our train slowed for a commotion just past Oak Park. As the train slowed and stopped we then saw the grim reason—a young man had hung himself from the train overpass which was about thirty feet above our train and right beside the window where I was seated. This scene has still not left my mind this morning. I thought about it for two straight nights and tossed and turned in my bed. My questions were numerous. Who was this man? Why did he come to this place? And what directly led to his tying this large rope around his neck and jumping to his very public death? He had the earbuds of an iPod on and wore a T-shirt that said "Staff."  He was very young. I wondered, "Who would be shocked to get this news? How would they cope? What family was about to get this terrible news? What was the relationship of this man’s soul to God?"

Suicide has been rising in America for several decades. Hopelessness clearly prevails in the hearts of many. Most who take their own lives do so because they have no more hope. Why do people who profess to have hope not share their hope more effectively with those who so desperately need it? Questions, the endless questions. I still have them. I know for sure, I want to listen to people more attentively and offer words of hope more faithfully.

I am also reminded that death is still, in the end, a grim and terrible reality. No one escapes it. Paul says it is our "enemy." So it is. It is our last enemy. We cannot defeat it but one person did destroy it and through trusting him we can go through our own death to victory, the victory that he won by defeating death. What a mystery. What a gospel. What a hope! I confess today, with renewed hope: "Christ died. Christ rose. Christ is coming again."

Related Posts


  1. Gene Redlin June 4, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    It seems to me that those who live without the “Blessed Hope” seem most vulnerable.
    The rise of atheism in Amreica will lead to even more of this pain.
    This was a grevious situation. What was he listening to when he jumped?
    The devil is a liar and some people believe him.

  2. Bill Dwyer June 4, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Hello, John,
    I’m a reporter with the Wednesday Journal newspaper in Oak Park, IL. Would you please clarify which commuter train line you were riding Friday morning when you witnessed a suicide? And did the train slow just after Oak Park Avenue, or the town of Oak Park itself?
    Thank you.
    Bill Dwyer

  3. Nick Morgan June 4, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for sharing this painful, grievous, and bewildering experience. As one who has personally experienced the suicides of immediate family members and two close friends, I know first hand the anger, sadness, and utter confusion that follows in the wake of self-inflicted death. You are wise in realizing that there are no answers that you can give to those who are grieving these losses. Suicide by its very nature makes no sense to those of us still living. It is truly one of the tragic mysteries of our fallen condition in this life. By far the most helpful and supportive thing you can do is to listen to the grieving “survivors” with compassion and empathy, and assure them that you are praying for them, (and their deceased loved one if you believe it might help the survivor); and lastly realize you don’t have to have the answers to the “why” questions, because only God can know and understand what was going on in the mind and heart of the person who took their life. May God’s grace and mercy be upon all your readers who have shared this painful experience. God bless you too my friend!

  4. Helen June 5, 2007 at 7:38 am

    John, yes, the suicide of a friend is an awful thing to deal with. And I can understand why the scene you inadvertently witnessed has haunted you. As for the state of that poor man’s soul – every bit of compassion you felt for him when you saw him can only be a fraction of the compassion God has for him, right? That was the only way I could ever process such things.
    Gene, I think you must be wrong in implying such clear-cut links between atheism, despair and suicide, given that most atheists haven’t committed suicide, nor have they even tried, since they are happy enough with their life that they wouldn’t even consider ending it.
    Christians would do well to take this into account, because people who aren’t in despair aren’t looking for a cure for despair. And, maybe even more important, had a Christian given that poor young man a tract on his way to the underpass and otherwise shown no personal care or compassion for him, I think it’s unlikely it would have changed what he did. Whereas a compassionate atheist who stopped to be with him, listen to him, maybe begin the process of getting him some sort of medical help if he was clinically depressed – might well have prevented him going through with it. At the very least it would have bought that man some time to reconsider.
    Giving people hope who have lost all hope is not easy or quick. I don’t rule out God’s role in it but I also doubt that many people without hope find hope without a human being putting in time and effort to be Jesus to them.
    The tragedy of John’s friend is that he evidently kept the seriousness of his despair and his suicide plans hidden until it was too late for those who would have done everything in their power to help, to intervene. And now they are left with the guilt of wondering “Could I have prevented this? Did I miss obvious signs? Did I care enough?” Which is another deep pain that I hope friends who take the time and effort to be like Jesus to those suffering the double pain of grief and guilt, will help ease (not to rule out God’s role in that either).

  5. John H. Armstrong June 5, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for the prayers and expressions of love and grace many of you have extended to me. Thanks Helen for thinking outside the box and for stimulating all of us to think a bit more carefully about life and how we change through human help and companionship. None of us lives unto himself or dies unto himself. We need one another and God’s grace is most likely known in these ways, not simply in the world of ideas and arguments.

  6. Gene Redlin June 6, 2007 at 10:05 am

    People who commit suicide are atheists. For a person who for their whole life was a professing christian to commit suicide has allowed his trust in his circumstances and the lies of the devil about the hopelessness of his situation to overwhelm his trust in God.. For a short time he becomes a functional atheist.
    That doesn’t mean he is hellbound. It means he had a lapse of spiritual sanity and lost his footing. He fell off. Jesus died for that sin too. Being a functional atheist for a brief time means he didn’t reject Christ, he turned his face away like Peter or Judas for just a moment. A moment that in the case of John’s friend terminated his life on this planet.
    For any Christian who for a moment allows the world flesh and the devil to blind him, that person suffers from momentary functional atheism. We all do from time to time. WHEN WE SIN.
    We act as if there is no God. Functional atheism.
    A foolish act. The fool says in his heart there is no God.
    So, Johns friend fell and was caught up by a Savior who paid for even that final sin. I know this is a difficult theology but I have had several people who came to me upon the loss of a loved one and wanted wisdom (skill in living life) to overcome the doubts they had. I believe this is Biblically more correct than some of the coventional “wisdom”.
    My concern is for the Atheistic drumbeat in our culture. It DOES generate a higher acceptance and acting out of suicide. Look at Japan. Look at the Rise in the USA. There is no little coincidence that the rise of Richard Dawkin’s God is Not Great devil driven “theology” is allowing people to be decieved en masse.
    Some of the music, pop culture and rock stars celebrate the culture of death. What was that kid listening to?
    Helen, atheism and suicide are linked and the rise of atheism leads to greater suicide.
    Hebrews 11:6
    FIRST a person must believe that GOD IS………
    Then his reward is himself.
    That is a Blessed Hope. Sometimes, even for a Christian overwhelmed we loose it.
    We are still better off then those who NEVER had hope.

Comments are closed.

My Latest Book!

Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!

Recent Articles