Death: Our Enemy

John ArmstrongDeath

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."