A portion of the lyrics from “Javert’s Suicide” in the musical Les Miserables:
I am reaching, but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on….
No matter how many times one listens to Les Miserables, this is song is surely one of the hardest parts to listen to. It tragically is the mirror image of the experiences of Victor Hugo’s hero, Jean Valjean, who finds hope and redemption. Javert cannot accept a world in which what he thought was evil was good. He commits suicide because he has lost hope that the world is as he thought it should be.
This past month, I worked on a suicide prevention program in my duties as a chaplain. As you have likely read, the military is not immune to a problem that exists in all facets of our society. People lose hope. People cannot see a future they want to be in. People take, or attempt to take, their own lives.
In the course of preparing for this duty, I read a number of texts by psychologists on suicide. I watched a documentary called The Bridge, based on actual suicides committed over the course of a year off the Golden Gate Bridge. I also read about a forest in Japan where people travel, sometimes internationally, to take their lives. It was some sobering viewing and reading but captivating nonetheless.
Jesus Christ said that he had come to “seek out and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). We might not have the power to save, but surely we are called to venture into the shadows and urge our brothers and sisters with the knowledge that there is a better way. To venture down that path is to give up our greatest gift. And it is to endanger many who care for us.
What happens to someone who commits suicide? In the past, the church said they were damned. It was an “unpardonable sin” because you could not ask forgiveness for it. But I think this is plan bad theology and limits the power of God. People who commit suicide are sick, to one degree or another, in their thoughts. I do not think God damns people for being sick. And we have to reduce the stigma of unhealthy thinking for it can affect us all but because of the stigma, we tend not to ask for help. And asking for help is the key to find a way out. I have seen time and time again people who have been helped by professionals who can journey with them out of that dark forest they feel they are in.
But healthy or not, everyone needs to keep in mind that suicides set off a spiritual and psychic bomb in families, friends, and even co-workers. The chance of suicide for people definitely increases if someone they love or care about found that to be an acceptable solution to the problems they face. So, if there is a way to “defuse” the bomb it is vital for us to do so. And if it does go off, we need to remember to tend to it and not pretend it isn’t significant. We would never expect someone who experiences a physical bomb blast to simply work it through alone. We would rally a team of folks to help that person (doctors, nurses, physical therapists, chaplains, and family counselors). Maybe it would be the exact same care givers but great care needs to go out to every family, office, or group who experiences this tragedy. And focusing on spiritual health is vital in this process.
In all facets of society, we lose more people to suicide than a host of other problems which receive much more attention. Let us all point to life, which is what God created us for, now and for eternity.
I am thankful to serve in a church (regionally and locally) where helping people find hope and redemption are a a priority. And I am thankful that I serve in the Air National Guard where if anyone ever does have thoughts of staring into the void, that they are focused on helping them see a better way.
Until next time,