We woke up to the news that Anthony Bourdain of CNN’s Parts Unknown committed suicide at age 61. He was wealthy, successful, famous and got to travel the world doing what he loved – the kinds of things that many people aspire to, but may never get to experience. And yet, he chose to end his own life.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999, suicide rates have increased in nearly every US state, with 25 states having increases of more than 30 percent.
The most at-risk group for suicide according to their study is middle-aged white men.
Factors contributing to the suicide epidemic are:
- Access to firearms.
- Isolation, which contributes to mental health problems. Read: Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out
- A sense of hopelessness and despair, resulting from:
- family instability
- lack of job prospects
- Poor physical health
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be contacted at: 1-800-273-8255.
In the Bible we read about several heroes of the faith who struggled with what seem to have been depression and suicidal thoughts:
Many heroes of the faith, expressed that they reached such a point of despair that they wanted to die:
- Moses had a death wish (see Numbers 11:13-15)
- Job sought death as a comfort, a way to end his suffering
- David had times when he wanted to die
- Jonah sought his own death first to atone for his own sins and then because of frustration with his circumstances
Another notable example is the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:4, we read:
“[Elijah] sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
Here’s what’s surprising: right before this, Elijah had experienced unprecedented success in his ministry. Only a few hours before this:
- Elijah prayed for rain, and it came, ending a 7-year drought.
- Elijah had singlehandedly won a showdown against some 850 pagan priests, when God sent fire from heaven in response to Elijah’s prayers.
- As a result of these things, many people in Israel had turned back to God – which was the goal of Elijah’s ministry.
And yet, like with so many people: in spite of experiencing great success, Elijah was depressed and wanted to die.
“Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree” – 1 Kings 19:4
Despite having a huge crowd of supporters after the showdown on Mount Carmel, Elijah chose to isolate and cut himself off from the community.
Isolation is a common practice of people who are struggling with depression, but it is one of the worst things a person can do. Statistics show that isolation causes and exasperates mental health issues.
Even though it was a successful day, it was a long and exhausting day. I have found that the times when I am particularly worn out, I tend to be more susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings which are not from God.
Notice what happens next: Elijah gets some rest. He goes to sleep. While he’s asleep, God sends an angel to cook him a meal. The angel wakes Elijah up, feeds him, gives him something to drink – and then sends him back to bed to sleep some more! Then, the angel wakes him up again, feeds him another meal, and then sends him on his way to continue his ministry.
In other words: Elijah’s depression, while certainly a spiritual attack, was related to and exasperated by his physical exhaustion. Rather than giving him a lecture, God sent him a companion, some good meals and some well-needed rest.
Rather than giving him a lecture, God sent Elijah a companion, some good meals and some well-needed rest.
As noted above, the CDC mentions poor physical health as a contributing factor to the suicide epidemic. Taking care of your body is important for your mental health, and the Bible encourages us to see that.
Finally, this messenger from God tells Elijah to rise up and go on his way – and Elijah does. Rather than stay down, alone, sleeping under this tree in the wilderness – God reminds Elijah that He has a purpose and calling upon his life, and Elijah responds by getting up and moving forward into that calling.
The gospel gives us more hope, affirmation and purpose than anything else ever can. It give us hope because of the promise of redemption. It gives you a community; not only community with God, but to become a Christian is to be brought into the “People of God.”
The gospel gives us affirmation and purpose; Jesus gave his life for you, which means that even though God knowns everything about you, He still wants you. He still loves you and He still has a purpose for your life.
God’s purpose for your life goes beyond living for yourself; it is to use you in His mission: for His glory and for the good of people in the world. It is in giving your life for that mission that you will find true life. For more on this, check out: Mission and Mental Health
Let’s do what we can to recognize the signs and help people who are struggling before it’s too late.
8 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain, Suicide & the Bible”
Yet all God sends me is people who tell to get over it and give me a lecture. I do not think anyone can stop someone when they want to commit suicide. Maybe it is that person’s time to go. It is a lonely place to be and nobody understands it. Perhaps the people who have committed suicide could write a better book.
I can assure you that the people who committed suicide are not happier or better off. It is a myth to believe that suicide ends pain and suffering. It actually increases it for those who remain (which is sometimes the aim) and there is no guarantee for the person who commits suicide that it will end their suffering. In many cases, it may become worse. The evidence shows that many people who are contemplating suicide can in fact be stopped and be helped.
We can disagree to disagree. I know that I would not leave behind anyone who will be suffering. Those who remain should be happy that that person is not here suffering. They cannot understand what it is like to feel continous sadness. And the feeling of knowing that nobody really gives a damn is the worst feeling.
That’s another part of depression: it blinds you from seeing things clearly. That was the case with Elijah as well.
You assume it blinds me, but my eyes are wide open. I see what goes on around me. I can tell people who say they care do not care. I am hyper aware.
You and Elijah both. Read 1 Kings 19. Over and over, in his depression, Elijah is convinced things are a certain way. Then God shows him that things are not actually the way he feels they are.
E: “I’m the only one!”
God: “Actually, there are 7000.”
E: “I’m worthless and no one cares about me.”
God: “Actually, you’re not worthless and lots of people care about you.”
It would seem that depression distorts a person’s perception of reality. And believing that they are the only one who really sees things clearly is the most obvious sign that they have a distorted view of reality.
Thanks for this thoughtful article and biblical perspective Nick…