There's a Thin Line Between Salvation and Suicide
If it weren't for a welfare plan called "Grace"
I would have lost my hope and my mind
Thank God I'm not unstable
or you might see me in hand cuffs for blowing
something up the next time you're watching cable
or read about me in the paper,
cause I blew my brains all over the kitchen table
But, I ain't goin' out like that
I'm a little wild, but I've never been a crazy cat
- Rod Garvin, "Give unto little caesar"
Most people if they are honest, will admit to having either considered suicide or contemplated what it might be like. The reasons which lead people to choose religious faith or take their life are essentially the same. In both cases, individuals simply seek to be free. We all want deliverance from the pain, suffering, oppression, disappointment, stress, and heartache of life. To be human is to experience all of these conditions on some level, in some form.
I am one of the many people who have entertained suicide, in at least a hypothetical sense. As my life descended into depressing circumstances which were at times beyond my control, God was the thin, yet impenetrable line that kept me from crossing over into eternal despair. My hope comes from Jesus Christ and so many of his faithful followers, including my ancestors who endured adversities that I have been spared from. When I feel that the world is too much to bear, I remember how my predecessors endured whips and chains, torture and lynching, discrimination and humiliation. And I remind myself that He who is in me, is greater than he who is in the world.
God has always been my refuge even when I was ignorant of the fact. Sometimes the church has been a sanctuary, and other times it has felt like a foreign country with a language and customs that I could neither relate to, nor understand. My zeal for life and creativity are vast and the God who blessed me with these gifts is so much greater than the limitations we try to place on him with our services and programs. The activities of the church are often well and good, but often too predictable and routine. We serve a God of surprises, yet how often are we overcome with the spontaneity of the miraculous?
Vincent Van Gogh must have been having these thoughts and asking these questions before he committed suicide. He wanted to be a theologian, but was a terrible student. He was a passionate preacher who was dismissed for taking Jesus' teachings on the poor too seriously (he gave away his possessions). He is considered one of the greatest painters in history and happened to be a prolific writer as well. Here is a sample of Van Gogh's reflections on God and the church found in a letter to his brother Theo, written on December 21, 1881, four days before Christmas and nine years before he ended his life:
The Jesuitisms of clergymen and devout ladies no longer have any hold on me now. You see, for me that God of the clergy is as dead as a doornail. But does that make me an atheist? Clergymen consider me one – so be it - but you see, I love, and how could I feel love if I were not alive myself, or if others were not alive; and if we are alive there is something wondrous about it. Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is a certain something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God…
Having been rejected by the church for trying to follow in the revolutionary footsteps of Jesus Christ and failing to see the vibrant spirit of the Creator and His Creation which inspired his art, in the church, he was left to make sense of his faith or the lack thereof on his own, in the spiritual wilderness that eventually became his grave. How many people are dieing in the wilderness today because they do not fit in with the conventional models of what we call church? How many Van Gogh's are we losing in this generation, because they think too critically and their minds too visionary? But, by the grace of God, I too would be one of those lost souls, because when I go to church I usually feel more like a stranger than someone who has come back home.