Suicide and Spirituality: Can They Be Reconciled?

Ask the Expert Patient Health Guide
  • “How does one reconcile living with a mental illness (or any health problem, for that matter), spiritually?,” Su asks. “What does it all mean? Is it 'meant to be' or just some random problem? Is there a 'reason for everything'? Is God 'punishing' us? I have to admit, sometimes when I have gone really psychotic/manic, I can see how people used to believe that the person is 'possessed' by evil spirits...”

    Su goes on to say that she is trying to make sense of her ex-fiancee’s suicide from years ago. His family, she reports, belongs to the faith popularly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The family was not allowed to have a funeral for him or acknowledge his death in any way. Other faiths, she notes, also take a dim view of suicide. On the other hand, she was comforted by reading of a religious figure who counseled a family that God was taking back his hurting child.

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    She concludes by acknowledging that spirituality in its broadest sense has been a great comfort to many, but one reads into her post a need for reconciliation. Why, God, why? she almost seems to be asking.

    I suspect all religions are an attempt to grapple with that same fundamental question. The Book of Ecclesiastes says it is God’s purpose to test us and see what we are made of. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth states that life is suffering. Many Christian faiths teach that we were born in a state of original sin.

    It’s almost as if our mission in life is to find our way out of the predicament God placed us in.

    Okay, Su, I have no pat answers. What I can tell you is this: Soon after I was diagnosed nearly nine years ago, my illness became my spiritual journey. I’m not sure if I believe in God, but I am open to the idea of a higher presence, and I’m comfortable with referring to that higher presence as God. I don’t believe God inflicted me with mental illness to punish me, or that some sort of demon succeeded in outwitting God by messing with my brain. I favor the idea that we are being tested.

    Am I a better person as a result? I like to think so, but I would be very happy if God were to call off future testing.

    So what happens if we fail God’s test? I think this is where you were going with your post, Su. Is suicide a sign of failure, of weakness? Do those who commit suicide in essence fail God’s test? The people associated with your ex-fiancee’s religion seem to think so.

    First a word on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many people attack them as a fringe cult. Having become friendly with a Witness through my DBSA support group back east, I now have great admiration for them. When other religions were running for cover and actively supporting Hitler’s persecution of Jews, Witnesses risked their lives in befriending them. As a result of this and other acts of bravery, Witnesses became the only other religious group to be singled out for punishment by the Nazis. Witnesses were forced to wear a purple triangle on their clothing and many were sentenced to concentration camps.

  • I’m not asking you, Su, to alter your feelings in any way regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I do ask readers to refrain from condemning an entire faith based on what they have heard in this sharepost.

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    Having said that, the God I know would never judge any person harshly for taking his or her own life. No one commits suicide. The act commits us. I have been as close to the line as this side of life permits, and I know many people who have crossed that line and lived to tell about it. The God I know weeps over the pain they are in, but the God I know - for reasons I cannot comprehend - does not intervene. Instead, the God I know embraces each one with open arms.

    I can’t explain this rationally. It’s how I choose to lead my life. It’s my attempt to find meaning in all the chaos and confusion and pain.

    My sincere condolences for your loss, Su. Be assured, nothing you could have done would have prevented what happened. Also take comfort in your loved one’s fortitude in bearing with grace such intense pain for as long as he did. He succumbed to a force far greater than him or any one of us. He did not fail any test.

    As for seeking spiritual comfort in dealing with your illness, in my observations patients benefit enormously from spiritual or religious practice. But you have to find what works for you. Various experts distinguish between what they call “positive religious experience” and “negative religious experience.” Clearly, you have already experienced the negative side.

    Believe me, the positives are there. Take heart. A healing lies ahead.


    Do you have questions about bipolar disorder? Every two weeks, I'll answer new questions and post the answers here, in our Ask the Expert Patient section.

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    Please keep in mind that I am not a physician. I cannot diagnose or give medical advice. This section is for sharing information and offering support as a nonphysician "Expert Patient."

Published On: December 03, 2007