Welcome to the How to be Saved from Suicide podcast. This is episode #6. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. The simple purpose of this podcast is to help confront, from a biblical perspective, the tragic epidemic of suicide in our world today, which has even seen a spate of self-professing Christians in positions of ministerial leadership—namely, pastors—take their own lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020 (this year) the rate of death by suicide will increase to one every 20 seconds. As the apostle James wrote in his epistle on a different matter, “My brethren these things ought not so to be.”
Our scripture passage for this episode of the How to be Saved from Suicide podcast is Psalm 13:2-4 which says, “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, [having] sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider [and] hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the [sleep of] death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; [and] those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.”
Our quote for this episode of the How to be Saved from Suicide podcast is from R.C. Sproul Jr. He said, “We must seek a balanced picture on this issue. We ought not to beat up on those who have attempted to end their lives, nor offer no hope to those who have lost those who have ended their lives. There but for the grace of God go we. Compassion and understanding are the order of the day. That said, we must not lose sight of the grievousness of this sin. Suicide is shameful, selfish, destructive.”
In this podcast, we are going through the book: “Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors” by Karen Mason.
We continue today with the Introduction (Part 6).
The Criminality of Suicide
Suicide was a criminal act in England as early as the tenth century. After suicide, the two possible legal verdicts were felo de se (felon of self) or non compos mentis (not of sound mind), depending on intentionality. Children and the insane were exempt from guilt because they were deemed unable to understand the consequences of their behavior; the jury would bring a non compos mentis verdict in these cases.
Following a felo de se verdict, the corpse was desecrated—dragged through the streets by a horse in France, buried at a crossroads with a stake through the heart in England, buried with a load of rocks piled on the grave in the American colonies—with the victim’s goods forfeited to the crown. Montesquieu wrote in 1715, “The laws in Europe are furious against suicides, who are made to die a second time; they are dragged shamefully through the streets; they are marked by infamy and their goods are confiscated.” In April 1707 an American judge gave an order “to Cause the Body of the said Abraham Harris [who hanged himself] to be buried upon Boston Neck near the High-way, leading to Roxbury over against the Gallows and to Cause a Cart-Load of Stones to be laid upon the Grave of the said Harris as a Brand of Infamy.” John Wesley called for the bodies of suicide victims to be gibbeted, a practice typical of his times. Donne explains that these customs were engaged in “for the reason common to almost all nations, to deter men from doing it and not to punish its being done.” Winslow adds that in the fifteenth century the body of Louis de Beaumont was to be dragged “the most cruelly possible to show others.”
With the publication of several pioneering works—including those of Burton and Winslow, which will be discussed in chapter four—the criminalization of suicide as a prevention method began to fade to the background and mental illness as a cause of suicide moved to the foreground. Kushner writes:
William Bond, a thirty-one-year-old unemployed master mariner, “came to his Death by discharging the contents of a large pistol into his head” on 27 March 1828. Nevertheless, the jury did not find suicide because it accepted testimony that Bond had been “quite down-hearted” prior to this death. A sailor, Jacob Wilson, who hanged himself in 1828 with “his suspenders round his neck,” was determined to have done so “in a fit of insanity.”
By the late eighteenth-century, juries typically adjudicated non compos mentis.
Changing jury verdicts led to changes in the laws. George III’s parliament in England abolished the practice of burial with a stake through the heart, and the last man to be thus buried was named Griffiths in 1823. In 1870, the confiscation of goods of a victim of suicide was abolished. In 1879 and 1882, the maximum sentence for attempted suicide was reduced to two years and suicides were granted the right of burial at normal hours; the question of religious rites was left to the minister.
Some US states changed suicide laws after the American Revolution, as did France after the French Revolution of 1789. Though most US juries rendered non compos mentis verdicts, some state laws did not officially reflect this position until the twentieth century. For example, as recently as 1974, attempted suicide was still a crime in nine states. Suicide remained a crime in England and Wales until 1961, when the Suicide Act of 1961 abolished the criminalization of suicide and attempted suicide, and in Ireland until 1993. Alvarez recounts meeting with police after his suicide attempt: “At some point the police came, since in those days suicide was still a criminal offense. They sat heavily but rather sympathetically by my bed and asked me questions they clearly didn’t want me to answer. When I tried to explain, they shushed me politely. ‘It was an accident, wasn’t it, sir?’ Dimly, I agreed. They went away.”
Lord willing, we will continue looking at this subject in our next episode.
— PRAYER —
Now, if you do not have hope in God because you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, here’s how.
First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.
Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”