The belief that suicide offends God is culturally determined. In the primarily Judeo-Christian West, suicide is believed to be a rejection of the grace of God or an imitation of God. God determines when and how one should die.
In Japan, however, “suicide can be a gesture of moral integrity and freedom, or an act of beauty” (MacFarquhar, 2013).
As a Yoruba priest, I believe that we choose our own destiny with God. This also includes the day we will die. Upon birth, we forget all of this and spend our lives remembering and claiming the destiny we chose.
In keeping with this belief, suicide becomes an act done in defiance of that chosen destiny. According to Chief Elebuibon, a Yoruba icon, “Yoruba do not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter. They also believe that suicides would not be allowed passage into heaven rather, their souls would just be wandering until their naturally appointed time comes” (Falade, 2013).
This punishment also takes the form of not being able to be reincarnated, another belief in the Yoruba faith.
When I think of suicide in spiritual terms, I describe it as a disconnection from God. It is an act (or an attempt) of total despair, of a total loss of hope. This implies that the individual feels that there is no power that can change the situation or help him or her tolerate the pain.
Suicidal thoughts are very common, despite people’s reluctance to admit to them. Who has not felt at one time or another that just ending it would bring relief of pain and suffering? In psychotherapy, we call that suicidal ideation.
When a client trusts us enough to disclose suicidal thoughts, we ask if the person has a plan. Obviously, “no” is a less urgent answer than “yes.” We do our best to determine how severe the depression is that might lead the person to go into action and attempt to take his or her life. Sometimes we can intervene; sometimes not. If a person is determined to commit suicide, there is very little we can do to prevent it. At its extreme, a person with a plan may need to be hospitalized until stable. However, even that may not help the person choose to stay alive. Even the idea that suicide may offend God is not enough.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or if you know someone who is, it may help to explore your spiritual or religious beliefs, or encourage your loved one to do so. The suicidal person may indicate feeling abandoned by God, or that God doesn’t really care whether he or she lives. At this point, it may be helpful for this person to talk about how that feels. More often than not, the feelings of abandonment are more connected to early parental abandonment than to abandonment by God. Understanding this can shift the focus and redirect those feelings of pain and anger.
It can be difficult for psychotherapists and counselors to listen to a person’s suicidal thoughts. We must be the containers for those thoughts and feelings. We must feel empathy for that person’s suffering, but be wary of identifying with him or her. As a therapist, staying present can be challenging, but not to do so might mean that your client would harbor feelings of abandonment around you.
It helped one of my clients when I presented the possibility that rather than God abandoning this person, it was God who guided him or her to my office. The safe space may be what’s needed for the person to be able to reveal despair without fear of judgment, including God’s. Sometimes this safe place is enough to motivate someone to live another day.
- MacFarquhar, Larissa. (June 24, 2013). Last call. The New Yorker, p. 56
- Falade, Kayode. (May 11, 2013). Yoruba culture abhors suicide. National Mirror.
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