One does not have to be too imaginative to realize that Jonah and Paul, in the readings for this upcoming Sunday, are having some dark and self-destructive thoughts.
Jonah asks God to take away his life and says that death would be better for life for him, because he is just so angry. And frankly, if Paul was meeting with me in my study, I would be calling Crisis Intervention for him with all of his talk of "departing to be with Christ."
And Jonah and Paul aren't alone. Elijah asks to die too:
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. - I Kings 19.4-5
Of course, Job's wife encouraged him "to curse God and die."
And it wouldn't take too much convincing for most people to classify Jesus' own death as a suicide.
Any talk about suicide is enough to end nearly any conversation. We just don't talk about it, which is why it is more surprising to find it in Scripture. What does one make of a suicidal saint?
These suicidal saints illuminate some of the dark places that people of faith struggle with, and some of the reasons that dark, self-destructive thoughts plague me and other faithful folks.
Jonah illuminates anger. I am just so angry sometimes - at every little slight or unfairness from my neighbors, my own lack of "success' (whatever that really is), or at just the brokenness of the world. My own anger at the world gets too quickly turned in at myself. But God asks Jonah if he has a right to be angry. God even illustrates the point with bush that grows and disappears. The invitation to Jonah is to keep his anger but also see that God needs Jonah in the world. God's mercy includes even Jonah's anger.
Paul's desire illuminates the melancholy of saints who see how different the world is from how God intends it to be. Paul just wants out, to go and be with Jesus, and see the world from Jesus' view. Sometimes the beauty of God's dream for the world, and how my life is not as it would have been in Eden, just breaks me. I know where Paul is coming from, and I know too that beauty will save the world (Dostoevsky). Yet Paul also senses that he is needed here, in the world in all its brokenness for the sake of the beauty that is to come.
So, dear people, if you are in a dark place, know that there have been faithful people there before. If anger takes you there, hear how much God's mercy covers that anger. If melancholy takes you there, know how beautiful the world will be, but that the world is more beautiful now because you are here. We need you. Stay.
If you need help now, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. If you need to debrief things that can take some time, talk to me or another pastor.
And don't worry too much about me. I am in a pretty good place now, and have people around me to keep me thinking clearly. I can understand these dear suicidal saints. I wish sometimes that I couldn't, but their story and my story and your story are part of the unfolding of God's great story for the world.