Birthday parties are always fun, but last weekend’s party ended up being a blessing for me and maybe for you, too. Peggy, my cousin, asked me if I was preaching anytime soon. I mentioned that I was being led of the Lord to touch on suicide in the passage about Martha confronting Jesus in John chapter 11.
Peggy’s eyes grew wide and said, “You need to meet our next door neighbor. He’s written a book about Christians and suicide. And he’s right here.”
And that is how I met Matthew Sleeth. Dr. Sleeth has been an emergency room physician and chief of staff in a hospital. He accepted Christ after he had started his medical practice. Matthew and I talked as we walked next door so he could give me a copy of his book titled, Hope Always. It was published by Tyndale in 2021.
Matthew explained to me that he is in demand to speak on a topic nobody wants to hear. He said pastors have been typically avoiding speaking of suicide because it may not be something addressed in their training. Yet, Matthew said, “We not only have news. We have the only good news.” He pointed out that there is a trillion dollar a year healthcare system trying to help people not commit suicide and it’s not working. He said our educational system is spending big bucks trying to help children not commit suicide and it’s not working.
When I got back to my office, I checked out his claims. I learned that the Department of Health in Ohio says suicide was up 45 percent from 2007 to 2018. This compares to increased rates nationally of 25 percent. Our state’s DOH also pointed out an incredible increase in suicides among older adults living in Ohio’s rural communities.
Matthew explained that he began work on his book, Hope Always, by listening to the survivors’ stories when they showed up in his ER. He listened to hundreds of patients. Let me quote from his book. Matthew said, “I have seen at close hand what faith in the Lord can and cannot do for those struggling with suicide, addiction, and mental illness. … Although denigrated by many today, the church’s ability to prevent suicide in the past may have actually been better than what modern medicine is capable of today.” (p. 4)
And that’s what has driven Matthew to tell all the Christians that he encounters. The Good News of Jesus provides the only hope that someone will ever need.
Well, back at the party, my 91-year-old mother was there and said, “My father always said that if anyone committed suicide that they will go to Hell.” Matthew explained that the idea came from the Roman Catholic church. They believe that if any mortal sin is not confessed, then it dooms Catholics to Hell. Some believe that a suicide note is a form of confession. However, evangelical Christians who believe in the Bible know that repentance of sin and faith in Jesus is all that is required to be born again and guaranteed eternal life in Heaven. The point in mentioning this is to say that other than her father, my mother had never been discipled about what the Bible teaches on suicide. No Bible studies or sermons had addressed that in her presence.
Last night I led a Bible study on Samson and Deliliah. As I prepared the discussion, I realized that I had skipped over Samson’s death. By doing some additional study, I was able to address Samson’s suicide in a sensitive, but accurate way. I did not preach him out of Hell, but I didn’t sugarcoat his demise. I simply provided faith in Jesus as our only hope.
The day after we met, Matthew Sleeth texted Proverbs 24:11-12 to encourage me. It said, “If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’ won’t he who weighs hearts consider it? Won’t he who protects your life know? Won’t he repay a person according to his work? Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter.”
Those of us that are church leaders have an opportunity to share Good News not only about what to be saved from, but to receive eternal blessings starting right now by following Jesus. Most people don’t live life like it’s a birthday party. As Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7, “We can cast all our cares on Him, because He cares for us.”
As I said at the top of the podcast, this is part one of two parts.
--Mark Snowden directs the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association