Thoughts to Ponder

Maybe it's your focus.

This Thought to Ponder is a little different. I receive a lot of e-mail from people, who say they are Christians, who are contemplating suicide, or who think life isn't worth living. I want to show you one such e-mail and my response to it. At the end, I have posted this person's reply to my response. [The e-mail from this person is in blue.]

Dear Ralph,

I'm not really sure where to start. I'm feeling extremely depressed right now. Of course, for me, that's pretty much the norm these days. I am a Christian, and have been for years, and I probably won't ever commit suicide, but there are times--like now--when I wish I could. I just want it all to be over with.

I hate my life. Having heaven to look forward to doesn't change the fact that this life is indescribably miserable. In a way, it makes it worse. When you think about it, the book of James even promises that this life will be one trial after another. I have a very difficult time counting this as joy of any kind. I'm tired. I'm depressed. I just want life to be over. I don't care if it's natural causes, rapture, or whatever way God sees fit, I don't want to go on any more. Life is just not worth the trouble.

I don't know what I really expect you to tell me. You'll probably start by quoting Hebrews 9:27 and telling me how I can't kill myself because I'll be judged for it. To me, that's just one more reason to hate life--I'm already miseralbe enough, but I'm not allowed to end that misery. God apparently wants me to suffer, or He would do something about it, either by letting me die, or by making life somehow more tolerable. Since neither of those things ever seem to happen, I assume that God has a reason why He wants me to suffer.

Quite honestly, though, I'm starting to hold it against Him. If suffering is designed to make me stronger, than it's so I can be stronger when I face even more suffering. That's not a particularly uplifting thought for me. I'm tired of hearing people tell me how "we all have problems, you just have to deal with it." I can't deal with it. I don't know how to deal with it. I don't want to deal with it. I'm tired of dealing with it. Life isn't worth all the dealing. I just want to be dead.

No, that's not entirely true, because "dead" just means that I have no body, but my spirit goes on to another place, eventually heaven. I don't even want that. I don't want eternal life. I hate life enough where that sounds markedly unpleasant to me. I want eternal rest. I don't want to be "dead" per se, I don't want to exist, period. Unfortunately, the way God has set things up, that is an impossibility. Heaven or hell, I still have to keep existing forever. That, to me, is the most depressing thought of all.

I am not sure you are going to like my response, but all I can do is be totally honest with you. The bottom line is this; your focus is wrong. You might be surprised but Hebrews 9:27 isn't one of the passages that I use with people who tell me that they are Christians and are considering suicide. Rather this is the passage I use:

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; [20] you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. [NIV]

It is pretty hard to honor God with your body as you kill it. But you are right, I do believe that the Bible clearly teaches that if you take your own life you will spend eternity in hell, separated from God and His love. But since you appear to already know that and since I don't think that is truly your problem I will not go further down that road.

You said you have been a Christian for years but what does that mean? I know what it means to be a biblical Christian, but I don't know what it means to you. Being a Christian means a lot of different things to different people, but there is a biblical description of being a Christian.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." [NIV]

Many people view Christianity as what God will do for me, instead of as Jesus describes it, denying ourselves. The real difference between these two views is focus. Is the focus on us or on Christ?

If the focus is on us, then everything revolves around us, and our wants and our desires. If the focus is on Christ, then everything revolves around what He wants and what His desires are. If the two conflict, then where our main focus is will be where the conflict is resolved. If the focus is on us and what we want doesn't happen, then we get depressed, or mad. If the focus is on Christ and what we want doesn't happen, then we can still praise God and know that He is in control and that He is doing what is best for us. We might not understand it, we might not even enjoy or like it, but we can trust Him and know that His will is being done.

What many Christians don't seem to understand is that God demands that our focus be on Christ and not ourselves. If we refuse to focus on Him, then God often will try to get our attention. Let me show you examples of what I am talking about:

Amos 4:6-10 [6] "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [7] "I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. [8] People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [9] "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD. [10] "I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD." [NIV]

God will even cause us to be overwhelmed to get our attention:

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 [8] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. [10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, [11] as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. [NIV]

This was the Apostle Paul and he had to learn this lesson, yet many Christians believe the lie that God will never give you more than you can handle. No where in His word does it say that, it says the exact opposite as we have just seen. What He will never do is give us more than He can handle for us and He will never fail to help us if we will come to Him.

You made the statement that you don't even want eternal life, because you hate life, you just want eternal rest, to cease to exist. But what you are really saying, maybe without realizing it, is that you don't want to spend eternity with God, you would rather just cease to exist and who cares what God has prepared for you.

Two things are sad about that, first you show your lack of love for God, because it is normal to want to be with those we love. Second, you show that you don't really understand what you are truly looking for. You say you want rest and I will be the very first to say I understand that statement. While I was a Deputy Sheriff, I often felt that way. I can remember being at the morgue and looking at dead bodies and longing to have what they had, peace and rest. The problem was that it was a lie from the pit of hell. They weren't at rest, unless they had been believers before they died, otherwise they had anything but rest or peace.

You either have rest here and now, or you will never have rest. Rest doesn't mean you have no problems, it means spiritual rest and that is what we are all longing for.

Jeremiah 17:5-9 [5] This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. [6] He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. [7] "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. [8] He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." [9] The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? [NIV]

We will either be a reflection of the first person described in that passage or the second, the choice is ours.

Psalms 19:7-11 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. [8] The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. [9] The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. [10] They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. [11] By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. [NIV]

Reviving the soul..., giving joy to the heart...

Matthew 11:28-30 [28] "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." [NIV]

But don't forget what it takes to come to Him, it means denying yourself and following Him. Then you will get rest for your soul, here and now. No, you might not get rest from the problems of this world, but once you have true rest for your soul, the rest of the world and its problems will diminish.

2 Cor. 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. [17] For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. [18] So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [NIV]

We fix our eyes... on what is unseen. What is unseen, is Christ.

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. [NIV]

1 Cor. 2:9 However, as it is written:

"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"--[NIV]

Again it all comes back to focus, are we focused on Christ and being with Him for all eternity, or are we focused on ourselves and the here and now?

You made the statement that you aren't even allowed to end the misery. No you aren't if you mean by killing yourself, but God can end the misery if you will allow Him to. Again I want to stress that doesn't mean that He will take away all your problems, but He will refocus your life and give you spiritual rest and renew your soul and bring joy to your heart.

Let me show you something that explains what I am talking about:

Acts 5:40-42 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
[41] The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. [42] Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. [NIV]

2 Thes. 1:3-10 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. [4] Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
[5] All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. [6] God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you [7] and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. [8] He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [9] They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power [10] on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. [NIV]

Both of these passages show that we will suffer in this life. To be honest most of us in America and other western countries seldom truly suffer for the cause of Christ, our sufferings are much more due to just living in a fallen world, but many around the world are suffering because of the Name of their Savior.

It is in those countries where the believers are persecuted that the church is most alive and the believers have the most faith. They have to focus on God because He is their only hope.

Many underground home churches in China, for example, are lucky to have even one Bible, which they must share. Many other groups might only have one book of the Bible which they share among the whole church. They memorize it, they study it and they protect it. They know that if they are caught with it, it will be taken away from them and they will be imprisoned, beaten or even killed because of their faith. Yet these churches are alive and growing.

Do you want real peace and real rest? Then focus on Christ, get to know Him and what He did for you. When you truly understand what He did for you, before you were even born and truly understand how undeserving you were of that love, then you are ready to enjoy loving Christ.

There is no greater joy than to truly love Christ with all your heart. Most of my life I didn't understand that. I thought I understood what He did for me, "He died for my sins" but it was an intellectual understanding not a heart felt understanding. It took walking away from Christ and doing things that I now find hard to believe that I did, before I understood what He did for me.

I, like many people, understood that I was a sinner, but to be honest I hadn't committed any 'bad' sins. That is what I thought in my own mind. I hadn't murdered anyone, or robbed any banks, or done anything really bad. Well you know, even after all the horrible things I have done, I still haven't murdered anyone or robbed any banks, but I have done horribly sinful things. We all have.

We tend to belittle our own sins, and that belittles Christ's sacrifice in our own eyes. Yet He tells us that if we hate a person we have committed murder. If we lusted after someone we have committed adultery. None of us is innocent, we all deserve to die and spend eternity in torment for our sins.

It was only after I came back to Christ that I was able to truly understand that. I hold no illusions at all that I was ever a good person. I was sinful and rotten to the core, just like you and everyone else who has been born to a human mother and father.

When I finally understood what He had done for me, that He had loved me even when I was totally unlovable, then I truly started to love Him.

Luke 7:36-47 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. [37] When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, [38] and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
[39] When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner."
[40] Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
[41] "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
[43] Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. [44] Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. [46] You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. [47] Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." [NIV]

I am that woman; I love Him much because I know I have been forgiven much. I long to be with Him, because He saved my life. Who among us who was saved physically in this life would not want to be with the person who saved us? Who would not think first about that person and want to continually thank them? Yet we have a Savior who has saved us from a much worse fate and most of us never even stop to reflect on it. The problem is our focus.

So if you truly want to be free and at peace and have rest, then focus on Christ.

Ralph

[his reply is below]

I realize exactly what I'm saying. I do mean that I don't want to spend eternity with God, and that I would rather just cease to exist. Granted, I don't want to spend eternity without God, either. I simply don't want to spend eternity, period. I am painfully aware, though, that this is, unfortunately, not possible.

You said it was normal to want to be with those you love. Then I am abnormal. My wife divorced me a few years ago (she decided that Christianity wasn't for her after all, took up Wicca, then had an affair with a guy who told her all of this was ok. When I found out about the affair, she divorced me and ended up with custody of our daughter, then 2, now 5).

Anyway, I should love my daughter, right? I should want her back, right? I should relish the time I do get to spend with her, right?

I hate every minute. Every other weekend, I cease to exist as a human being, drop everything, and spend 30+ hours playing "My Little Pony." The mind-numbing monotony becomes physically painful after about 2 hours. Add to that, she has become a mouthy little brat, and I can do almost nothing to discipline her. I am required by law to "spare the rod and spoil the child". Spoiled doesn't even come close.

Did I mention that these weekends take place at my parents' house? So now, at age 31, I have to move back in with them every other weekend and deal with the nightmare of eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, and otherwise living in general, on somebody else's terms. Hence I cease to exist as a person. I become just another mindless plaything for my daughter.

I would give almost anything to just say "goodbye forever" and walk away from it all. I can't afford the child support. I pay $600 per month as is, because I gave up Weds. and Fri. afternoons. I see her every other weekend, 10 am Sat. to 3 pm Sun, and that sliver of time is already unbearable. I go into fits of depression a week ahead of time, as soon as Sunday night arrives, and I know that I won't get a day off for the next 12 days. I scream, I throw things, and I contemplate suicide a little more each weekend.

[…]

I just want to cease existing. No spirit, no consciousness, no heaven, no hell, no me. But... that's not possible. As such, I don't feel spiritual rest, I feel spiritual imprisonment. I am trapped in a world, in an eternity, that I want no part of, and there is no way out. Only the promise of never-ending trials and tribulations in this life, and presumably never-ending Seminary in the next. I don't want that any more than the alternative.

As a result, I feel a growing resentment in my life, toward this world, toward the next world, and toward God for creating me in the first place. I don't want spiritual peace. I am too physically and spiritually exhausted to deal with peace and rest. I want to be un-created.

I find his reply even sadder than his original message to me, but it does confirm my feelings about him and his focus. I won't judge his heart, but I will allow his own statements to judge him. He does not want to be with God, He views heaven as a never-ending Seminary. He has no true love for his daughter. His focus is self centered to the exclusion of everyone else. He never answered what it means to him to be a Christian, but it isn't what Jesus described, certainly. If he has ever really known Christ, then he has forgotten his first love, or it is possible that he has believed that he is a Christian for years without truly knowing Christ. I can't know his heart, but I can judge his words according to God's word:

1 John 4:19-21 [19] We love because he first loved us. [20] If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. [21] And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. [NIV]

This passage mentions brother, meaning fellow believer, but how much more would it imply family, children, etc… Our churches don't teach focusing on Christ, they don't teach denial of self, they don't teach putting others first and ourselves second and as a result we have people like Paul described:

2 Tim. 3:1-5 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. [2] For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3] unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, [4] treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, [5] holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. [NASB-U]

We all need to check our focus and put it back on Christ.

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflects his views.

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December 2006