Reconciling Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts With My Faith
I am a Christian. I read my Bible and try to live my life the way the Bible teaches me to live. I go to church every Sunday and Bible study during the week. I’m raising my daughter to know God, to pray, to go to church.
I’ve also lived with mental illness for as long as I can remember. My depression has been so severe, I’ve self-harmed since I was 7 years old, so for the majority of my life. I have tried to take my life on a couple of occasions. I’ve thought about suicide since I was a teenager, so for more that half of my life. Suicide has always been an option for me. It’s not my first choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless.
How do I reconcile my self-harm and suicidal thoughts with my faith? Am I sinning? Do I need to be placed under church discipline? Do I need to be admonished by the elders? The short answer, in my opinion, is no. I’ve had people quote the Bible to me;
“Your body is the temple of God.”
“Do not cut yourself for the dead.”
”Do everything for the Glory of God.”
”Do not commit murder.”
Yes, my body is the temple of God. Yes, I have cut my body, the temple of God. No, I did not cut myself for the glory of God. Yes, taking my life would be considered murdering myself to some people, although, in my opinion, that’s an overreach.
Do I need to be placed under church discipline for self-harming or for suicidal thoughts? Some people in the church have told me yes, I do need to be punished for what I have done and continue to do. I have been told by people in the church that it is a sin, that because of my scars, I won’t be allowed into heaven. The thoughts, the actions, the obvious lack of faith that I have (because if I had faith I wouldn’t struggle with mental illness) exclude me from heaven.
However, my answer is no. I do not need to be placed under church discipline. No, I do not need to be punished. My mind has tortured me for as long as I can remember. I punish myself enough. I have faith. I believe in God. I repent my sins. I believe Jesus will come again. My mental illness is not a reflection of the level of my faith.
Some churches and some people have a very fundamentalist faith. They have legalistic beliefs. They have lost Jesus’ message of love and compassion. They are heavy on condemnation and low on compassion. They do not walk beside people like Jesus did. They do not preach love. They preach law. It’s hard to see Jesus in these people. It’s hard for christians to see Jesus in these people, so imagine how hard it is for non-christians to see Jesus in these people. This attitude doesn’t help people to heal. This attitude creates new wounds that will need healing. Why should people with mental illness feel further from God while the fundamentalists feel righteous in their closeness to God? Why would anyone want to create a divide between God and someone whose mind is tortured? I’m sorry, but that’s not Christ like! That’s not a Christ I would want to follow.
Mental illness is not new. Mental illness has existed for as long as humans have existed. The labels for these mental illnesses are relatively new. We have since attached labels and diagnoses to these illnesses. The illnesses are not new. It’s more common now with the growth in population and modern day society, but not new. God is not surprised by mental illness. He’s not shocked by mental illness. I have no doubt that it saddens God when I think of suicide or harm myself, but I know God still loves me and I am still worthy (as worthy as anyone else) of that love.
I’m not saying that laws and commandments are not important. They are. Love and compassion and being Christ-like is also important, and I think it’s important to show that side of Christ to everyone, particularly to those who are suffering.
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