This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Little blue signs dot the Golden Gate Bridge. They read, “There is hope.” To most people, these reminders seem irrelevant in the presence of the moving air and the dazzling waters of the San Francisco Bay. In a place renowned for its beauty, visitors might be surprised by all these little blue lifelines for crisis counseling.
If you’re at the point of considering suicide, then you’re probably not surprised at all. You know what it is to carry a nameless darkness inside you wherever you go, no matter how bright and beautiful the place. You’ve seen behind the illusion that most people are all too happy to live in. Like tourists trying to drink down life from souvenir cups, most people live life only tuning out the terror they know is there. The terror of seeing life for what it truly is—worthless.
But you can’t tune it out. The meaning of life is an illusion you’re too weary to prop up anymore. You wish you could return to that happy naivete, but it’s like something shifted inside you and you can no longer drink from souvenir cups. Perhaps you wonder: Are they living in an illusion, or am I?
That’s the tricky thing about the state of mind you’re in. In some ways, you may see better than others how futile life is. In other ways, they may see better than you how life’s meaning is not entirely an illusion. In other words, you’re seeing your life in part rightly and in part wrongly. The difference is crucial.
You may see your life as worthless.
Even with all of its little pleasures and happy moments, life has not made a satisfying case for any lasting meaning. Any good you experience right now seems to you an empty, passing thing. Scripture affirms the conclusion that life seems futile, empty, an unhappy business. The grizzled, old Solomon acknowledged that any attempt to know life’s deeper meaning only increases sadness (Eccl. 1:12–18). So in part, you’re right.
But in part you’re wrong. Scripture also widens the lens on human life, giving us God’s perspective. What we find is that the God who calls himself the Ancient of Days somehow finds eternal value in the passing moments of your life. The same old man who said life is a vapor says that God considers every life important enough to evaluate from top to bottom, from private experiences to public actions (Eccl. 12:13–14). The life you perceive as worthless, God perceives as full of worth. His perception is more reliable than yours.
You may see your suffering as overwhelming.
Life is just one prolonged agony. The only change that seems to come is fresh forms of pain piling on the old. Simply put, suffering is all you can see when you look at your life, and you no longer believe you can bear up under the weight. Scripture affirms that suffering is a real evil, and the pain we register in response is an accurate view of a world gone wrong. We groan—that is, we try to express pain too deep for words to convey (Rom. 8:18–26). So in part, you’re right.
But in part you’re wrong. Scripture acknowledges the evil of pain, but with a surprising reversal. Pain invites the special affection of God. As with a compassionate Father, his heart is drawn toward the child who has been most harmed by a harsh world. He keeps count of their sleepless hours and saves every tear they shed as if each one were precious (Ps. 56:8). God is resolved to end the pain of his children, in his time and his way (Rev. 21:1–4). The pain you perceive as overwhelming, God perceives as passing. His perception is more reliable than yours.
You may see your friends as unable to help.
People fail each other. Even close friends are unable to understand you fully. They try to be nice and maybe even genuinely care, but they are unable to enter into the darkness. Friends are simply unable to shoulder the load that has fallen on you alone. Scripture acknowledges the inability of other people to fix you, or even to fully comprehend what you’re going through (Prov. 14:10). So in part, you’re right.
The life you perceive as worthless God perceives as full of worth.
But in part you’re wrong. Even in a world of strangers, Scripture acknowledges that love is real. People are capable of genuine, sacrificial care for one another that can make burdens lighter by sharing the load (Gal 6:2). Of all the capabilities God has shared with people, the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13). You perceive your friends as unable to understand you, but God perceives them as able to love you. His perception is more reliable than yours.
You may see God as unwilling to help.
You wonder why God does not rescue you from the dread and fatigue of it all. You want to have the kind of life you see others having, to experience the joy you once thought was real. You’ve asked him countless times to bring some small relief, to show some small mercy. Scripture is full of people asking this very thing, probably in the form of the private weeping you know so well, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). So in part, you’re right.
But in part, you’re wrong. The despair of this life is not a sign of God’s distance from us, but rather of our distance from him. In fact, ours is a double distance—the distance of living in a broken world and of seeing him through darkened eyes. That’s why God sent his Son Jesus across this double distance. The Lord Jesus came to this broken world and took on the pain of human life so that he’d be qualified to sympathize with you (Heb. 4:14–16). He also came to open the eyes of our hearts so that we can see the hope he’s called us to (Eph. 1:18). You perceive God as unwilling to help, but he has already proven his willingness in the most extreme of ways. What he says is more reliable than what you say.
Perhaps by now you’ve sensed what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get you to stop trusting your own view of things right now. You’re not seeing straight. If you’re considering ending your own life, you are not seeing yourself, other people, or God rightly.
But you can’t just decide in a moment to see everything rightly. All you can do right now is acknowledge that you don’t. Stop trusting suicidal ideas. They are just ideas. Wrong ideas. It’s as simple and as impossible as that. Embrace the fact that you’re not seeing things rightly.
Then place yourself around people who reinforce better ideas. You need people who have a clearer view of you than you have of yourself. You need to open yourself to the resources that surround you.
If you’re close to an attempt to take your own life, it’s the right thing to call 911 or to take yourself to the closest Emergency Room. Later, you can look up any emergency psychiatric services available in your area and put that info into your phone for quick access. Medical help is a gift from the Lord that can help stabilize your mind.
But that is not the only gift, nor the primary one in helping shape your view of your life. God gives us relationships to help us escape from the oppression of our own minds. Do a quick inventory of the people who love you most and commit to speaking with them. A spouse or parents, a sibling or good friend. They may not know the ins and outs of your experience, but that’s not the purpose of you sharing. The purpose is to hear from someone not caught in the same illusion you are.
But the best way to begin to renew your understanding of yourself and of God is to hear from God’s word. Go find people who have learned to trust what God says in their own suffering. Speak with your pastor or a wise Christian at church. If you don’t belong to a church, find one that loves the Bible and loves people, and participate. If the church has a counseling ministry, seek it out. They can help you understand personally how God’s love in Jesus Christ transforms everything, even as you suffer in this life.
Those little blue signs on the Golden Gate Bridge that say, “There is hope” are there for a reason. Life is hard for people. But God has given much better signs of hope, signs that are scattered all over your life. You just need the eyes to see them. God delights in granting such eyes to those who admit they need him.
Waiting with you,