When Life is Too Hard

Mar 06, 2019

A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the US and, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. This week, Drs. Vince and Jo Vitale discuss listener-submitted questions on this subject including: If I have a background of chronic abuse and neglect, how do I trust God will actually provide for me? Can a person who commits suicide go to Heaven? Is it wrong to ask God to end my life? Tune in as we talk about this sensitive and important topic this week.

Want to talk about this episode with fellow podcast listeners and the RZIM team? Start the discussion on our online community: connect.rzim.org.

Have a question you want the Ask Away crew to cover? Email us at askaway@rzim.org or use the hashtag #askrzim on Twitter.

Don't miss another episode, subscribe wherever podcasts are found (quick links: iTunes, Google Play Music, and Spotify).

Follow the Ask Away crew on Twitter:
Vince Vitale - @VinceRVitale
Jo Vitale - @Joanna_Vitale
Michael Davis - @mdav1979

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Note: Ask Away is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. Many people in the West have a view of Christianity that makes very little sense in light of the history of the faith or the experience of millions of believers all over the world. The Christian life is one of hardship, struggle, pain, and all too often, persecution. Scripture is clear that God uses all of our experiences, including some truly awful ones, to prepare us for eternity. Yet even in the relative comfort of life in the West, pain and suffering seems to always eventually intrude on the life of every believer.

Why does God make this life so hard? Why are some people spared from hardships and others have it inflicted upon them to such an extent that they literally pray for death. But before we get started, Vince, can you tell our listeners about Connect, RZIM's global online community?

Vince Vitale: I hope this community can be a real blessing to you. It's growing rapidly. It's a new initiative of RZIM. It's somewhere that you can come and ask your faith questions. Ask the questions that your friends might have. When you ask a question in RZIM Connect, you will very likely get several responses within 24 hours that are really going to deepen your understanding of that question. So you're surrounded by a community of people who are all trying to dig deeper, to explore further the meaning of life and how God relates to it and how we can trust God more and more, day by day.

Please check that out. It's a great way to get updates about the ministry. It's a great way to invest in other people's lives as they ask questions that you may have an insight about. It's the perfect place to be asking your difficult questions, much better than just sticking that question in Google and hoping you get lucky with a decent answer showing up at the top of the list. Instead, come somewhere where you know you're going to get a personal and a credible answer to your faith question. You can do that by going to connect.rzim.org. I hope to see you there.

Michael Davis: Excellent. Well, before we get started, I do want to mention that we do have some names for some of these questions today. Due to the sensitivity of these questions, we're going to keep all the names anonymous. This is the first question. "If one has a background of chronic abuse and neglect, how is it possible to believe that God will provide for all their needs? How do I know I won't end up homeless and living under a bridge? How do I know I'll always have decent clothes to wear? Would he even provide a house for me to own one day since that's beyond the basics of food and clothes? How are we supposed to make sense of the story in Hosea? How can I therefore trust God with all my heart and to lean not into my own understanding when it appears that he does, at times, ask us to do things that are detrimental to ourselves or others?"

Jo Vitale: Well, thank you so much for asking this question. It's a deeply vulnerable one and there's so much to it. I think the first thing I just want to say is I'm so sorry if that's been your experience, if you're someone who you're listening and you have a background of chronic abuse and neglect. I can only imagine, if that's been the case, how hard it can be to trust anybody who comes along and makes promises to you, to have the confidence to put your life in their hands when others have wronged you so much. So I really appreciate this question. I think it's actually a question that will apply to a lot of our listeners and a lot of people.

I think the first thing I really want to say to this is that, whatever you have been through, and whatever human beings and other people have done to you, God is not a God who will ever abuse or neglect you. This is not a God who is inconsistent in his character, not a God who is going to shift in his personality and one day He's a God who's for you and the next day, He's a God who is against you. It says in the book of James that, "Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows." This is a God whose character is consistent. It's not going to be fickle. You never have to wake up in the morning and wonder how God feels about you today or how He is going to treat you.

He's not a God who would ever abuse you. Actually scripture says that, "God will work all things for the good of those of who love Him." Nor is He a God who will ever neglect you, far from it. He's a God who pursued you. He pursued you all the way to the cross. He's done everything within His power to reach out to you to let you know that He is for you and that as far as He's concerned, He never desires for anything to separate you. In fact, in Romans it says, "Nothing can separate you from the love of God." The Bible also says that, "God will never leave you or forsake you," no matter who else in your life may have abandoned you or turned away from you, God would never turn His back on you. There's never a moment when He's not facing you, looking towards you, seeing you.

It says in the Old Testament that, "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the Earth." He is a God who's constantly looking out for you. That's not something that you need to question or doubt, that God is for you, that He desires your good, that He loves you. That will never change and we can have confidence in that. Now, I think the implication of this question is, what does that mean practically when it comes to the Christian life? This is, in many ways, a challenging question for us to answer because, on the one hand, we do have plenty of examples both in the Bible and in the lives of many Christians that I know have seen God provide in miraculous and amazing ways for people's needs, of saying that you don't need to worry because your Heavenly Father knows your needs. Jesus says that and he says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, but these other things will be added onto you," and that God will care for your needs.

And yet at the same time, we also have a very clear picture presented to us in the New Testament that following Jesus doesn't mean that life is always going to be comfortable or easy. In fact, we're following Jesus who himself says that he, as the Son of Man, has nowhere to lay his head. So what does it mean for us to be disciples of Jesus? He takes up his cross and then he commands us to follow after him and also taking up our own crosses. One of the questions that Jesus poses is, what good is it for man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul? The implication there being it's not ultimately in material or earthly things that you'll find satisfaction, but look beyond. Look to the eternal and invisible things because that's where our hope lies to truly find life in the fullest sense is an eternal life with God.

But that doesn't mean life on this Earth will be easy, quite the opposite. The New Testament's clear, it will come with persecutions. The New Testament is clear that suffering is a piece of that. Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble." But then he goes on to say, "Take heart, I have overcome the world." So when we look at the spectrum of Christian lives even in the world today, we see some who, materially, we all suffer in different ways. In the gospel, I think we're called to do that. You're going to look across the spectrum and say, "Well, they seem pretty comfortable," and they're literally dying for their faith. Christians are dying around the world for their faith.

There's a reality to this that we're not promised comfort in this world. And yet, Paul has these amazing words that he prays in Philippians when he says, "I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty and I've learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. The secret is this, I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." He's talking about Jesus Christ there. I think this is the ultimate thing, that God knows what we need. But the thing we need more than anything else is a God who loves us, who won't leave us or forsake us, who promises us eternal life with Him.

I can promise you, no matter what you're going through, God will never abandon you. God will be in it with you at all times and in all places. God promises a redemption and a time when there will be no more tears or suffering or pain. But in this life, there aren't guarantees that we won't suffer and that it won't be hard along the way. But the question is, is Jesus worth it? Is knowing Jesus worth everything else that may come with it? Because sometimes being a Christian makes your life harder. There's just a truth and a reality to that. But I really appreciated this quote that I found from Sam Storms who said, "Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God."

I think for me that's the baseline. That's the question it comes down to. Whatever happens to me in this life, whatever we face or endure, is Jesus Christ enough for me? Will He be my joy? I think that's the question every one of us has to face, as Christians, when we're entrusting our life to God, is God enough for us? Will He be our joy? Will we let Him be all that we need?

Vince Vitale: It really is a question for every one of us. I think that's partly why this is such a good question because for every person, whatever they put their faith in, the question is, how is it possible to believe that what we put our trust in will provide for our deepest needs? I think that only Jesus, as Jo's been saying, only Jesus answered that compellingly because he went through everything that we're afraid of. He understood every one of our needs in the deepest, most concrete, tangible way, and then he showed that he still has the power to provide. So Jesus was abused. He was neglected. In his darkest hour, all of his friends deserted him.

He was homeless. He was stripped of his clothes. He was a refugee. He had people trying to kill him. His family, at least members of His family, thought He was out of His mind. He was made fun of constantly. He was rejected by His own people. He was in such anguish before He died that He sweat blood. He was convicted of a crime that He did not commit. He was sentenced to death. He was brutally tortured. His enemies gloated over His suffering. He was shamed as a public spectacle. He hung on a cross with His mother watching. He knew the emotion of estrangement from His father. He knew the feeling of being forsaken.

And then, three days later, despite all of that, despite understanding the depth to which we, as human persons, can be plunged into darkness and despair, He rose from the grave, declaring and even more than declaring, showing concretely that despite all of that darkness, the darkness does not have the last word, that there truly can be light at the end of the tunnel, that despite all of that that He had been through and all that we can go through, He can still provide. He promises that He's gone to provide. He's gone to prepare a place for us in His father's house, which has many rooms and he's promised that where you are headed if you trust in Him is to a state of abundant and eternal provision.

Jo Vitale: Please don't hear us saying that you shouldn't ask for God to provide.

Vince Vitale: Absolutely.

Jo Vitale: I truly believe that God loves to answer prayers. I truly believe that time and again He does exceedingly more than all I can ask for or imagine in my life and in the lives of many. I've seen miraculous answers to prayers that could have only have come from the provision of God. So I truly believe that He is a good Father. I believe that if God has a purpose for us to fulfill in this lifetime, He will give us what we need in order to be able to fulfill those things.

But I think what we're saying here is sometimes what we think we need and what God sees that we need may not always be the same thing. Sometimes the path that Jesus calls us to walk is a costly one, but it always for good, not just for the good of other people around us. It's not instrumentalist, but also for our own good as well in the most ultimate sense. God only gives good gifts. That's something that I think we have to hold onto as we're walking out our faith. I also think for us as Christians, this is a huge challenge because one of the ways God answers that prayer the most is by calling us as Christians to be the answer to other people's prayers in the ways that we love them. Jesus is deeply challenging in this area.

In Matthew 25, Jesus basically says, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in," and so on. And then he says that the righteous will turn to him and say, "When did we feed you or look after you or quench your thirst or clothe you?" And then Jesus says, "What you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." So the calling of the Christian is high. It's to love other people who don't have, and we see that modeled in the early church where they shared with the poor. It's one of the reasons the church grew so fast in the first century of Christianity was because of the way that Christians loved generously.

So for those Christians who do have wealth and who are in a position to be able to to give, it's a strong challenge. What are you doing with the money that doesn't ultimately belong to you, it belong to God? How are you using it to fulfill His purposes and to love those around you who don't have? Because you may well be the means through which God wants to answer the prayers of those who need provision.

Michael Davis: This leads us into the next question. This is a heavy one. "Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?"

Vince Vitale: I'm glad this was asked. It's such a difficult question to receive, just because it's troubling to know how many people are asking this question. We find, as we travel around, this question is asked a lot and it's been asked increasingly as well over the last number of years. I think the current statistics is that there's one death by suicide in America every 12.3 minutes, which is very sobering to think that that could happen several times just in the duration of an episode, a podcast like this.

Some people wonder when it comes to suicide, is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does suicide somehow show that the person was never actually a believer in the first place? I don't think that is the case, and we're going to get to that and talk about that in some detail because it's very important. But first, let me also say, very clearly, that suicide is not God's plan for us either. The Bible is clear in John 10. It's the thief. It's the enemy who comes to steal and kill and destroy. In contradistinction to that, Jesus has come that you might have life and have it abundantly. So I do want to say upfront we need to take suicide very seriously and know that God also takes it very seriously.

It has grave consequences, both here on Earth and in a deeply spiritual sense. It can be that the act of suicide is saying that we're not submitting to God's will for us, saying that things have gotten so bad that God is not powerful enough to make good on it, believing that God no longer has a purpose for us, that God can no longer bring light out of the depth of darkness that we have found ourselves in. None of those things are true and we need to make sure that we're living life and proceeding in a way which is in line with the truth of who God is and the gospel that He's given us and the way He has called us to life and to have it abundantly and to trust Him for that life in each and every circumstance. That's very, very important.

So if this is something that has crossed your mind or something you're thinking about, let me just say very clearly this is not God's plan for your life. God's plan for your life is to live. He is the one who gives life and takes it away. That is in His timing. If he has you here on this earth, then He has you for a purpose. So often we cannot see the purpose that God has. We only see that retrospectively. But I have met so many people who have tried to take their life at some point and later tell me how thankful they are that they didn't go through with that or that that was not accomplished. I hear that time and time again. So if you're in that place where you're struggling with this, know that God has more for you and know that trusting in Him and putting yourself in His hands is the very best place that you can be.

Jo Vitale: We know that very well because this ministry was founded on Ravi Zacharias and that was where he began. He'll often talk about the fact that he was on a bed of suicide, and it was God who rescued him from that. The words of Jesus were read to him in that moment, "Because I live, you also will live." I understand that things can get incredibly dark. When they're that dark, you can't see anything. You can't see the light. But that's why we worship a God who is the light of the world, who comes into our darkness. Even though the darkness is strong, the Bible says of Jesus, that it cannot overcome Him. If the darkness cannot overcome Jesus, then that means Jesus overcomes the darkness and He can do that for every one of us.

Even if you can't see, trust in the God who can see, the God who has a plan and a purpose for you, who doesn't want to leave you there, but wants to rescue you and bring you out of that place.

Vince Vitale: Now, the wonderful news is that according to the gospel, we are not saved or not saved based on what we do. If we believe that, then we're right back at a works-based salvation where we try to save ourselves and we don't have any chance of that working. For every one of us, the last thing that we do could be a sin. It could even be a sin that is connected to us dying. I could be yelling at someone in an unjust, angry way on the street and because of that be distracted and get hit by a bus. Would that mean that I was not a Christian? No. It would not. Would that mean that Jesus' sacrifice was not significant enough to pay for my sins, past, present, and future? No. It wouldn't.

If unconfessed sin prior to one's death means you can't be saved, we're all in a lot of trouble.

Michael Davis: Amen.

Vince Vitale: So, we need to put our trust in our salvation, not on what we do, whether the things we do right now or the things that we do right before our death, but in what the Bible says. I always go back to Romans 10:9 because I think it just puts it so concisely and so beautifully. "If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." When we do that, when we confess Jesus, when we believe in him in our hearts, that does not make us perfect, that does not mean that we will no longer sin. But it does mean that our sins are forgiven, past, present, and future.

We will not be judged based on whether we mess up in the future in whatever way, at whatever time. We will not be judged based on we do, but we will be judged based on what Jesus has already done for us.

Jo Vitale: Yeah. It's interesting how often I'll hear the question framed as, is suicide the unforgivable sin? This is actually biblically just a total myth. There's no grounding for that in the Bible, that idea. The only unforgivable sin is the rejection of the Holy Spirit's testimony about Jesus, that He is our Savior. That's the unforgivable sin because if you reject the one means by which you can be saved, then there is no hope for you. You can't be saved unless you're willing to accept the Savior, the one who came for you.

But the idea that there's something else we could do that could put us beyond God's reach, it just radically underestimates who God is and how far He's done and what the cross meant when Jesus literally came and defeated death. The triumphant claim of the Bible is, "Where, oh death, is your victory? Where is your sting?" Christ has come back from death and, therefore, there's nothing that he can't redeem. I think,, often when we talk about this, we're just lacking in compassion when it comes to talking about suicide because, of course, for someone to reach that point, there's often so much going on in their life that we can't understand from the outside. There's often mental health concerns.

There's so much going on there. It's strange to me that people don't judge you for having cancer. But then if it's a mental health disorder, we somehow put that in a different category as if it should just be mind over matter or just pull yourself up by your bootstraps or just shake it off. But this is a health concern. It's biological. It's legitimate. So we need to, as a church, just to do a better job of talking about mental health, of understanding mental health, of understanding that sometimes people aren't in their right minds when they're making some of these decisions.

I also want to say, if you struggle with ... If you're a Christian and you struggle with depression, don't beat yourself up about that either. There can be that struggle for us where we're thinking, "But I should have the mind of Christ, so why am I still struggling with these things?" But actually, it says something about you that you see the darkness in the world. We are in a fallen world and we are in a sinful world. There is a lot of darkness and suffering. Christianity faces up to that reality and we have hope. But we only have hope because of Christ. Outside of Christ, it's very hard to find hope. You can't find hope, I would say, in anything else. So it makes sense that you would struggle with the darkness of the world, but I would say, just keep looking to Christ.

Vince Vitale: And do seek help, as Jo said. Whatever it is that you might be going through, if it is having such a holistic impact on your life that you are thinking about taking your life, your entire existence, then it's very likely that there is a holistic nature to the causes to that as well and it needs to be treated holistically. I've just had one of my very good friends go through a period of deep, deep darkness. He's progressively, but in a wonderful way that we're rejoicing about, come through that. But it took a holistic approach of saying, "We're going to have to deal with this on the spiritual level.

We're going to have to deal with this emotionally. We're also going to have to deal with this physically and biologically. We're going to have to look at this in a holistic way because it's having such a holistic impact on his life." I would encourage you to do the same.

Michael Davis: Okay. Let's get to the last question of the episode. "Is it sinful to ask in my prayers that my life come to an end? I ask for my condition to be taken from me, and if that's not going to be, then let my life end. Is that wrong for me to ask?"

Jo Vitale: I'm so sorry that you're living in a situation that sounds like you're just in extreme and relentless pain. It sounds like it's a condition that isn't going away. I don't know how that feels, but one thing I would say is I actually don't think it is sinful for that to be a prayer that you pray. I actually think that you're in a biblical tradition of others who suffered so extremely that that was part of their conversation with God. I'm so thankful that with God we don't have to put on a fake smile and say things that we don't mean, but we can be real with Him about the extent of agony that we're in and the desires of our hearts.

I think of the book of Job and when Job's suffering was so extreme that he cries out to God, "Wouldn't it have been better if I perished at birth? Why did I even come from the womb if this was the kind of suffering I was going to endure?" I look at the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, who says, "Lord, if it's possible, take this cup from me." He doesn't want to face the unbelievable agony that he is about to endure. I think of the Apostle Paul who also says in one of his letters, "For me, to live as Christ and to die is gain." He's clearly not seeing death as a negative thing. Death is gain because he gets to go and be with God.

We should be motivated by that. That should be something that actually we long for and desire. I think sometimes as Christians we have it the wrong way around where we're so tied down to this life that we forget about the eternal. We forget that there's more to come. We forget that ultimately that's where we're putting our hope when we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, what is eternal. But I think what I want to say to you, in the process of praying that prayer is it's about the posture of your heart when you pray it. Whether in the process of praying that prayer and expressing those feelings, you're also able to say like Christ did, "But not my will, but yours be done." Whether you're also able to say as Paul said, "To die is gain, but also for me to live as Christ."

If God's answer to your prayer is actually for you to go on living, can you still do that in a worshipful way where you say, "Lord, even though my days are agony, for me to live as Christ, for me to live is to know you and to trust that you're a God who's come into my suffering and meets me in this agony"? Are you able to give your life to God and trust Him with it even in the midst of wrestling with that incredible pain?

Vince Vitale: And that's just what Paul is saying, which you quoted, Jo, Philippians 1. He actually says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." But then he goes on and he says, "But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain." So he actually does desire to depart, but he's willing to say, "Lord, your will be done." In fact, he is convinced here that the Lord's will is for him to remain because it's better for other people.

That's a very difficult question for many people. Are we willing to put others even before our own desires. That's a question for us in many different respects pertaining to many different challenges. But if God has you here, does He have you here for a purpose? Could it be that that purpose is to serve and bless others even when you're in a state that you don't desire to be in and you're longing is elsewhere? There's something right about that longing because that longing is to be with Christ and to be in a better place. Here we remember Jesus Himself who came and lived a life on this Earth when he knew better than anyone how much better it was to depart.

He was not here for His own desire because He needed something. He was perfect in Himself and the relationship of the Trinity and experiencing perfect pleasure in the context of eternity. And yet He came down. He remained here. Why? For your progress and joy in the faith, necessary for you, for us that He remained in the body. So when we ask this question, as we pray this, I hope it points us to Jesus and we realize that this is a question He had to ask and answer. It wasn't an easy one. But for a period of His life, He made a really difficult choice to be here for us even when it was in some significant sense, against the desire that He would have had for that perfect experience of the Trinity that he had known for all eternity.

Jo Vitale: So perhaps while you're in that position of waiting, because we don't know how this prayer will be answered, but it may be one thing to do alongside praying that prayer is to say, "God, if you have me here today, then you still have me here for a purpose. So what was it you have for me to do today? Is there some way where, even in the midst of this unbelievable suffering, I can encounter you more deeply? I can experience your presence here with me because I know that you hate my suffering. I know you don't cause my pain, that this isn't a punishment from you. But you are with me in this and other people you're calling me to, maybe other people who are in chronic pain, also, who don't yet know Christ and who I can offer hope to in the face of something that seems completely hopeless."

Maybe even as you look to God for the answer to that prayer, also be asking God to give you the eyes to see those around you and how He's calling you to love and to serve and trusting that He has things for you to do today.

Michael Davis: Well, guys. We are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, there's a variety of places in the Bible. This is a challenge that the Bible understands and is honest about. There's a variety of places in the Bible where we have instances of suicide or instances of people with suicidal thoughts. I would encourage you as well to explore those and to see what the Bible has to say about this issue. I think one of the things the Bible says about this issue is that taking one's life is never God's desire and that there's always another way.

As you dig into some of the stories of where this occurred in the scriptures, I think one of the things that shined through those narratives is that that's not the way it had to be. That's not the way it had to end. God had offered a different purpose, a different route, a different way where he could continue to work good things through that person's life. Jo and I had a dear friend named ... Well, I'll keep her name anonymous as I tell her story, but she was suicidal at one point. We had a prompting at one point to call her. It was one of those things that you don't get all of the time necessarily, but just a strong sense that I needed to call her right then.

We called her, and when we called her she had a knife to her wrist. The call broke her out of that place. We were able to talk her through that season, and she went on to live a wonderful life for the Lord and to step into so many of the purposes that He had for her. So just know, I've always felt like that experience that we had was a statement not just in her life, but a symbolic statement that God was making for us to pass onto others as well, that even in that moment where we feel like we want to end it, God has more. God is going to bring people into your life to help you to get through a difficult season and to come to a place where you can trust Him with even the most difficult things, and have hope and faith that God has good things ahead, both in this life and in the life to come.

Maybe we'll just end this episode by praying on such an important topic. Lord, we're grateful that we can come to you with this. There's no one else we could come to with confidence than you, Jesus, who knows what it is to say that your heart was overwhelmed with sorrow even to the point of death. Thank you that whatever darkness it is that seems to be surrounding us at the moment, you have stood in that darkness and you've shone in that darkness in such a bright way that we can trust that whatever it is that we're going through right now, that's not the end of the story. That's not the end of your purposes, and that darkness does not overpower you, but you, Jesus, the light, overpower that darkness.

God, I pray for anybody who's struggling right now that they would know your love, that they would know your tangible presence with them and that they would know your love for them and your purposes for them. We trust you for that in Jesus' name. Amen.

Michael Davis: Amen.

Jo Vitale: Amen.

Michael Davis: Thanks Jo. Thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening. We'll catch you guys next time.

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