REV. FR. PAUL DANBAKI JATAU PHD
A dark cloud has gathered over our country in recent times. Many lives have ended in suicide. The questions recently asked are: Why and What can one do about this? It is in this light that I would like to address this issue within the context of God’s gift of life to humanity. This is with the hope that those who may think of suicide would reconsider their situation.
Until the relatively recent past, suicide was uncommon in Nigeria. We, as Nigerians, have always been known to exhibit a sunny disposition in life. With the goal of conforming to the expectations of others, we sometimes just grin and bear our woes – despite these, we always muster the courage to bravely put up with a smile. This character trait has saved us many times from a very miserable existence. But how long can we keep that smile, or that happy face?
It is a fact that life has its own ups and downs that we have to face. And in reality, some situations may get out of hand as we struggle to deal with a great amount of emotional stress along with social pressure that may eventually wear us down. At times, the suicidal think that killing themselves is the only way out; but the truth is, they are not really interested in ending their lives. They think of suicide as an escape from responsibilities and burdens, from people or from things that are beyond their control.
Even in scriptures, many people suffering the pain of loneliness, depression and darkness, were tempted to despair. They asked God to let them die and so end it all. The story of Elijah, for example, has a familiar ring to it. Filled with fear and with a sense of foreboding, Elijah, together with a close friend, fled to the countryside. Exhausted from fear and pain, he even decided that he could no longer cope with the company of his closest friend. He abandoned friendship and then journeyed into the wilderness on his own. We are told that, after a day’s journey in the blazing sun, “sitting under a furze bush he wished he were dead. Yahweh, he said, “I have had enough. Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.” Filled with darkness and worn out by the heat and the journey, he lay down, hoping and praying that God would take his life and end his suffering. However, we are told that instead God sent an angel to help him. He gave him bread to eat and water to drink. “Strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kgs 19:1-8).
Life matters! God did not create any of us for our own destruction. He gave each one of us the gift of life and made the world for the enjoyment of all the generations that have lived and will live. He wants us to enjoy it. He wants each one of us to discover the joy of living in this world which he has created and, furthermore, he wants each of us to create conditions in the world where every human being can live in dignity and enjoy God’s creation. For, as the Catechism tells us: “we are stewards, not owners of the life God has entrusted to us”. Ours is the task to appreciate life as God’s gift and then help others to do so by improving the conditions in which all God’s children live. Pain, even tragedy, are never God’s last word.
Our faith assures us that if we turn to God in our loneliness and pain then we can discover that our darkness is not something created by God. It is a reality from which God wants to rescue us and through which we can triumph. This is central to the message of Christ. He offers us the opportunity to take suffering seriously, confront it and then go beyond it. This is precisely what He did in his paschal mystery. He accepted the suffering of the Cross himself, he endured it, gave it meaning and triumphed over it. And it is this triumphant spirit, given to us in baptism, which allows us to do the same. This is what gives us hope in the face of so much loneliness, pain and fear. This is what convinces us that Isaiah was right when he said “He did not create the world in vain; He made it to be lived in” (Isa 45.18) Life is for living, therefore, and life is also worth living.
Finally, everyone has a responsibility to treat the tragedy of suicide in a conscientious manner, being sensitive not to stigmatize it, understanding and supportive of those affected by it and at the same time avoiding its glorification.