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God Squad: What we can do to prevent suicide

A friend recently committed suicide. She said she was a Christian and believed Jesus died for her sins, and she was saved forever. Isn't it forbidden for Christians to commit suicide? Where in the Bible does it speak about suicide? What are your thoughts on Christians committing suicide?

- A. via e-mail

May God comfort you and your friend's grieving family, and receive her tormented soul. My views on suicide for Christians are exactly the same as my views on suicide for anyone. On a theological level, suicide is self-murder and thus a violation of the 5th (or 6th) Commandment, "Thou shalt not murder." The religious basis for this is the belief that God owns everything, including our bodies, and therefore murder is the taking of what we don't own.

On a human level, every suicide is also an indictment of our hardhearted world that too often allows people to strangle on their own loneliness. Every friend of a person who has committed suicide asks, "Why did I miss the signs?" or "Was there anything I could have done to stop it?" Sometimes, the pain of life is just too deep and the search for hope and community too elusive for us to have prevented a suicide. However, sometimes there are things we can and must do. We can keep in touch. We can include a lost soul in our plans and our lives. We can act on signals easy to overlook.

Recently I spoke to a woman contemplating suicide. She was seeing a therapist but remained in despair. I connected her with my friends Jean Kelly and Rob Kammerer at the Interfaith Nutrition Network and arranged for her to volunteer, serving food to others and helping them find clothing for the cold weeks ahead. In service, she found a way to feel grateful for her blessings and develop some self-worth in her ability to help those in greater need.

There's an old legend about the reason God chose Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. One day, Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, and he saw a goat leave the flock and wander into the hills. He left the flock to retrieve that one goat. God said, "If he cares that much about a single goat, he will certainly care for all the people." We're not as good as Moses. We can't save every lost one, but we can try.

I'm a Christian who's suddenly found himself with a few Jewish friends. One friend doesn't accept the New Testament, but says she loves God and is religious. She keeps the Jewish holy days, but doesn't understand the meaning behind them. Her husband is Catholic, and they celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. This way, as she says, they embrace "the best of both worlds." However, the "best" of Christmas is Christ, whom she doesn't acknowledge. Another friend is a virulent secular atheistic Jew. She claims to be Jewish by culture, and she and her atheist Gentile husband like the Jewish holy days but reject all religious connections. How can you celebrate Christian and Jewish holy days without acknowledging God? Aren't all Jewish and Christian holidays based on acts of God in history, as well as the anticipated Messiah? If you don't accept Jesus as the Messiah, how can you wish others "Merry Christmas"? I understand that someone might say he or she was celebrating in the "spirit of the season," but that spirit is based on religious meaning.

- A., Bethlehem, Pa.

As the holiday season blossoms(the first Hanukkah candle is lit on Friday night, Dec. 11, followed by Christmas on the 25th), Your question is both timely and tender. Think of singing. There are people who can sort of sing, people who can really sing and people like me who can't sing at all. Those who celebrate these holidays for their deep, proper and intended religious meaning are the real singers. They understand that the holidays celebrate a spiritual event, not a commercial one. They get it right.

The question is whether these winter holidays, or any holidays, are reserved only for those who "get it right." One of the great things about great religions is that they have many doors through which one can enter to experience sacred time.

Growing up, we all come to know the smells, sights and flavors of holidays long before we understand the theology behind them. This is normal. I share your questioning about adults who've not yet grown in faith. Christmas without Christ is just "mas," which in Spanish means "more." But Christmas is not a holiday of more but a holiday of hope and salvation. However, I live in hope that all who sing an incomplete song for the holidays might at some time hear the beautiful melodies of a holiday that doesn't need to be gift-wrapped.

I urge you to practice some simple humility, patience and love. We don't yell at a child for not being able to ride a bike on the first try. If God can wait for us, we ought to be able to wait for each other to sing the song of deliverance promised in the holidays ahead.

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