Depression, Sin & Guilt

The man who wrote a rational suicide note

Will H. Moore, a professor of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, committed suicide last month (April, 2017).

His blog lives on.

We want to ask why

Every time we hear a suicide story, our human nature screams out the first natural question: “why?” Professor Moore tried to leave us an answer in the form of a public suicide note on his blog. To paraphrase one friend’s response, the whole note is seemingly… rational.

As an academic myself, I see the tendency toward depression of many of my contemporaries in the grueling and thankless pursuit of scientific progress. Depression isn’t localized to the sciences; it’s a fact of life for many Americans today. I don’t pretend to know every detail of his life, but I’m using Moore’s public suicide as an opportunity to open a discussion on a huge issue. Did you know, that it’s more common for an American to kill oneself than it is to murder another (29,000 versus 19,000 per year)? It’s important to consider the issues and questions behind the desire to take one’s own life. As Moore would lead us to believe, is there ever a rational reason that might silence the question, “why?”

I assume that is Professor Moore’s goal behind his blog post: to explain his rational thought process. He displays an air of rationality, describing himself as valuing honesty in his life to the point that it “hurt to lie.” He details his personality type as someone who takes “pride in remaining rational and logical at all times, considering honesty and straightforward information to be paramount to euphemisms and platitudes in almost all circumstances.” His suicide note labors to explain to his friends and family that he didn’t lead a miserable life, nor did he descend into a rapid or slow decline, but rather he was just done.

Every life is worth living

I assume the reader knows that this article will end with a plea that suicide is never an option (rational or otherwise). I do admit that it’s a bit ironic that Christians plead with people to stay alive, considering that we believe what is best comes after life. The reason for this plea toward life must be two-fold. First, while death is certainly gain, to live is Christ. It is better to live and obey Christ, even for a little while longer. Second, this man is not on the narrow path to heaven through faith in Christ. Another day of life is another opportunity for him to repent and find salvation through faith in the gospel.

But first, let’s return to Moore’s note. I see in this man an intense desire for fulfillment. Every one of us has the same desire. Humans seek fulfillment in happiness, acceptance, success. Moore describes a fulfilling life that was well-lived. Immediately, he prospects his future as a life without fulfillment because of the difficulty of pressing forward beyond the futility of past accomplishments and hardships. In short, the future did not hold any opportunities to be fulfilled, so he “punched out.”

“And so the simple way to say it is this: I was done.  I was tired of fighting to try to share my experiences, ideas, and views.”

It’s a devastating sentence. He gave up. By his own description, it is an arrogant view. Quoting Frank Lloyd Wright (see below), the professor tells us that he values an honest approach, even at the cost of arrogance.

Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change. – Frank Lloyd Wright

His honesty served a purpose in his life. He wanted others to share his views and opinions. Don’t we all? With such an accomplished resume in the political sciences, he might have asked himself why the people around him just don’t seem to understand, or at least take him at his word. Seeing no prospect of change in the future (and thus, no fulfillment through the acceptance of others), Moore tells us that he had given up the labor of sharing his “experiences, ideas, and views.”

The drive to be understood

I see a man, like all of us, who was strongly tempted to place his worth in the acceptance of others. He describes his life as a misfit, mentions the boredom of listening to small talk pleasantries of others, and even publishes an explanation of his suicide as his final act of beckoning the acceptance of those around him. Everyone else just doesn’t understand. His whole life is a fight to defend his views and ideas from the criticisms of others.

I don’t feel particularly suited to comment on this man’s suicide. I didn’t know him. I don’t know anyone who did know him. But I do mourn for his death. Most of all, I mourn for the fact that Moore may persuade others to view suicide from a rational point of view. To this, I feel compelled to write.

In fact, I see his life in my own. I am an educated man who has unique opinions and a soul that begs to be accepted and understood by others. To share my opinions with others is hard. To hear others refute my opinions is crushing. Professor Moore’s drive to be understood is in all of us.

Suicide is sin

Plainly stated, suicide is sin. It is a sin to reject the gift of life given by a Creator God. Your body is not your own (1 Cor. 6:19-20). It is both God’s and you also will produce guilt and sorrow of the community you leave behind. Who can understand the impulse to go through with taking a life? I’ve read through the letter many times and I still don’t understand. I’ll never understand this man’s heart or true desires. But here’s the point: you might think I am going to say that the drive to be understood is misplaced, but I think Professor Moore got that exactly right. Every single one of us has this drive to be understood.

He only misplaced the true Understander.

God wrote eternity in all of our hearts, and surely part of that heart-writing is a desire to be fully known. That desire can be fulfilled by God — and it is. God perfectly understands as a Creator, fashioning us in His image. Even more, He understands us from experience — Jesus took on flesh to partake in the same experiences, have the same ideas, and understand the viewpoints of the human perspective.

The drive to feel understood

Why don’t we feel understood by God? We can know that God understands, but why don’t we feel that way? I think our own sinful actions, words, and desires mess with the perceived connection to God. We are at all times perfectly understood by God, but our natural state is so marred by sin that we terribly misunderstand God. That causes a disconnect. Our misunderstanding of God causes us to feel misunderstood by everyone else, most of all God.

There is no answer to despair, guilt, shame apart from knowing God. There is no answer to true fulfillment apart from knowing God. We can know God through the gospel when we see that God so perfectly understands the human experience that He realizes the foremost problem is that we are sinners. That wisdom and understanding led Jesus to the cross.

I feel understood.


Author’s note:
Suicide is a complex issue and I haven’t begun to touch all the complexities in this article, choosing instead to focus only on the feelings of being misunderstood. There is certainly a difference between a willful suicide like Moore’s, and a constant mental or psychological illness that may result from factors like a chemical imbalance in the brain or clinically diagnosed depression. For more thoughts on these issues from a Christian perspective, I’ll direct you to another helpful article.