A Christian response to Anthony Bourdain’s tragic suicide

Anthony Bourdain is dead at sixty-one years of age. CNN made the announcement a short time ago, calling him “a gifted storyteller and writer who took CNN viewers around the world.”

The network added, “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

Bourdain received the Peabody Award in 2013. The Smithsonian once called him “the original rock star” of the culinary world. He was a bestselling author and recipient of two Emmy awards and was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world.

He was in Strasbourg, France, where he was recording an episode of his CNN show, when he was found dead of an apparent suicide in his hotel room.

Suicide rates have increased 25 percent

This tragic news follows the death of fashion designer Kate Spade, who took her life last Tuesday. Her husband later said she had anxiety and depression and had been seeing doctors and taking medication for five years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday that suicide rates increased 25 percent nationally from 1999 to 2016. They rose in nearly every state. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides.

According to the CDC, more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Factors contributing to suicide include relationship problems, a crisis in the past or upcoming two weeks, problematic substance abuse, physical health problems, job or financial problems, criminal or legal problems, and loss of housing.

However, other studies have found much higher rates of mental health disorders among people at high risk of suicide. “The reason most suicide decedents don’t have a known mental disorder is that they were never diagnosed, not that they didn’t have one,” according to one psychiatry professor.

C. S. Lewis noted, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say my tooth is aching than to say my heart is broken.”

Know the 12 “suicide warning signs”

The CDC lists these twelve “suicide warning signs”:

• Feeling like a burden
• Being isolated
• Increased anxiety
• Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Increased substance use
• Looking for a way to access lethal means
• Increased anger or rage
• Extreme mood swings
• Expressing hopelessness
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Talking or posting about wanting to die
• Making plans for suicide

Read: If you feel isolated and alone

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Ask your pastor to recommend a Christian counselor in your area. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website. Take every threat of suicide seriously.

This is an issue parents need to discuss with their children. I urge you to read Janet Denison’s latest blog, The Kate Spade Conversation. She discusses the major rise in depression among teenagers and links to an important article by the Society to Prevent Teenage Suicide.

And she notes that “too often, Christians feel that depression should simply be handled ‘spiritually’ instead of ‘medically.’ Depression is an illness, and an illness needs both types of help. If you have reason to believe your child is clinically depressed, you and your child need the help of a physician, as well as the Great Physician.”

Three biblical promises

I’ll close this Special Edition with three biblical promises. (For a longer discussion, please see my website article, Suicide, Scripture and the Grace of God.)

One: You and every person you know is someone of inestimable worth.

Depression and life crises can cause us to feel that our lives are not worth living. The opposite is true. Every person on earth is someone for whom Jesus died (Romans 5:8).

On this day in 1941, C. S. Lewis preached his famous “Weight of Glory” sermon at Oxford University. In it, he stated, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat” (his emphasis).

Lewis adds: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” So are you.

Two: God loves you and wants to help.

When Elijah despaired of his life and prayed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4), God provided the physical, spiritual, and emotional sustenance he needed to go on. When Jeremiah said, “Cursed be the day on which I was born!” (Jeremiah 20:14), God sustained his prophet.

Scripture promises: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Paul, who faced almost indescribable challenges (2 Corinthians 11:23–28), could proclaim, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Jesus knows your pain. He has faced everything we face (Hebrews 4:15). He cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Now he is ready to help you.

However, let me repeat that one of the most important ways the Great Physician heals is through human physicians. That’s why you need to reach out to professional counselors as soon as possible. God will use them as he ministers his grace to you.

Three: You can “dwell on the heights” with God.

Paul testified that he could “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). He could do this because he lived in the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

God wants to be “the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge” (Isaiah 33:6). The person who walks with him “will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure” (v. 16).

You can “dwell on the heights” with your Father. This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.


Jim Denison, Ph.D., speaks and writes on cultural and contemporary issues. He produces a daily column that is distributed to more than 113,000 subscribers in 203 countries. He has taught philosophy of religion and apologetics for over thirty years with four seminaries. Prior to founding the Denison Forum in 2009, Dr. Denison was pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church, a 10,000-member congregation in Dallas, Texas. He also pastored churches in Midland and Mansfield, Texas, and in Atlanta, Georgia.


 

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