Norman Vincent Peale’s “When Someone Takes His Own Life”

From his book The Healing of Sorrow(1966) in the wake of a suicide that occurred in a parishioner’s family. The chapter is “When Someone Takes His Own Life.” It is deeply moving. Here is an excerpt:

In many ways, this seems the most tragic form of death. Certainly it can entail more shock and grief for those who are left behind than any other. And often the stigma of suicide is what rests most heavily on those left behind.

Suicide is often judged to be essentially a selfish act. Perhaps it is. But the Bible warns us not to judge, if we ourselves hope to escape judgment. And I believe this is one area where that Biblical command especially should be heeded.

For we do not know how many valiant battles such a person may have fought and won before he loses that one particular battle. And is it fair that all good acts and impulses of such a person should be forgotten or blotted out by his final tragic act?

I think our reaction should be one of love and pity, not of condemnation. Perhaps the person was not thinking clearly in his final moments; perhaps he was so driven by emotional whirlwinds that he was incapable of thinking at all. This is terribly sad. But surely it is understandable. All of us have moments when we lose control of ourselves, flashes of temper, of irritation, of selfishness that we later regret. Each one of us, probably, has a final breaking point – or would have if our faith did not sustain us. Life puts far more pressure on some of us than it does on others. Some people have more stamina than others. When I see in the paper, as I do all too often, that dark despair has rolled over some lonely soul, so much so that for him life seemed unendurable, my reaction is not one of condemnation. It is rather, “There but for the grace of God …”

And my heart goes out to those who are left behind, because I know that they suffer terribly. Children in particular are left under a cloud of differentness all the more terrifying because it can never be fully explained or lifted. The immediate family of the victim is left wide open to tidal waves of guilt: “What did I fail to do that I should have done? What did I do wrong?”

To such grieving persons I can only say, “Lift up your heads and your hearts. Surely you did your best. And surely the loved one who is gone did his best, for as long as he could. Remember, now, that his battles and torments are over. Do not judge him, and do not presume to fathom the mind of God where this one of His children is concerned.”

A few years ago, when a young man died by his own hand, a service for him was conducted by his pastor, the Reverend Weston Stevens. What he said that day expresses, far more eloquently than I can, the message that I’m trying to convey. Here are some of his words:

Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and his strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him. And it appeared that he lost the war. But did he? I see a host of victories that he has won!

For one thing – he has won our admiration – because even if he lost the war, we give him credit for the courage and pride and hope that he used as his weapons as long as he could. We shall remember not his death, but his daily victories gained through his kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through his love for family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember not his last day of defeat, but we shall remember the many days that that he was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had.

Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul. But our consolation is that God does know, and understands.


19 thoughts on “Norman Vincent Peale’s “When Someone Takes His Own Life”

  1. Interesting, but sadly I can not agree. Anyone who believes in the bible knows that suicide is something that will mot be forgiven, and to leave your loved ones behind to know that you are being tormented, is the most selfish thing you can do. A very dear friend of mine killed herself, and not a day gos by that I dont weep inside for the eternal suffering that she is facing.

    • To mommyx4boys,

      I must tell you that I have academically studied the Bible, and nowhere does it say that suicide is an unforgivable sin. Sadly, this is an instance where you have hear mistaken information from someone who may be well-meaning, but is egregiously misinformed. In the Old Testament, Samson killed himself along with many others. The prophets Elijah and Jonah desired to kill themselves, yet God did not condemn them.

      However, whatever occurred in the Old Covenant, Jesus gave us a New Covenant with His blood. He himself said there was no unforgivable sin except to deny the Holy Spirit in us, once we are imbued with Him.

      Depression is a mental illness; whether or not you believe the enemy is partly responsible for that illness is up to you. It is, however, an illness that changes brain chemistry, just as diabetes changes body chemistry. If someone does not receive proper diagnosis, it is likely they will die. Would you accuse someone who dies from diabetes “unforgiven?”

      Please look at this in light of 21st century knowledge of this illness. I’m certain the families of those who have died from suicide will appreciate the removal of the 19th and 20th century stigma and the addition of some current education and godly compassion here.

    • You are wrong. It is not the unforgivable sin. God is compassionate and understands those who are unwell. He died to cover all sin, save that of denouncing Him. Go back and read your Bible – you will find many scriptures to support the fact that God is a forgiving God, and he can and will forgive someone for taking their own life.

      • Thank you, Vikki, for reading and commenting. Since I posted this, the reader who made the comment about suicide being “unforgivable” did further study and came around to a better understanding of God’s grace and His forgiveness. I am thankful that my blog has opened hearts and eyes on this extremely sensitive and tragic topic. God bless you. ~ Dale, Brandon’s Mom

  2. Get ready for Judgment Day, mommy….you have some nerve telling me about the Bible. I have approved your comment for others to see just how ignorant and judgmental people are. I have written an entire post about people like you….who claim to be Christians and know nothing of the Bible except what some Bible thumping Pharisee told them. No where in the Bible does it say that suicide it the unforgivable sin. Rejection of Christ is the only one that is unforgivable. If you are going to use the Bible as a reference then you must provide the very scripture that you are talking about.

    To help you out, there are seven known suicides in the Bible…one of whom was Samson who is mentioned in Hebrews 11, known as the “Hall of Fame” for saints. He is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32
    “Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and all the other prophets….”

    READ the entire chapter to know how God loved and thought of these people.

    You have judged those whose brains were ill….chemical imbalance….and have posted on my blog…for what reason? I am a grieving Christian mother who is missing her son. What you have done here is inexcusable. Your judgment is based on ignorance of God’s Word and His character.

    It says in Matthew 7

    Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why behold thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thine own eye?

    Judgment is reserved for God.

    • I am terribly sorry i did not realize that your son had killed himself, i am also more sorry that you are right, this is something i had consulted my previous pastor about when my friend killed herself, and he actually would not even do her funeral because he said she was damned. however after looking into it more i see that you are correct. Please forgive me for my ignorance.

      • Of course, I forgive you. Doesn’t it feel good to know about Jesus’ grace and forgiveness for all of us no matter the sin? My blog buddy, Susan, said it so much better than I could. I appreciate her explanation. I hate that all this time you have thought your friend to be in hell. The pastor who refused to do her funeral service was absolutely wrong. I hope you rest easy tonight in the Light of His love.

      • I just wanted to say thank you so much, before reading your comment I had never really looked through the bible for information about suicide, and last night I dreamt of my friend, it is the first good dream I have had of her since she left us. But I dreamt that I was standing with her in the park and she got to meet my children, and right before she left she hugged me and said im okay , I woke up crying.

  3. And please accept my apology. i also have to thank you so dearly for pointing this out to me, my friend was a good person who loved God deeply and for the first time i feel like she may be in a good place after all.

  4. I have no doubt that your friend is in the presence of our Lord. God does not want anyone to go to hell so that is why He sent Jesus. My son loved Jesus, too, and I know that he is at peace. Mental illness is the cruelest of illnesses.

  5. Absolutely beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree with what is written. Thank you for sharing this, Dale!

    Love, Donna

    On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, In the Wake of Suicide….trying to understand

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