In an unreached place like Japan, reducing the number of suicide rate is going to require tackling the cultural interpretation of it as a noble act. Japan, unlike in some western parts of the world, does not have the Judeo -christian worldview that interprets suicide as sin. This is not to say that Christians themselves never feel the urge to commit suicide. Moses, who was once under tremendous leadership pressure, said:
“I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:14–15).
We know from the Bible that Moses didn’t commit suicide, but he died at a ripe old age. Just this Sunday I preached from Jonah. We find that Jonah displayed one of the most selfish attitudes in being annoyed and angry that God had mercy on the gentile city of Nineveh. When God rebuked him with a desert wind to humble him, Jonah wished he died! “When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live’” (Jonah 4:8). Certainly, we know from the story that Jonah didn’t commit suicide though it may have felt “better” for him “to die than to live” at that particular moment, time and place.
So yes, Christians feel and have felt the aching desires to commit suicide but only God gives and takes life. We don’t take lives, including our own. This, however, does not make it any easier on people with suicidal tendencies. In Japan, many view mental illness as a stigma that can be overcome simply by trying harder (ganbarou). Sadly suicide is now the leading cause of death among men aged 20-44 and women aged 15-34. This is a nation where people form internet suicide pack and commit it together in groups. For the 14th year in a row, the number of people who committed suicide in Japan has topped 30,000.
This number dropped for the first time in 15 years. Despite the drop in the rate, suicide is still a tremendous cause for concern for everybody- including pastors and missionaries.
Even as the number of suicides in Japan last year slipped below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years, the situation remains serious, with nearly 80 people still committing suicide per day in the country. (Japan Times)
I don’t know what the suicide rate among Christians here is, but one thing is certain that suicide is still deeply romanticized in Japanese culture. This idea cannot be relegated to the distant Samurai times whereby people preferred to die by their own sword and commit Harakiri (which is considered an honorable way to die). This thought is still prevalent to a great degree in Japanese culture. If one’s shame is too unbearable, it is almost considered an honor to commit suicide rather than face shame or defeat. I recently interviewed 3 of my Japanese students and all 3 of them said they’d prefer to take their own lives rather than bother their family and friends, should they suffer from a debilitating health problem. My wife and I were truly surprised to observe that the number of mental clinics in our previous neighborhood in Nagoya City were almost as many as the number of convenient stores. Mental issue is one of the major causes of suicide in Japan according to the NPA.
Adrian Warnock has an important discussion on going on here. He writes:
“Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?”
What do you all think? Any thoughts?
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