Monday, December 8, 2014

Suicide Behind the Badge: Wait! There's Hope!

No one remembers them with a black band across the badge--the symbol of respect and remembrance for an officer killed in the line-of-duty. Many officers won't attend their funerals, even their close friends, because it's just too hard. Brethren officers are too angry, too hurt, too afraid that it might one-day be them. The brother or sister officer in the casket didn't die protecting and serving the community. He or she didn't die making the ultimate sacrifice. He or she didn't die of an incurable disease after a valiant fight. He or she didn't die at a ripe-old-age, in the midst of retirement, after a long and distinguished career.

The officer took his own life, leaving behind a wife or girlfriend, maybe children, and a department filled with law enforcement brethren who struggle to maintain their sanity and bearing in the midst of everything the world throws at them.

Suicides happen for many reasons. Before I continue, it is important that I emphatically, and for the record offer the following theological presupposition. Suicide is NOT an unforgivable sin. The only unforgivable sin is unbelief--to not believe that salvation is by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The only unforgivable sin is to shun the command of Jesus Christ in his first public sermon: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Stats and My Own Experiences

Statistics show that the number of police officers who commit suicide each year is about the same as the number of officers killed in the line-of-duty each year. The number of law enforcement suicides each year is about three times the number of officers killed each year during a violent confrontation with a suspect. While officers, like the general population, commit suicide in various ways, many officers who commit suicide do so with their duty weapon or another firearm.

As a deputy sheriff and chaplain, I responded to too many officer suicides.

A young deputy sheriff who had served in the Marines and was attending USC while working full-time as a deputy sheriff, went out one night with some friends. He had some drinks and, in a moment of foolishness, brandished his off-duty firearm. He was called by a supervisor and told to come to the jail where he was assigned. He was told he was going to be relieved of duty, pending a criminal and internal investigation.

The deputy drove to the jail parking lot, sat in his car for a while, put his gun to his head, and killed himself.

I received a call to a local restaurant regarding a suicide that had just occurred. When I arrived at the parking lot behind the restaurant, I learned that two LAPD officers, along with their wives, had gone to the restaurant for an evening of food and relaxation. One of the officers had a little too much to drink, yet he insisted on driving home. When his friends couldn't convince him not to drive, they told him they would call the sheriff's department.

Assuming he would be arrested, the officer got into his vehicle, put his gun to his head, and killed himself.

The deputy sheriff and police officer in the above stories saw their respective incidents as the end of the world. As a result, they made an irrational decision to take their own lives, while having the immediate means to carry out the act.

There are other stories like the above I can share. But why leave you with the thoughts and images I carry with me every day. By God's grace, I'm free from the pain of these and other situations in which I was involved, but I doubt I will ever be, this side of heaven, relieved of the memories.

A Recent Tragedy

On Friday, November 28, I received a private message on Facebook from a fellow, retired officer. He shared the tragic news that an active duty LAPD detective had committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day, in a Walmart parking lot. At the time, little more was known beyond the sad reality that we lost another member of the law enforcement family to suicide. In the days since the detective took his life, it has come to light that he was facing serious, criminal allegations.

Most will assume the detective was guilty of the allegations made against him. "After all," some will speculate, "why else would he kill himself." There are only three people who know with certainty: the two accusers and the detective. Beyond those three, only God (the Omniscient One) knows what happened.

Some refer to me as a "homer"--an apologist for law enforcement. That designation has been given to me several times during the last few months because of what I've said and written in defense of law enforcement, regarding the situations in Ferguson, MO, and New York City. It doesn't bother me. If someone wants to pin that badge on me, I'll wear it with honor. No problem.

As a defender of my law enforcement family, I have come to no conclusions as to why the detective committed suicide. Yes, I have my opinions like many others. As a retired law enforcement professional, my guesses might be more educated than others. But the reality is that any opinion I offer would at best (and worst) be speculation, so I'm not going to do it here.

This I will say. The detective could have committed suicide because he was innocent.

Suicide: Many Reasons and a Common Denominator

After a first reading, the above statement might seem confusing, contradictory, even foolish. Why would an innocent man commit suicide? In today's social and political climate where more and more people (inside and outside the Christian church) are quick to assume the worst about law enforcement, the detective might have seen the allegations made against him as the end of his world--an end to his career, an end to his marriage, an end of his integrity and reputation, an end to his involvement in his church. Whether such thoughts would later turn out to be true or imagined, in an emotionally distraught and twisted state of mind, the detective might have thought (wrongly so) that suicide would be best for his family--sparing them the pain of a drawn-out investigation, criminal trial, and or civil suit.

Of course the above is complete speculation on my part. Maybe further investigation will determine the detective's guilt or innocence. Regardless, no one wins in this situation, or in any suicide. Everyone loses.

In many cases (it would be irresponsible for me to assert the following is true in all cases) suicide is a very selfish act. The suicidal person's vision, for myriad possible reasons, becomes dangerously myopic as to his view of the world. His exaggerated level of introspection gives him a form of tunnel vision so intense that no light can penetrate the end of the tunnel. In such a state and at such a point of darkened despair, the suicidal person sees no one but himself. All sight is turned inward and he lies to himself by thinking he will be doing everyone else a favor if he kills himself.

If the suicidal person is outside of Christ (unsaved, unregenerate, not born again), he wrongly, arrogant, and selfishly assumes that ending his life will bring him peace. It's not true. Anyone who commits suicide, not knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, simply ends his life while adding one more sin to a lifetime of sin, for which he will be judged by God. Peace they will not find. Peace they will never experience. Like the rich man begging Abraham for just a drop of water on his burning tongue, the unrepentant sinner will spend eternity in torment.

Many people assume that most police officers commit suicide because of the day-to-day uncommon pressure they experience on the job. This is true, but only to a point. Yes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real in the law enforcement community. As a law enforcement chaplain, I received a considerable amount of training regarding how to help officers navigate and minimize the effects of the very real physical and emotional trauma they can face on a daily basis. Critical Incident Stress Defusing and Debriefing (CISD) has legitimate, helpful applications in the law enforcement and military communities, as well as in other first responder communities.

However, officers who commit suicide do so as a result of life issues away from the job as often as they do as a result of the stresses of life behind the badge. Like the rest of the world, some officers struggle with relationships, alcoholism, addiction to pain medication (painful back and knee problems are commonplace among officers), and a host of other problems. Like the rest of the world, officers are born with a sin nature, which makes them prone to sin every day of their lives. Sin has consequences--not only spiritual, but physical and emotional as well.

Like the rest of the world, officers have a will that is not free, but limited by their sinful nature. Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, even their best decisions and deeds are sinful in the eyes of a holy God.

The common denominator in every suicide, regardless of the myriad contributing factors--whether physiological, emotional, environmental, or relational--is sin.

Yet There is Hope!

In spite of an all-consuming sinful nature and the other factors that might contribute to a person's decision to contemplate or commit suicide, hope remains.

The word "hope" appears 164 times in the Bible (ESV).
"Through [Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:2-5).

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Yes, there is hope! But hope, like faith, is only as reliable as the object of one's hope. As the old hymn rightly communicates: "Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

Hope, real hope, whether in good times or times of utter despair, is found nowhere else and in no one else than Jesus Christ the Lord. Through Jesus Christ and Him alone, you can have access to the grace of God. Real joy and peace comes not from this world or the things of this world but through hope in the living God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of people from every conceivable people group who believe in Him. The hope isn't in living one's best life now, or finding your purpose, or in any other man-centered idea. The hope, available to all who by faith believe in Jesus Christ, is eternal life. And this kind of hope, supernaturally given by the Creator of everything, is a living hope that can never be taken away because it is guarded by the God who has given it to those He has caused to be born again.

If your hope is in your career (whether its law enforcement or a career of another kind), your hope is in vain. If your hope is in people, no matter how wonderful people seem, your hope is in vain. If your hope is in medicine or therapy, your hope is in vain. If you have put your hope in yourself, your hope is in vain. Why? It's simple, really. Your career, the people you love, the wisdom of the world, and even you will let you down. Somewhere along the way, in some way, everyone and everything has the potential to disappoint you.

But not Christ. Not Christ. Jesus Christ cannot and will not disappoint those who, by faith, receive Him as Lord and Savior. There is forgiveness in Christ. There is new life in Christ. There is eternal life in Christ. There is peace and joy in Christ. And there is hope in Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters behind the badge (or anyone else who might read this): this is the truth that will set you free.

Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God—in thought, word, and deed—a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross. Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution.

Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange—a great exchange—God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.

Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men—whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)—Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.

What God commands of you, the reader, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent—turn from your sin and turn toward God—and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Final, Practical Thoughts

If you are reading this and find yourself in such a state of deep despair that you are contemplating taking your life, get help. Now. Talk to someone. Talk to whoever it is you trust the most. To not seek help is a symptom of pride. And God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

If you know someone who you think might be suicidal, ask him or her. You will not push the person over the proverbial edge by asking him if he's having suicidal thoughts. Often times, the opposite happens. When the suicidal person becomes aware that others are seeing what he thought were the plans concocted in the secret places of his heart and mind, this often defuses the situation, gives the suicidal person a moment of pause, and gives him the opportunity to ask for help.

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