Saturday, 9 February 2013

Pain and Suicide...and Hamlet

"...when he himself might his quietus make,
with a bare bodkin..."

Death is attractive to the man whose life is never without sorrow and pain. Death seems to him to be a liberation from these burdens, these trials. He is insulted, despised, ignored, and overlooked by his fellow men; his love is rejected or unacknowledged or unreturned; he suffers the loss of family members and friends who are dear to him; he is afflicted with all kinds of sicknesses of both mind and body; he suffers many spiritual trials and torments; his prayers are unanswered; he suffers the loss of riches and comfort, of peace and mirth; and even in the possession of these things he is never without much suffering. The list can go on and on. It seems he cannot escape it. So long as he lives in the world he is doomed by Lady Fortune to suffer all kinds of mishaps and failures. The only escape, it would seem at first, is death. Indeed, why would any man wish to be alive and suffer all these things, if he was able to end his suffering by death? Says Hamlet, 

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
the pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
the insolence of office, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his quietus make,
with a bare bodkin?

And yet, like Hamlet, for the Christian man, something holds us back, the fear of what may come after this manner of death. Might there not be greater suffering afterwards, the pains of hell and damnation? Pains whose nature is so great as to be unknown to man, "the undiscovered country," said Hamlet, "from whose bourne no traveler returns." Our fear of this undiscovered country beyond the passage of death restrains us from taking action, such that we would "rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others we know not of." Elsewhere in the play, the young Danish prince wishes that his "too, too solid flesh would melt... or that the Everlasting had not fix'd his canon 'gainst self-slaughter." The Christian man fears lest, by God's decree, his suicide should lead him to worse pains than those which he desires to escape. And so he is indeed absolutely trapped, trapped in his despair. 

We thus confront a kind of paradox: the very motive which would incite our suicide keeps us from it. Our fear of suffering and pain first induces us to self-slaughter; but then the realization that the same pain may be increased a hundredfold after such a death holds us back. A puzzlement of the will, indeed, as Hamlet proclaimed.

But lo, even if this fear of what may come after death is only present to the Christian man, it is not yet perfectly the Christian way. We must not be held back from suicide merely by the fear of the pain that may come afterwards; no, there is something more, something much greater, something which, indeed, would  ultimately provide for us a real escape. We must go beyond the trapped despair of Hamlet, and have fortitude and hope. We must realize fully the reason that God has "fix's his canon 'gainst self-slaughter": it is because He loves us, and that He allows us to suffer all these things for a reason, that reason being our own good. Suffering is for our own good; and it will certainly contribute to our good if we accept it, nay, embrace it with patience and a loving confidence in God's Will. It is for this reason that we must not take our own life. That being said, we may legitimately wish that God Himself would take from us our life, but always desiring so in light of our love of Him. Our longing for death must not be so much out of fear of pain than out of love for God. And what's more, even in the matter of death we must submit to God, for if it be not His will that we should die just yet, we ought to embrace His will.

Thus, it is love first, and not fear, which should motivate us. This being the case, everything will fall into its proper place.

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