So Anthony Bourdain has hanged himself in his hotel room at age 61. A few days earlier, Kate Spade, a fashion design billionaire, killed herself as well. You’d think that a billionaire and an extremely well-off famous chef with his own TV show that features him globetrotting, meeting people and sharing their native cuisine would be the kinds of lives most people envy. Both Bourdain and Spade earned their fame and wealth through hard work and creativity. There’s a great measure of self-worth tied to such achievement; the kind of worth that society tells us makes for an ideal life. Yet somehow, both reached a level of despair that forced them to conclude that they couldn’t go on.
Happy people don’t kill themselves. We keep thinking that the lottery, or a mail-in, or an internet sign-up contest, or lawsuit winnings will make us happy, but too often after five years, the “winners” are back in the same trailer they started from or have jumped off a bridge. If money and fame satisfy, I wonder why lawyers don’t quit after winning their first million-dollar case? Believe me, it’s NOT because practicing law is fun! We all keep trying to “succeed” because: deep down we know it could all be gone tomorrow, we’ve fallen for striving for “fame” (when in fact it’s mere notoriety), we want to provide for our families (but trust-fund kids are some of the most irresponsible and unhappiest people), competition (winning), or to prove something. John called it “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.”1 Jn. 2:15-17.
Every year, about 45,000 people commit suicide in America. It is the 10th leading cause of death and CDC numbers show that annual deaths have increased 25% since 1998. Worse, it’s the SECOND leading cause of death among Americans 18-24! If we ask why, the answer is same one I’ve given in previous articles about the reason we now have regular mass murders by teenagers when 50 years ago guns were easier to buy, there were more guns per capita, and kids took their hunting guns to school: our secular society has bred a Culture of Death. If we kill God, we kill truth and hope in the name of a secularist “freedom” that causes us to kill ourselves. Go figure.
God, however, gives us hope as He did to Ezekiel at the Valley of Dry Bones. “These bones of Israel say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished!’ But I (says the Lord) will open your graves and revive you.” Ez. 37:11-13. God then promised the Messiah, saying, “I will put My Spirit in you and you will come to life and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I have spoken and done it.” Ez. 37:14, 21-28. Proverbs 29: 18 says, “Where there is no vision [revelation] the people are unrestrained (and perish), but happy is he who keeps the law.” We kill ourselves because we have forgotten God. It’s that simple.
Church attendance declines because we want answers, but our secular education and society has convinced us that God doesn’t have them. So we make up excuses for why we needn’t seek Him out, even on our own. We live on social media and reject personal contact. Automatic garage doors and air conditioning mean we don’t see or know our neighbors anymore. Over-entertained and under-informed, we reject considering different viewpoints and take personal umbrage at those who differ with us. We watch savagery on TV and movies, then wonder why kids act it out. We denigrate anything traditional: families, sexual morals, and religion. Instead we glorify lying, gossip, envy, violence, tribal exclusivity, vengeance, and criminal lifestyles. We drown out ourselves in entertainment and empty our wallets to get the maximum amount of cable channels in the broadest phone plans so we needn’t be burdened with thinking things through or dealing with others anywhere we go.
Meanwhile, our Bibles and other books that would impart wisdom, teach us history’s lessons, show us a higher purpose, and break us out of our selfish cocoons gather dust. Yet Jesus continues to seek us out.
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Lo, your salvation comes! Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense is before Him!’ And they will call them, “The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord.” And you will be sought out, a city not forsaken.” Is. 62:11-12.
“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me. I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I!’ To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread my hands out all day long to a rebellious people.” Is. 65:1-2; Rom. 10:18-21.
Having rejected our Maker and His Owner’s Manual, we no longer know how to cope with anything, from friendships to romance, to governing of ourselves or the state, to loss or victory, disappointment or success, and to top it all off, we have rejected the notion that there is any such thing as objective truth. We “Do Our Own Thing” (a Big Deal to we Baby Boomers) and find ourselves lonely and lost, unable to teach our children or others any solutions because we have none for ourselves.
Solomon was a success 3,000 years ago. He was the wisest, richest, most powerful king on earth with a harem that Hefner could only dream about, and yet, he also the saddest man in the world. All his wisdom and experience led Him to conclude: “Everything is vanity [a waste of time].” and, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything that is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecc. 1:1-2.,12:13-14.
Returning to Bourdain, I watched seven or eight of his shows several years ago, but quit. With the exception of one show, (a Cajun pig roast) I never got the impression that he enjoyed himself or the people he was with. I told my brother (who liked the show) that Bourdain seemed world-weary. It was an Eeyore-like” Been there, done that, got the tee shirt” kind of vibe, like his life consisted entirely of experiences and people that were just boxes to check off. Rather than a sign of real joy, his shows seemed more a sigh of ennui.
I know he dealt with alcoholism and depression, but so do millions of others who have found ways to rise above it. Depression, especially, is rampant, but most of us so afflicted find ways to overcome it.
I can’t help contrasting Bourdain with Andrew Zimmern, also a famous chef who was once addicted to heroin. Watch his show, however, and you’ll see a man in love with life and people. He too is a globetrotting gourmet, a way cool job except for some of the outlandish stuff he must eat. Instead of Bizarre Foods, his show should be called The Man Without a Gag Reflex. He plunges into and sees life as a wondrous adventure. Zimmern clearly empathizes with those he meets and finds joy in them and the common ground of food and culture. He has found purpose and joy in life, sharing it with others.
So many of us, like Bourdain and Spade, have sadly lost the outlook that as we succeed, we automatically lift others and that, in itself, is a joy. We’ve lost our perspective. Like Zimmern, Walt Disney had this outlook, and look at all he gave the world.
We need perspective to thrive and survive. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.: Ps. 119:105. Teenagers commit suicide because they lack perspective and knowledge of God. Confronted by a problem, be it a breakup, bullying, embarrassment, etc., they have only a tiny life experience to draw on. As a result, they convince themselves that, “THIS is the WORST problem ANYBODY’S ever had! It will NEVER go away! It’s SO big and bad, NOBODY’S ever experienced anything like it before, so NOBODY can help me! I can’t STAND it! My only escape is to kill myself!” Had they held on a few more years, they would see that bad times pass and things eventually get better.
If they leave secularism and get with God, they would learn the wisdom in Pauls’ teaching: “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to all mankind, but God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor. 10:13 (emphasis added).
Through His Word and His Son, God gives us the proper perspective to survive and thrive. Jesus beckons, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavily-burdened [whom this world has exhausted], and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my load is light.” Matt. 11:28-30.