Chaplain Speaks Out on God and Suicide

The US Army has faced a growing tragedy in the number of suicides in its ranks.  It has amassed a veritable plethora of programs in an attempt to stem the rising tide that kills Soldiers at an alarming rate.

Chaplain (Col) Chester Egert writes an astute piece at, noting there are “common threads” in “acts of self-destruction.”

Chaplain Egert notes that while the Army has a variety of programs to fight suicide — he counts more than 600 — there may be an omission in the emphasis on the internal issue of self-worth and intrinsic human value. 

Doctor Viktor Frank, survivor of several concentration camps in Nazi occupied Europe stated that the person who sees, knows and understands the meaning of his life will not willingly destroy it. Such a person is less likely to self-destruct if they know that they have intrinsic worth.

This self-worth comes from a spiritual frame of understanding, where a person finds his self-worth not in his job performance but in his relationship to God who says he has dignity, worth and meaning because he is made in the image of God.

Egert notes, however, the sometimes-controversy of his own statements:

Such an understanding points to the spiritual domain – that one area of comprehensive Soldier fitness that everyone agrees is important but no one talks about. We do not talk about it because we are told that religion and military service do not mix.  Yet the reality is that every Soldier prays when they are headed out on a mission. Every spouse prays that their Soldier will come home safe and in one piece. And every human being longs to know that they are important to someone, and at the very least they must know God cares about their situation. (emphasis added)

Upfront Chaplain Egert qualified his statements by saying “no two suicides are identical,” and he lauded the value of Army programs that do “outstanding work” helping Soldiers.

Just as the military has difficulty teaching ‘morality’ — and may suffer as a result — it may have difficulty teaching ‘self-worth’ in a secularized culture that has abandoned language for intrinsic moral value and purpose.  While it can create programs to salve the wounds of war, and it may stem some suicidal desires as a result, a lack of leadership emphasis on moral self-worth could continue to fuel a trend in suicides in the military.  Chaplain Egert phrases it well:

Suicide is a spiritual, physical and psychological issue. Until we help Soldiers find their true value and reason for being, we will not arrest this downward malaise in the military.

Behavioral coping skills cannot be imparted through videos, slide shows and lectures. But Soldiers will learn self-care when they know and believe that their life has real meaning and purpose.