A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO SUICIDE

(I recently conducted the funeral of a Christian who in the darkness of deep depression took their life. What to say at such times is never easy. The remarks that follow are for the most part what I said at the funeral. I have had so many people tell me that they were greatly helped by the message, that I asked permission of the family if I could share the remarks. With consent of the family I send these words forth in hopes they may be used of the Lord as He sees fit. The tenth leading cause of death in the USA is suicide and amid our questions we must approach the subject with the utmost Christian compassion and sympathy.)

The tragic loss of a loved one brings us together today. Death makes all brothers and sisters. The love we have shared with those who have passed on never wanes. Solomon reassures us that many waters cannot quench love (Song of Solomon 8:7). As we gather today there stands at the end of our tears a rainbow of hope and that hope is found in Jesus Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life He who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live. He thatfacingdifficult1 believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25).

We grapple for words to express our grief today. We grasp for answers in the midst of our questions. We seek understanding in the midst of our confusion. We seek peace in the midst of unspeakable sorrow and hurt. We seek to awake from what surely we hope is a bad dream. I am at a loss for words myself as we grapple for answers for that which is unexplainable. We seek firm footing for feet that are shaken.

The hymnist William Cowper wrote these words in 1773:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Cowper, who was a Christian, wrote many Christian hymns, but he was a man given to bouts of deep depression who on many occasions attempted to take his own life. He died in 1800 in a mental hospital after suffering years of mental torment from the dreadful throes of depression. Cowper knew firsthand the words to the song that has these lines, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I Love.”

We must all confess we feel like that at times. You may feel like that this afternoon. In this hour of sorrow and uncertainty we look to the Scriptures to give us a measure of reassurance. Isaiah 54:8-10 reads, “With everlasting kindness I will have mercy on thee, says the LORD the Redeemer.…For though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, say the LORD that has mercy on thee.”

This afternoon you may feel like the very foundation of your soul has been shaken. There is often time an enormous strangeness and total mystery in life beyond our finite understanding. We look for some insights that will help guide us through these troubled times and we seek these insights through prayer and the Word of God. Let me share some insights gleaned from the Word of God and prayer that hopefully will give us some comfort in our hour of deep sorrow.

 First, the most important question we can ask today is not Why? But Who?  We all in our finite minds want to ask why. But we are asking a question to which we will not on this earth ever be able to answer. And if we did know the reason to “why?” it would not change anything, it would not lessen our hurt and grief, and it would not stop our flow of tears.

Job asked for answers to the question of why? in the loss of his children, health, and possessions, but he never received any answers from the Lord. But he did say, “Though God slay me yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). John the Baptist had questions as he found himself in prison (Matthew 11), but he never received any answers either. However, in the midst of his “whys?”  he took his questions to Jesus.

We must do the same as Job and John the Baptist. We learn from Job and John the Baptist that the question we need to ask is not “why” but it is Who?. Who are we going to turn to in our times of questions, in our grief, in our sorrow, in our hurts? Who are we going to turn to sustain us? We turn to Jesus who wept through human eyes (John 11:35), who weeps with us and hurts with us. He is the one who gives us strength when we are weak. He is the one we turn to when we have no answers. He is the one we turn to for comfort when we are hurting beyond measure. He is the one we cry out to when we have not the words to speak. He is the one we turn to when tears flood our eyes

Who this afternoon are we going to trust? We trust the Lord who made heaven and earth and who made us. Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is Christ alone who gives us peace in the midst of dark storms of life when answers to our questions are not forthcoming.

Second, we must refrain from passing judgment, but be quick to claim God’s mercy. We are not in the position to make hasty judgments on someone who takes their life, because ones physiological condition is too hidden from us by the person themselves. Unless we have walked in their path which has descended into  the dark valley of severe depression we are not in the position to pass judgment. We do not know what is going on in the psyche of a person who makes such a decision. It is impossible for us to know the kind of darkness a person in the grips of deep depression is suffering that result in such a decision.  It can be burdens and struggles about which we had no knowledge or overwhelming anxiety which we never suspected, a sense of past failures, a sense desperate loneliness, or relentless attacks from our adversary the devil. It can be a chemical imbalance that resulted in one losing sound judgment. We must not be judgmental, but be compassionate in our grief knowing if whatever factors were present that resulted in them taking their life, if those factors were not present our loved one would not have taken their life. We must realize that we are all so much more fragile and weak than we know because what we feel and do can hardly be understood apart from factors we often keep hidden from others. We must all keep in mind, “If not for the grace of God, there go I.” Let us not be hasty to judge, but be quick to claim God’s abundant mercy even amidst our questions and grief over this distressing and complex heartache. His grace and mercy is sufficient to sustain us in our weakness. For Christ is our strength in our time of weakness.

 Third, we must not point fingers in blame, but realize death occurred because of the sometimes fatal and horrible illness of depression. When someone takes their life we are quick to point fingers of blame even at ourselves. We ask, “What could I have done different?” Such a question is only normal. There are two options that confront us: we either have to accept that we will never have any real answers to our question or we can encompass ourselves with blame and harbor guilt of what we think we could have done different or someone else could have done. May I lovingly say, death has not occurred because anyone here failed, your loved one died because of the awful and terrible sometimes fatal illness called depression that on this occasion took them further than they had ever been before.  They did not die because anyone present today failed, they died because of the horrible darkness the illness of depression took them. There are times when the sometimes fatal illness of depression changes how a person thinks and turns rational logic into an irrational decision. Blaming isn’t fair to us or to others. He didn’t die because anyone here didn’t do enough, but because depression and dark demons of torment did their worst. While this sometimes fatal illness of depression leaves us with more questions than answers, when we begin to blame ourselves or others it changes nothing and will eventually either immobilize us or make us bitter. We need to remember that depression at its worst can sometimes be fatal for those who suffer with it. Those who have never experienced the depths of depressions dark valley don’t fully understand. The task of those left behind is to love, encourage, strengthen one another and help one another and be there for one another.

 Fourth, the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God cover all our sins. A question that has been asked down through the ages is, “When a Christian takes their life have they forfeited their place in heaven?” Would we ask that question if one died of a heart attack? Would we ask that question if one died of cancer, or drowned, or perished in a car wreck? NO, we would not.

Then why do we ask such a question when one whose mind has been ravaged by the illness of the darkness of severe depression? The mind can become ill just as the body can. One who is a Christian is not exempt from the possibility of the mind become ill as well as the body.   When the mind becomes ill there are times it results in one doing what they would otherwise never have done. And when one who has placed their trust in Jesus Christ there is no single sin, not even the taking of one’s life as the result of illness of the mind, forfeits a person from the Savior’s arms in heaven. The Bible says in Romans 9 that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. All our sins are covered by the precious and powerful blood of Christ. Our eternal destiny is based on our decision for Jesus Christ who died for our sins. And while a person or sin can destroy the body when in the throes of deep depression or disease, it cannot destroy the spirit which goes to be with their Lord. One truth is certain, if God is anything He is a forgiving God. Grace is greater than all our sins. The Gospel if anything tells us that it is powerful and  sufficient to cover all our sins and failures. As we gather today it is an opportunity to demonstrate how the gospel is an anchor for us in the worst storms of life.

I opened with the words of William Cowper and I want to close with those same words:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Paul even makes it even clearer to us  in Romans 8:35-39:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let us bow in prayer and seek the Lord’s comfort and strength, knowing that the sun shall shine again.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

2 thoughts on “A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO SUICIDE

  1. Hey Dan, I enjoyed this post very much. Suicide is so hard to understand or try to explain. I don’t have a lot of time to read anymore, but this one caught my eye while in car line waiting for Emma to get out of school. Sarah

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