Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Parishioner Committed Suicide

My mind has been reeling from it. Yet, the reality is that it happens. It happens in the news; it happens in our cities; it happens in small towns; it happens in churches.

I went again to see what the Scriptures say, because as a Christian, the Bible is my starting point. Always. This is what I found: It happens in the Bible. In Scripture, we find six instances in which someone takes his own life (it’s always a man) and one instance in which a man has his servant kill him:
  • Abimelech - Judges 9:52-54 – Has his servant kill him to save his reputation.
  • Samson - Judges 16:25-30 – Kills himself to take out a bunch of enemies with him.
  • Saul - 1 Samuel 31:4 – Falls on his sword at the end of a losing battle. 
  • Saul's armor-bearer - 1 Samuel 31:5 – Common practice for the slave to die with his master.
  • Ahithophel - 2 Samuel 17:23 – Hanged himself in shame.
  • Zimri - 1 Kings 16:15-20 – Burned his house down around him—his days were already numbered.
  • Judas - Matthew 27:3-5 – Maybe he hanged himself; maybe he didn’t--Acts 1:18,19 says that he fell and “burst open.” So, he either killed himself by hanging…or he tripped and fell…and made a mess of things.

So, let’s do a recount: five sure instances of suicide, one instance of a man demanding to be killed by his servant, and one instance—Judas—whose manner of death is up for debate.

To find suicide in the Bible is not terribly surprising. The act of taking one’s life in order to preserve reputation, to avoid a ‘worse’ kind of death…or an even worse life—this has been a part of cultures for thousands of years. The very surprising thing, perhaps, is that the Scriptures records the suicides but makes no moral judgment whatsoever. In none of these passages does the writer add, “…and he was a horrible, evil man for taking his own life.” No moral judgments anywhere. Interesting....

So, why do so many people think that suicide somehow indicates that a person has committed some unpardonable, unforgivable sin?

The idea comes from the indirect teachings of Scripture, from the connotations we find there regarding life. The Bible is very clear that we are created; we don’t exist by chance. We are created with a purpose; our lives are not meaningless. Most importantly, we are loved by God; to take our lives is to ignore the love of God who created us and gave us purpose. Also, life is a gift from God. If God gives us life, who are we to quit ourselves of life?

The very clear value that the Bible places on human life and the demonization of Judas have contributed to the notion that suicide is somehow unforgivable. I feel sorry for Judas—he was just a guy…and he made some bad choices. He recognized his errors—tried to give the money back, was truly remorseful…and then went out and either fell and died, or hung himself and died. Then, the stories started and the traditions grew up…and Judas has been painted as an evil, rotting-in-hell sort of fellow. I think many will be surprised to find Judas waiting for us in heaven—I think he repented and I believe God’s grace envelops even him.

A parishioner committed suicide.

Psychiatry and psychology seem to suggest that people who take their own lives 1) are not in their right mind at the time of doing so or 2) are physically ill/chemically imbalanced. If someone is mentally unstable or chemically unbalanced, can they really and truly be held accountable for their actions? Would our loving and gracious God really and truly hold them accountable for something that they would never do if they were in their right mind, if they were physically well? I’m leaning towards ‘no’ on that one.

A parishioner committed suicide.

What now? I believe that our God is graciously forgiving. I believe God understands the complexity of the situation far, far better than any of us. I know that God is there, in the person’s mind, seeing the person’s heart…and even if the person did not sense God’s presence, God is there with open arms, hurting and grieving with the person…and in a cry of anguish, sweeps up the soul as it leaves the body, hugging it tightly, weeping once again as He did at Lazarus’ tomb.

The Scriptures suggest that we leave judgment to God. Our task is to learn from the situations around us. Our task is to love the family that is left behind. Our task is to do all we can to keep anyone else from seeking such a permanent solution to a short-term problem, to be listening and loving all along the way.

In the end, “For God so loved the world”…you, me, and the parishioner who committed suicide.

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