Suicide, mental illness and the Christian response…

 

Suicide

While at the Ranger game Saturday, I took an in-between-innings Twitter break and read the horrific news that Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren’s 27 year-old son Matthew had committed suicide. The news rocked me. Right there in Section 335, Row 7, Seat 11, I immediately shed a tear and offered a heartbroken prayer. I am sure that most of you had a similar response. What else can (should) you do when you are struck with news that is so unexpected and so tragic? Unfortunately, as I’ve read and reflected on this, the response from Christians has not been universally full of Grace and Love.

Christian websites, blogs and comment boards have been littered with responses to this news that frankly makes me nauseous. Frank Viola, in his blog Beyond Evangelical, has already done a remarkable job detailing some of this HERE, so I won’t duplicate. Please, give it a read.

I can recall being taught growing up that suicide was an “unforgivable sin.” The logic (if you can call it that) was that if your last act on earth was one of “murder,” and because that murder wiped away any chance of your asking for forgiveness, then your salvation was lost. Of course, this is a lie. While the right to decide when and how we leave this life is God’s and God’s alone – a Christian, who in a moment of despair ends his or her own life is not “lost” because of that sin.

Scripture tells us that from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life (John 3:16). According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Jesus says in John 10 that nothing can “snatch us away” from His grasp, or the grasp of His Father. Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). If nothing means nothing (and it does), then even a Christian who commits suicide cannot separate themselves from God’s love via suicide. Jesus died for all of our sins, and that includes suicide, which is still covered by the blood of Christ.

The deeper root of suicide amongst Christians and non-Christians alike is the issue of mental illness. I am certainly not qualified to speak to all the complexities of mental disease. I will say that it is one terrible example among many of real afflictions that real people face (yes, even Christians) daily. I believe it is a form of illness, and Christians are not immune to illnesses. We fight with weapons that have divine power (2 Corinthians 10:4) and have access to a Holy God who is bigger than all illness – but this does not guarantee our relief from such illness. Sometimes a Christian is relieved of their illness (of any kind) through faith and sometimes God works through prayer for healing. We’ve all experienced instances where that did not happen as well. What makes mental illness any different? When we lose a Brother and Sister to cancer (despite great faith and prayer for healing), we don’t rail against that person or family for their “weakness” and “sin.” We should not for mental illness and suicide either. My heart breaks from a lack of compassion for those facing a trial of mental illness – especially from Brothers and Sisters in Christ. While we may not all be facing the same challenge, or have an understanding of it’s effects, we are told to share these afflictions compassionately, and in love.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26 that we are all parts of the Body of Christ, and that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” You don’t have to physically or mentally share in the same affliction as your Brother or Sister, or even understand why or how the affliction hurts. But, you must share spiritually with them, in compassion and love. The entire New Testament – especially in the words of Jesus Christ and Paul – are replete with exhortations for us to lead with Love and Grace, and this is never more needed than when a fellow Saint is hurting. Any response outside of this is a good indicator of a heart in need of searching. The Lord Himself had strong words for those who would judge for any reason, “Judge not, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

I have been guilty of a judgmental heart in response to suicide and mental illness in the past. The Lord has put dear friends in my life that have been deeply afflicted by suicide, and mental illness. God has broken my “old man” response, and me, by breaking my heart in their suffering. By Grace, I am learning to respond with a heart that breaks for the broken. Let us all check our heart response to any news of a fellow Brother or Sister (and/especially) non-believers, when trials befall them. “LIFE” by, in and through Jesus means we are to respond as He would respond. If we are in Christ and He is in us (and we are), then the only proper response from our hearts to anyone facing a trial of mental illness or suicide would be of Him – and He is Love (1 John 4).

For more great reads on this issue, please see the following:

- Ed Stetzer – “Mental Illness and the Church’s Response”

- Adrian Warnock – “Can a Christian Get Depressed?”

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  • Heather

    Great thoughts Brandon

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Thank you, Heather!

  • Darcy Walter

    Brandon,

    Thank you for sharing. I agree with you completely about how we as a society deal with mental illness vs. physical illness and the judgments we place on those with mental illness. My heart breaks for any family suffering with mental illness and especially suicide. My hope and prayer is that the Warrens will have the support they need through their faith and the people God has placed in their lives. Hopefully, this will serve as an example to regular people like you and me that these tragedies occur all the time in our communities, and hopefully by breaking the stigma, that support can be extended to all who are suffering. Take care.

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Amen Darcy. Thank you!

  • ken

    I’m sorry for your loss Brandon, and thank you for this. I have a friend whose older brother committed suicide when we were kids, he was in college at the time. That was 25 years ago or so, and the family still has a hard time dealing with it. Its good to know that they will one day see each other again.

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Thank you, Ken. Be blessed.

  • http://wilcatdlove.blogspot.com Kasey

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the great articles. I really needed this. I have experienced this same situation with friends, as well as struggled with severe depression myself. It is not often talked about in churches and sometime makes it even more difficult to cope with and work through. The hope of heaven is often what pulls me through my day. I cannot wait for the day I get to stand before my God and be “whole.”

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Amen Kasey! Thank you.

  • http://reneechaseonline.com Renee

    Great post Brandon. I agree whole heartedly!

    My maternal grandmother took her own life when my Mom was only eight years old. Not once have I thought of her as a sinner though! I feel for her and wonder about her anguish and where it stemmed from. It would have been great to have known her and I feel a loss with that but it isn’t about me, it is all about her and her inability to cope with the world. I send her love and understand she felt hopeless for what ever reasons.

    I believe it all boils down to the lack of love in the world. People are not operating from a love filled heart. Children are not being raised to love themselves and others unconditionally. The world knows FEAR and LACK instead of LOVE and ABUNDANCE. We are not meant to be lead lives that are full of misery, lack, sadness, poverty. Our existence is supposed to be one of love, fulfillment, prosperity, and so much more.

    I believe it all starts with our children. If we can teach them to approach all dealings in life with love in their heart then we are just one generation away from changing the world! The judgments cast on people would minimize; we’d see understanding replace criticism and love fill the hearts of everyone.

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Love never fails Renee!

  • Jim

    Speaking from my experience, it is easy to sit in one’s own ignorance and soberly say, “Oh, yes, that’s the unforgivable sin, alright.” But when that tragedy walks in and sits down beside you, suddenly you start looking for an .explanation. Whether we call the situation mental illness or demons, it is a very real affliction everywhere and everywhen. Only mercy, patience and faith in a God who loves us can keep that dark blanket from smothering us.

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Amen Jim. Be blessed.

  • Chris Handle

    I appreciate your heartfelt response. It really is a sad thing for a life to be cut short, but who knows what really happened anyway. It seems presumptuous to bring judgement upon the situation given lack of participation or insight. It is the glory of a King to search out a matter. Prov 25:2.

    Even more sad and gut wrenching is that those who represent God tear each other down over words, rules and ritual. I am turning into a cautious christian. I am tired of the dividing comments we make about each other, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a solution. Sure, we can say that love covers a multitude of sins, but what happened to the urging of Paul? 1 Cor 1:10, 2 Cor 13:11? When are we going to have the same mind, the same judgement?

    Christians are going to judge the world and the angels one day, and will have to come to agreement or one mind. 1 Cor 6:2-3. Hopefully we are not beyond hope.

    • http://www.brandonchase.net Brandon Chase

      Thank you Chris. We will speak the Truth in love to one another out of unity, when we (the Body of Christ) are so captivated by the Person of Jesus, that the things of division fall away. There is hope, and He is that Hope.

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