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: