Suicide: Where Do We Go From Here?
Written by Pastor Jim Law
On a cold November night in the early days of my ministry, I received a panicked call from a family in the church I pastored. The request in between sobs was simple, “Come now.”
As I raced to their home and pulled into their driveway, I was stunned by the sight of a young man who had hanged himself in the family barn. The young man had been residing in their home to attend a local community college, and for a reason unknown to anyone decided on that day to end it all.
I sought to comfort the family as they tried to process this tragedy and found myself praying for his parents who were coming from out-of-town to the scene of their son’s death.
I was asked to preach the funeral. It was a tough assignment and became a refining moment for me as a young pastor. In the crucible of such suffering, the call to gospel ministry is not a call to be clever, but to be faithful. The need was not a multiplicity of words or empty phrases devoid of substance, but compassion coupled with sturdy truth and steadfast promises found in Christ alone.
In the struggle to communicate compassion, truth, and hope at this funeral, I was gripped by a conversation between Jesus and his disciples found in John 6 which became the text of my funeral message. In this passage, the preaching of Jesus had offended the crowds and many had walked away from him.
In response, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter responded for everyone who has found hope in Jesus Christ as he answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:66-68) When Peter was pressed, he confessed that there was nowhere else for him to go but to Christ, for he is the one who has given meaning and purpose to life.
Nothing generates more questions, guilt, blame, and sorrow than the suicide of a friend or loved one. When the urge to walk away is tempting, when the grievous and devastating experiences come, the gospel call is that we look to Christ even when the answer to the question “why” is not forthcoming.
The pain of suicide has been on the minds of our nation in recent weeks with the death of Robin Williams. Many continue to grieve and wonder at the irony of his self-inflicted death. Williams, clearly an entertainment icon, was in the business of making people laugh. His death is proving to be a difficult grief for many.
Williams’ death has brought a heightened awareness of the debilitating struggle many have with depression and mental illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 1 out of 10 U.S. adults suffers with depression and that this struggle works itself out in many ways sometimes leading to suicide.
The obsessive search for purpose and peace leads to a self-destruction of what is so desperately sought. Charles Colson in one of his books referred to a young woman in a Psychology Today article whose nerves were shot from too many all-night parties and endless rounds of drugs and alcohol. When asked by her therapist, “Why don’t you stop?” Her startled reply was, “You mean I really don’t have to do what I want to do?”
This world apart from God’s grace is self-destructive. When the forbidden fruit in the garden was first tasted, we find Adam and Eve hiding in the shrubbery. Each of us finds ourselves there with them in desperate need of help. Nothing has changed as we all stand in need of a Redeemer.
Suicide will always be one of the great unresolved issues of this life. However, there is a hopeful resolve for those left to pick up the pieces. Peter’s answer to Jesus should be ours as well. While we will never find a satisfying answer to why, there is a place of rest in the promises of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection give abiding hope to those reeling from life’s most painful experiences.
Martha Snell Nicholson in her poem “Guests” holds out promise to grieving hearts,
Pain knocked upon my door and said that she had come to stay,
And though I would not welcome her but bade her go away, she entered in.
Like my own shade she followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword no moment was I free.
And then one day another knocked most gently at my door.
I cried, “No, Pain is living here, there is not room for more.”
And then I heard His tender voice, “Tis I, be not afraid.”
And from the day He entered in, the difference it made!”
Yes that is true! Christ makes all the difference and all who come to him, he will in no way cast out. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He is the one to whom we must go, for he has what we need most….the words of eternal life.