Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide and mistaken notions

The recent suicide of Robin Williams, with all due respect to his family, has brought up some important, serious consideration and discussion on depression. Unfortunately, it is also taken as the opportune moment by some saints in Christ to cast condemnation and judgment in ways more deeply rooted in opinion than their knowledge of the scriptures which they profess.

I only thought to contribute to the discussion because of a nineteen year old young man in India whom I first met online a few years ago. He had been contemplating suicide at that time but has since then come to faith in Jesus. He just asked me a few days ago whether, as he said, a person who commits suicide could enter heaven. I replied I did not know but that suicide is never an option I would ever counsel or encourage for anyone. Needless to say it prompted to examine the scriptures for a better understanding of suicide although the subject, aside of King Saul's suicide, is not mentioned explicitly in the scriptures.

Suicide strikes us as appalling for theological or emotional reasons. One reason for that may have less to do with the death itself than our lack of understanding concerning sin and forgiveness. The consensus among some saints in Christ seems to be that sin (such as suicide is regarded by some and while I do not dispute that I do not hear much understanding being shed on suicide merely by labeling it a sin which condemns the person to damnation) must be acknowledged before one can receive the necessary forgiveness of that sin. There are two instances in the scriptures, which although they do not involve suicide, they involve sin. Furthermore, there is no indication from God in those instances about his forgiveness either towards Moses or towards Peter.

Moses lost the privilege of leading Israel into the promise land. The reason was because Moses rebelled against God. (Numbers 20) Peter denied Jesus just as Jesus had prophesied (John 22) not once but three times yet there is nothing in the scriptures about neither Moses’ nor Peter’s 1) acknowledgement of their sin, 2) repentance of their sin, or 3) forgiveness of their sin. Let’s not squabble about Moses striking instead of speaking to the rock or Peter’s mere denial of Jesus as though it were a small matter. It needs to be said lest there be any misunderstanding that when Jesus restored Peter through that gut wrenching questioning of Peter's love for Jesus it was Jesus' forgiveness of Peter for having denied him. (John 21) Jesus had also admonished Peter that once he was restored he was to "strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22)

The option by those who agonize in life and are overcome in their depression such that they fear life more than death is no different than to fear death more than life. Jesus experienced this agony and understands it. Even though he was fully confident of his own identity and the purpose of his life the agony which came over him with the approaching hour of his death was not a matter which he faced nonchalantly. It was through his subsequent power and triumph over death that those words he spoke long before his crucifixion take on a powerful meaning:

The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
The contrast between a thief and himself was to emphasize the point that what Jesus came to do was to give life and to give it abundantly. This gift of life is a matter of great joy precisely because Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive.

So, what might this suggest, if anything, so as to enlighten us about suicide? I believe both of these instances speak to the mistaken notion, particularly of the saints in Christ, to think their slate must be squeaky clean with one final confession and prayer for forgiveness of sins just before dying. According to that mistaken notion Moses and Peter stand condemned because despite the serious, public nature of their sin they never acknowledged, repented or received forgiveness for their sin. Is their sin any less than suicide, or self murder as I have heard some people call it, or the little white lie they either forgot, denied refused to acknowledge much less repent or ask forgiveness?

It seems an easy play for the mistaken notion that suicide is the desperation act of those who have no hope or trust in God. This notion has a way of allowing us to not focus or overlook those sins more common and for which we can be admonished by others, something not easily embraced, or admonish others, something we tend to anticipate with some eagerness. This is not so with suicide victims. Whatever our good or bad judgment or condemnation of those who have passed from this life has absolutely no bearing on them. However it does serve to reveal our knowledge, ignorance, wisdom or love as those who proclaim the message of the love of God for those who hear us.

Peace to all.