When Christians End Their Lives

 Always a need for more.

Always a need for more.

That phone call, or ring of the doorbell, that tells you a loved one has ended their life.

No one is ever prepared.

Those of us who have lost family members to suicide embark on a long, perilous journey. One of the things that make this experience so harsh is that toxic mixture of grief and guilt that accompanies the new reality.

What could I have done to prevent this? Why wasn’t I there? The very fact of my familial relationship means I am partly responsible for this death.

These thoughts will scream and scream and scream. Or sometimes they will simply sit in the corners of our consciousness, reaching out to prod the unbearable sadness with a cruel hand.

For Christians who have lost a believing loved one to suicide, there can be, shockingly, an added dimension of sorrow. Suicide, it is widely believed, is a ticket to hell. For anyone. Period. It is murder. Do not pass go. Do not go to heaven.

Our phone rang on June 25, 2008. My father was dead by his own hand. My father, pastor for 26 years, father of 3, grandfather of 5. My father. He and my mother had just marked their 57th wedding anniversary. A man highly regarded for his many outstanding accomplishments. My father, oh God, my father.

But clinical depression is a vicious enemy. When we say mental illness we mean illness of the mind, a dark and ravenous shadow that slowly invades the psyche like a cancerous growth. And sometimes, like physical disease, it wins.                            shadow

But, and this is important, what transpires before the end cannot be separated from the fact of the illness.

At Dad’s funeral, the pastor was very kind in his remarks while being very careful not to leave the impression that Dad might be with God. I dimly understood this as I sat with my shattered family.

It was a remark by a dear friend sometime later that began to help with healing. “Your father,” she said, looking at me intently, “was not forsaken on that morning. God sat there with His arms around him. God did not walk away. And He has your dad.”

My mother passed away 8 ½ months later from ovarian cancer – 9 weeks from diagnosis to death. There is no doubt that she is at rest in the presence of the Lord.

But can there be any doubt that Dad is there as well?

Just how merciful is God? Do some illnesses suffered by believers exempt them from heaven?

“A broken brain is as physical as a broken bone,” Rick Warren tweeted recently. He and his wife, Kay, have walked this road as well with the recent death of their son.

The tragedy experienced by the Warrens provides an opportunity to think carefully about this. It will touch all of us eventually, whether a family member or friend or acquaintance.

We all know, from personal experience, the boundlessness of God’s grace and mercy. When this terrible event occurs in the lives of other believers, it may test our own.

I also recommend Ann Voskamp’s blog post, What Christians Need to Know About Mental Health.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Erin Smith on April 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Amen! He is our merciful Father and has not forsaken any of us. Thank you for bravely putting pen to paper to share the inside perspective on this subject. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit has comforted you and your dear family through this.

    Reply

  2. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
    neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Roman 8:38,39
    If neither death nor life can separate the believer from the love of God … surely this includes self inflicted death! Would not that be in keeping with the character of God?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Lloyd Fritz on April 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    About ten years ago as I began to counsel those who suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, I became aware of the ignorance of many in regard to this crippling condition. Unfortunately, this ignorance does much harm to those who suffer silently and publically. Fear of what one does not understand is very powerful, and the result can be devastating as condemnation and criticism is delivered. Thank you for your brave and true words, Debra. I hope that those who find themselves in very dark places from time to time will find ministry of grace and love in their midst from someone like you.

    Reply

  4. Thank you for your remarks, Lloyd. The work you do is so important, also, in helping those so terribly afflicted.

    Reply

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