Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
This week one of our TLC families was devastated by the suicide of a beloved father. He died on the very day that his son was celebrating his 14th birthday. I was asked to give thought, words, and perspective to the family. My response was as follows. The names have been changed.
Julie, I am so sorry for all involved.
Suicide is the final act of mental illness. No one in their right mind kills themselves. The disease is depression, and it stalks it victims and kills them just like cancer killed Pastor Tom’s Brenda. The disease is no one’s fault, there is no one to blame. Just as Brenda’s cancer was not her fault. As I said Sunday quoting Kate Bowler, “There is no cure for being human.” Death is an inescapable reality for all of us.
Historically, the church made every attempt to stop suicide. Suicide leaves such a devastating wake of grief and destruction. The church called it an unforgivable sin (it is not an unforgivable sin), the church taught that the suicide victim would go directly to hell, consequently the church would not allow suicide victims to have church funerals or be buried in the church graveyard. The suicide victim would be buried on the outskirts of the village, out of sight, removed from the community, and separated from God’s love. Suicide’s only legacy was one of shame. It was a desperate attempt by the church to stop a disease that destroyed families. In reality, these well-intentioned actions caused further punishment and shame for the families left behind.
Romans 8 is clear — “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Nothing means nothing. We are not powerful enough to defeat the love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing — not addiction, not sin, not cancer, not mental illness, not unbelief, not suicide.
This poor man was ill, very ill, diseased — his disease is what killed him — no one is responsible and no one could have prevented it. Sometimes prayer, doctors, chemo, and radiation leaves us still at the graveside of a cancer victim. Sometimes prayer, medication, and the love of family still leaves us at the graveside of a suicide victim. There is no cure for being human.
My grandfather hung himself in the basement of his house just two days after Felicia and I left him after Christmas to return to seminary. I came home to officiate at his funeral. He died of loneliness, depression, mental illness, but nothing could separate him from the love of God.
This broken family will never be the same — this poor 14-year-old will never have a birthday free from tears. The grief that descended upon this family last Friday will be with them forever, but they will be better off if they can name the cause of his death and understand that Dad did not quit loving them. He did not want to leave them — this was disease, this was about the enveloping darkness of depression which steals all hope and sometime extinguishes all life. But nothing can separate their dad from the love of God. He is safe in the hands of God — no more tears, no more pain, no more death for him.
The darkness cannot overcome the light. Paul Skinner, one of our dear saints, wrote me a note years ago at a difficult time in my ministry. He said, “I read the last chapter — we win. God wins, love wins.”
The truth can help us to dispel the shame and secrecy that for too long has come with suicide. There is no cure for being human — a disease or an accident will take us all — this dear broken man was taken by a disease he could not defeat. God wins — love wins.
We are in this together and we are one day closer,