It is a terrible tragedy to learn that Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew Warren, died as a result of suicide on Friday, April 5th. I cannot imagine the anguish of losing a child to suicide. These parents now know the unimaginable. In the desperation of such a loss, no other thought can exist except to know that one is gone who will never come back.
I have confronted suicide as a mental health professional and as a minister. There are many assumptions about suicidal behaviors, mental health, and faith. In contemplating all of these, here is what I hope the church would have to say to address suicide:
Suicide is the horrible loss of someone precious. The mind can rush to all sorts of judgment about a person that dies by suicide, that person’s family, and the environment in which that person was raised. It is a very deficit-centered view that we take. In reality, we should mourn the loss of so many great things that were represented in losing that life. Mourning with and for a family that experiences this kind of loss is the most appropriate, supportive, and empathic thing that can be done.
Suicide is a choice. A complicated choice, but a choice nonetheless. The choice is complicated by mental and physical illness, grief and loss, despair and loneliness, age and decline. It is more likely to be the choice of middle-aged, caucasian men than any other demographic. It seems to be increasingly a choice for teens and young adults as well. To realize that suicide is a choice is not to condemn the chooser, blame the family, or minimize the circumstances of so horrible an event. To say that suicide is a choice is to recognize that there is an alternative, regardless of the complications.
Suicide, ultimately, is giving up on God. The world outside of the church believes that the church cannot help people who are suicidal because we are judgmental- if someone commits suicide, that person is bound for hell. I have experienced this prejudice first hand, because I have voiced publicly that suicide is wrong. I have condemned no one to hell; I have only ever committed people to the hands of a loving and just God, the only one who truly knows the heart of a person across their lifespan and in their final moments. However, the Church must uphold that choosing suicide is equivalent to saying, “God can do nothing to help me in my situation.” As long as there is breath, there can be praise and prayer, restoration and reconciliation. Upon death, there is no chance for any of these things.
Some of my points thus far may sound condemning toward people who think about or commit suicide. But the culmination of what I have had to say so far is much more demanding of the Church than it is of individuals. I believe based on the points I have made that the Church has a moral imperative to combat suicide in every way possible. The Church is called to provide comfort, preserve life, and present Christ as the most fulfilling option available in this life. We can call out sin and judge people, but we would miss the mark concerning Jesus’ call to remit the sins of the people (John 20:23). On the other hand, we could excuse and justify the choice of suicide, but in so doing we would deny the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
This is what I hope to hear from the Church. More importantly, I hope to see the church in action and in prayer so that many people can be saved from suicide.
This piece may be very controversial to you. That’s ok. I only ask that you pray about it, consider it, and leave me a comment below. If I can help you or your church in any way, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2013 Glen Gaugh