When Suicide Strikes the Body of Christ

In the past week, the Langley High School community and the Christian community has been rocked by two teen suicides. How do we address this difficult topic with sensitivity and love?  I pray that the resources below will be helpful and bring hope in the wake of these tragedies.  Below is an edited version of a 2013 Christianity Today article by Al Hsu. Mr. Hsu is the author of Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers and Hope. Click HERE to read the unedited article. (Click on highlighted-in-red text for extra content.)

“When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ”

As the suicide of Rick Warren’s son Matthew brings renewed attention to mental health, depression, and suicide, we see that his case is not uncommon. Every 15 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life. That’s 35,000 suicides every year in this country—and likely more, since many suicides are disguised as accidents. Sadly, suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians.

Suicide kills a disproportionate number of young people and the elderly, and it has become increasingly prevalent among returning veterans. More active duty soldiers now die from suicide than from combat. A 2012 Dept. of Veterans Affairs study found that 22 veterans on average kill themselves each day, totaling more than 8,000 a year.

Each suicide leaves behind on average six to ten survivors – husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, other close friends or family members. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people, including many of our church members, will grieve the loss of a loved one to suicide.

The Lingering Questions

More than other deaths, suicides raise the question of Why? Why did he do it? Why didn’t we see this coming?…We also ask, Could I have done anything to prevent it? After a suicide, survivors replay the scenarios in our heads over and over again, wondering if it wouldn’t have happened if we had done something differently…

While grieving, another question comes up, particularly among people of faith: Why didn’t God prevent this? There aren’t any easy answers to this. In short, God honors our human choices, even if they’re bad ones. If we choose to smoke, we might get lung cancer. And if someone we love chooses to kill himself, God honors that choice as well.

But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about us or our loved one. The Bible tells us that God grieves with us in our loss. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and he stands with us and weeps over our loved one’s death. Throughout Scripture, God comforts the grieving and brokenhearted, and he understands the suffering of grief and loss. He experienced ultimate pain, suffering, and grief on the cross. Where is God when it hurts? He stands with us, grieving beside us.

Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?

Christians often take opposing views on suicide. Some consider suicide the unforgivable sin, believing that people who kill themselves go straight to hell. Others claim suicide isn’t a sin at all, minimizing the act. The truth probably lies in between.

Taking one’s own life may well be a sin, but it does not automatically separate someone from eternal life with God just because one can’t ask for forgiveness afterward. After all, many of us die without having asked for forgiveness for each and every sin we’ve committed.

Suicide falls into the moral and literary category of tragedy, a person undone by a fatal flaw…In the case of suicide, depression or other mental disturbances may have clouded a person’s judgment and caused him to do something he never would have done otherwise.

…God can be trusted to do what is right. He is good and perfect and compassionate. While we ultimately don’t know a loved one’s fate, we know that our loving God will judge appropriately.

Pastors preaching at funerals for suicides often do not know what to say. One way of framing the death is to describe the loved one as having fought a civil war with himself and lost, and to see him like a soldier who has fallen in battle…

Suicide Prevention

…Churches must recognize that suicide survivors themselves face higher risks of suicide. Christians need to come around survivors in their grief to prevent further tragedies.

The Bible has a very powerful example of suicide prevention. Acts 16 tells about when Paul and Silas were in prison in Philippi. When an earthquake opened the doors of the prison, the Philippian jailer drew his sword and was about to kill himself. He thought that the prisoners had all escaped, and he decided to kill himself rather than face execution.

But Paul cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” He intervened in the jailer’s life and stopped him from killing himself. He gave him a reason to live and led the jailer and his whole family to Christ.

We can do the same. If you see people who are in despair, tell them, “Don’t harm yourself! We are here for you!” …If you see these warning signs in a loved one, get help. Talk to them about it. Ask if they’re doing okay, and specifically ask if they’ve thought about killing themselves.

Don’t worry that asking someone about suicide might give them ideas; many depressed people are already thinking about suicide and desperately want someone to talk to about it. A suicide attempt is a cry for help…If you see signs, get help.

Ultimately, even in the midst of grief and loss, Christians can take heart that death is not the end. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has defeated death. Death is an enemy, but it is a defeated enemy. It does not have the final word. Through Jesus, we have hope of eternal life. Jesus promises us that someday there will be no more mourning and no more pain. He will wipe away every tear. Death will be swallowed up  in victory, and we will never grieve again.

(Christianity Today – April, 2013, Al Hsu. For full article click here)
 
 Click here for the CNN interview with Rick and Kay Warren