Last week, a couple of my friends went through something awful. And it’s something that doesn’t stop just because it’s been a week…or a year…or whatever… I’m not going to name any names, out of respect to the family, but the husband is one of my oldest friends, the wife is a friend I got to know through having the honor of performing their marriage ceremony…and her son/his step-son took his own life last week. He was 24.
I met the young man a number of times. (By the way, I’m at the age where 24 now sounds as young as it is…) He was, of course, in the wedding. I had the opportunity to meet him a few times afterward too. The few times we talked, we talked about heavy metal. Metal fans are a strange brotherhood, and when you find someone else who speaks the language it’s kind of like finding another unicorn to talk to. Through his step-dad, I got to hear the success stories of him graduating and how much he excelled at things like science, etc…and I got to hear the pissy-complaints that come with being a parent, that I’m sure my friend is haunted by this week, but that paint no less an accurate picture of who the young man was. The less-pleasant pictures just mark the development, as it were…
It’s been a sad week. It was a sad funeral. As one fellow mourner remarked to me, “We weren’t made for times like this.” He hit the nail on the head. I found those words more fitting than anything the preacher had to say. So often, the theology offered at those services is full of holes. Proof-texted stuff quoting a verse, skipping one in the middle, and quoting the one after it; conveniently skipping the part that didn’t fit… Quotes from only the poetic or prophetic books that may or may not be literal, that may or may not be talking about anything at all to do with salvation. I don’t envy any preacher the job–it’s a hard one and you play whatever cards you have. Which motivated me to share the following…I feel like it’s time I share the cards in my hand.
One of the best pieces of advice I received in ministry and have relayed to others is also one of the saddest pieces of advice I can imagine… “You’re going to need to develop a theology of suicide.” As regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve got some experience in dealing with this kind of loss. It’s been a useful theology to have in my back pocket. When someone dies this way, the same set of questions always seems to pop up, and any believer worth their salt better have at least a couple answers if they’re asked, in my opinion… Now… I know we’re not all going to agree on this. And that’s okay… I hope you find ways to speak to people in mourning that are comforting, even if they’re not the same words I’d use… But here’s my theology of suicide. I consider it the most useful theology I’ve got to offer, but also the WORST I’ve ever had to consider.
To start with, I’m not going to be quoting scripture here. Quotes are useless. When you’re looking in the eyes of a mom who lost her son/daughter, you need to use your OWN words. They’re not asking you what the Bible says. They’re asking what YOU say. Your words need to be your own–Biblically based, but not quoted by rote. One of the experiences I’ll never quite be able to get over (and it’s happened more than once) is having a mom look in my eyes and ask if I think someone who commits suicide can go to Heaven. You damn well BETTER be ready to say something, and you better not have to turn any pages in a book they may or may not believe in.
Here’s what I’ve said. Here’s what I believe.
It isn’t for me to judge anybody. I’m not the one who decides who goes to Heaven. But, I know this… I believe in a God who is perfect, who does nothing wrong, who does not misjudge…and more than that, I believe in a God who FORGIVES. I believe in a God who saw people with whom He could not keep company and who decided to break His own rules and forgive us so we could be together. I believe in a God whose grace is unfair, but unfair to the benefit of the sinner; even to His own detriment. I believe in a God who so desperately wanted to be with us that he died for it. In fact–please put some space between yourself, the computer screen, and the lightening–over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that when I think about what Christ did… I believe in a God who committed suicide.
And all He asks is that we call out to Him.
I’m sure Billy Graham or somebody like that would shit a brick to hear someone put it that way…but that’s where I am as a believer. Now, I don’t think God WANTS us to kill ourselves. But I think he understands how hard it can be to live when everything feels out of place. I think He wants to help us THROUGH that…but I don’t think His grace stops working just because we did something awful. In fact, I depend on that. I do awful things all the time. I did awful things TODAY. And God offers me grace and forgives me. I don’t think I can think about the horrible things I’ve done, say that the blood of Christ covers them, and then deny that same, healing blood from someone who needs it more than I do.
But, nevertheless… Bringing it back to Earth…
Don’t stop fighting. God might forgive you, but you’re causing permanent pain and damage to the people who care about you. And maybe for some people, that’s the goal…I don’t know… But as a person who’s lost count of how many people he’s know who’ve died by their own hand, I can say that I’d be a whole lot less fucked up if they’d just talked to somebody and worked it out. I’d be less hurt, I’d be less angry, and I’d be less haunted. I’m not going to get over missing some of those people. (The anniversary of my cousin’s death is just around the corner on April 1, by the way.) Even if you’re theologically okay…speaking as a human, what you’d put everybody else through with your actions is NOT okay with me.
As Churchill said, “If you’re going through Hell…keep going.” And if you’re mourning, I hope and pray that your mourning will turn to dancing when you’re reunited with your loved one on the other side, by the blood of Christ.
I don’t know if this helps anybody or not…but I needed to write it, and it’s my damn blog.