I am probably going to put my feet in muddy waters. Going to delve into something that many would not dare address or think about. But if you have been following me, I do not write for sensationalism especially with heartfelt topics like this one today. Often it is out of a cry or a calling.
Just because we don’t discuss something in the Church, does not mean it does not happen. The church is a place of refuge, comfort and help.
When faced with a daunting crisis as suicide, when suicide strikes in the church, as Christians and as leaders, we cannot appear helpless and bewildered, or even intimidated or fearful. (Obviously it is not my hope or prayer that someone dies by suicide in the congregation).
Suicide rates are high; even in cultures where it is hushed, it is there. I read somewhere that on this planet earth, every 40 seconds, someone is dying by suicide. Think about that. That is a lot of people. And guess what? Suicide happens among Christians too! Old, as well as young, across all races and cultures in Christian circles.
Judas was with Jesus for 3 years yet hung himself. There are other examples of suicide in the Bible. One could debate about Samson who theoretically died by his own hands, and yet is listed in the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11!! I am still pondering on whether one could count his death as suicide. (Now for the records I am not advocating or condoning suicide is right…NO NO NO. I repeat, NO! And again, NO!! And, I am a ‘preacher’ of hope and life).
Anyway, what if a church member has a family member who dies by suicide? My question is how do we support the grieving family left behind? And if the statistics of 800,000 people that die every year of suicide is accurate, where are the families of these people?
Have they been seen in your church walls? Or is the church the last place on their minds and why? Do we stigmatise them? Do we preach automatic hell and brimstones?
Every death is sad, but suicide, I can only begin to imagine how it is different for the families left behind.
A great woman of God, Evelyn Roberts outlived two of her kids. Her daughter died by accident. Her beloved son died however by a self inflicted gunshot. She said her son’s death affected her so deeply and differently, and called it a double grief. Thankfully, she found peace, and was able to minister to others who may have been through similar experiences.
The same can be said of Rick Warren and his wife Kay, whose son died by suicide. So mental illness can strike the families of pastors too, in the same way as physical illness can strike. There are other deaths like murder, terrorism that are also complicated and more grievous. I know of one person personally who died by suicide when I was young. But that does not mean I cannot imagine the pain of families.
What are the possible emotions the grieving family go through?
- The lingering question of WHY
- Disbelief and/or denial
- The self blame
- Why did we not see this happening?
- We could have done more!
- The guilt
- The shame and embarrassment
- Anger even towards their loved one
- The resulting stigma
- And where is God in all this? Why did He not prevent it?
A loved one dying from suicide should not cause one to backslide or resent the church. I am sure if Judas had hung on, Jesus would have forgiven and restored him just in the same way Jesus did with Peter. Peter denied Jesus, not just once. He had plenty of opportunities to consider what he was saying and each lie was worse than the last but there was no condemnation when Jesus appeared to Peter afterwards.
The church is not a place of throwing stones or pointing fingers. Yes, it is a place of correction, even rebuke and reprove, but also a place of encouragement with long suffering, i.e. patience. See Timothy 4:2.
Where is my loved one?
Often in the minds of Christians is whether their loved one is in hell. This is often what may keep families away because the Church long preached suicide was a guaranteed ticket to hell. And I am not casting blame on the Church, as that was their revelation back then.
Pastors and leaders need to address this burning question with compassion and revelation. I personally do not believe suicide is necessarily automatic ticket to hell, even though suicide is a sin. And I am not going to get into debates and theologies, nor say a loved one is in heaven either. However, there are other factors as to where their loved one might be, like the state of the mind of the individual. So we can’t be too hasty into jumping into automatic conclusions about their eternal destination…
And we can offer hope!
Also, we must remember God ultimately knows without a shadow of doubt our questions. We must remember, however, especially for the families left behind that nothing including death which includes suicide, separates us from the love of God. So God’s love is still there especially for the family that is hurting.
All these, we must consider, especially a pastor who has to preach at the funeral of someone who has died by suicide. It may be the ‘hardest’ sermon you ever preached. But think and pray over each word you will say.
Here are some things we may want to think on:
- Think of the little boy or girl who has to grow up knowing their parent ended their own life.
- How can we prevent history from repeating itself?
- From suicidal patterns being repeated in families?
- From another death by suicide in a few seconds?
- From society thinking suicide is a right?
- From others thinking that if a Christian dies by suicide, then Christianity is dead or offers nothing, or even that suicide is now justified by example?
But then, you may never have to preach such a sermon. However, you can pray for that Christian who is about to end it all. Or pray for the family of the one who already has. Let us remember that prayer is a gift. And many of us have never prayed for these!
Please share or tweet this post and help someone who is hurting over the loss of a loved one by suicide. If you are considering suicide, please seek help immediately by calling any of these helplines, or by speaking to your pastor, counselor or someone can definitely help you immediately!