“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)
“Why?” The question we ask ourselves, we ask others, and we ask God when someone intentionally harms themselves or attempts/completes suicide.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, taking the lives of over 44,000 people each year. Over ninety percent of those that intentionally ended their lives had a mental health diagnosis at the time of completed suicide.
Mental health touches the lives of many of our loved ones – family, friends, and neighbors; it knows no boundaries according to race, religion, or gender. We’ve all been affected by the tragedy and devastation of the sudden loss of life by way of suicide. It leaves us feeling helpless, hurt, angry, heartbroken and sad, and always asking the question “why?”
Amidst our shock we wonder “how could they do that” or “what could have been so bad.” Sometimes those questions carry a connotation of disappointment or judgment. I’ve heard people say of those that completed suicide that they were “cowards” or “they took the easy way out.” Did they? Is that really what they did? I don’t believe that for one moment.
Conversations around the water cooler or dinner table about the deceased morph into theological debates that spawn unfortunate declarations. “Didn’t they know that it’s a sin to murder?” is usually followed with “well, now they’re going to hell because they killed themselves.” Are they? I don’t believe that either.
Would we make those same declarations about a person who dies from a terminal disease or illness such as cancer or from a heart attack? Of course not. Then why would we place that stigma, that condemnation upon someone who has a sick mind. When someone is suffering from mental illness they do not see themselves, others, or the world with the same lens as someone with a healthy mind. Just like our other organs in our body, the mind can become sick and can lead us down a detrimental, sometimes terminal, path if left untreated.
“We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide… A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefor, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.” – The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church
Scripture tells us that “nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing, not even suicide. Those that complete suicide are not condemned to hell. Let me say it again – those that complete suicide are not condemned to hell. God and his grace are bigger than any church “doctrine” that some Christians profess. There’s good theology and there’s bad theology. To proclaim and condemn someone to an eternity in hell because they completed suicide while mentally ill, e.g. of a sick mind, is ludicrous. That’s not the love of God, that’s humanity’s judgment.
I believe that God’s grace, that is His mercy and love, is greater than that. I believe that the deceased will go before God and talk about what happened – but that is between God and them, not us. They will have to answer before God what led them to that tragedy.
I know that God loves us, he loves his children. Through Jesus Christ, because of God’s unconditional love, through his endless mercy, and by his amazing grace, we are made whole and reconciled to Him. He has the power to make all things new, in this life and the next – a life in which there will be no more pain, no more tears, and no more suffering. That is the God I love and believe in.
God still loves those that commit suicide and has the ability – He has the love – to make them new again. He has the authority to condemn them not to hell, but instead to wrap them in His healing arms and welcome them into an eternity in heaven. That’s the grace of God and that’s what I believe.
During difficult times of tragedy let us come together as a community of faithful followers of Jesus Christ. May we be the light in the darkness as we share the love of Christ. We do that not by condemning, but by being kind, supportive and empathetic. Let us weep together, express our emotions, and share our prayers and our thoughts with one another, especially with the family, friends, and loved ones affected.
If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, please do not hesitate to help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime. To learn more about mental health issues, suicide prevention, or to get help for treatment you can visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
May God bless you and keep you.
Do I believe that there is nothing that could separate us from the love of God? Wholeheartedly! Did I ever believe that there was condemnation for anyone who took their own life? Never! If taking one’s own life is a sin, did our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, not die on the cross and free us from the guilt of our sin? A phrase from my favorite hymn, “It Is Will with My Soul”, goes, “…My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more….”. It does not specify this sin or that sin, and it does say not just part of the sin. But the WHOLE. ALL my sin.
And I believe that God and my husband did have that conversation as to the reasons leading to Tom’s decision to end his life. And they had that conversation as Tom sat on the cold concrete steps of an abandoned building with the gun in his hands. And those reasons are known only to God and Tom. I believe with my entire being that God held out His hand and said to Tom, “Then come home, son.”
Pastor Chris, your words have touched me on so many levels. I know that this must have been a difficult thing to write about, but I can see that you put a great deal of thought into it and you chose your words with care. Tom was not condemned to an eternity in hell. Because of your words, Pastor Chris, I can cling to the image of God wrapping Tom in his healing arms and welcoming him into an eternity in Heaven. Thank you.