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February 12, 2016

Staring Suicide in the Face

 

Twice in two weeks I’ve stared suicide in the face, keeping company with families, wrestling with theology.

What to think? What to say? This:

When a woman was dragged into the presence of Jesus, guilt written all over her life, Jesus refused to condemn her. Instead he bade her live. “Go and sin no more.”

Classic Christianity imagines death bringing us face to face with judgment. We imagine a person having committed suicide arriving in the presence of God, guilt written all over them. And will be the verdict of God? “Live! Go and sin no more.”

If it were true (and it is not) . . . If it were true that God would add to the torture that drove a person to suicide, the final torture of damnation, what kind of god would that be? And if you could bring yourself to worship such a god, what kind of person would you be?

According to the stories in the Gospel, every time people whose lives had been taken over by the forces of evil encountered Jesus they reacted with fear and hostility. No demoniac ever asked for help. They were, to all outward appearances, faithless and hopeless. And in ever encounter, Jesus resurrected them. He brought them back to hope and faith and life. Every time.

Suicide happens when pain has become insuperable and hope for relief has become impossible. Suicide is the triumph of pain. There is “good pain,” of course. Athletes push through pain to victory. Mothers endure pain to give birth. We accept the pain of medical procedures hoping for healing. But “good pain” is temporary. There are limits to what we can endure before turning away or passing out.

Suicide happens pain has become unbearable and appears to be irremediable and unending. The pain becomes so great or persists for so long it crushes our ability to stand. Suicide is a collapse of strength. A crumbling of hope.

How would you respond if you watched your own son collapse in the middle of a long, secret effort? Or if your own daughter resisted wave after wave of despair, then one day she could not see beyond the eternal, battering surf and for a moment dropped her head and surrendered to the waves, would you condemn her?

And are you really nicer than God? Are you more compassionate than Jesus?

Paul writes that everyone who enters eternal life will have been supernaturally changed—healed, mended, perfected, fixed. And would not part of this healing include the restoration of the capacity to hope? Would it not include an invitation to experience life untormented by unbearable, unending pain?

In the face of suicide, let’s not offer each other the meager hope of vague statements that God somehow, maybe, possibly, might find a bit of mercy. Instead, let us know with confidence that suicide does nothing that resurrection will not undo. Let us recall the response of Jesus to people so overwhelmed with the torments of evil that they could only writhe in pain and bark hostility. Jesus welcomed them, healed them, restored them to life. If that is how Jesus responded to those lost souls, how much more certain it is that our precious ones who have been hounded to suicide will be welcomed and healed by Jesus. Their collapse is not the final act. God will have the last word: Go. Live.
What to think? What to say? This:

When a woman was dragged into the presence of Jesus, guilt written all over her life, Jesus refused to condemn her. Instead he bade her live. “Go and sin no more.”

Classic Christianity imagines death bringing us face to face with judgment. We imagine a person having committed suicide arriving in the presence of God, guilt written all over them. And will be the verdict of God? “Live! Go and sin no more.”

If it were true (and it is not) . . . If it were true that God would add to the torture that drove a person to suicide, the final torture of damnation, what kind of god would that be? And if you could bring yourself to worship such a god, what kind of person would you be?

According to the stories in the Gospel, every time people whose lives had been taken over by the forces of evil encountered Jesus they reacted with fear and hostility. No demoniac ever asked for help. They were, to all outward appearances, faithless and hopeless. And in ever encounter, Jesus resurrected them. He brought them back to hope and faith and life. Every time.

Suicide happens when pain has become insuperable and hope for relief has become impossible. Suicide is the triumph of pain. There is “good pain,” of course. Athletes push through pain to victory. Mothers endure pain to give birth. We accept the pain of medical procedures hoping for healing. But “good pain” is temporary. There are limits to what we can endure before turning away or passing out.

Suicide happens pain has become unbearable and appears to be irremediable and unending. The pain becomes so great or persists for so long it crushes our ability to stand. Suicide is a collapse of strength. A crumbling of hope.

How would you respond if you watched your own son collapse in the middle of a long, secret effort? Or if your own daughter resisted wave after wave of despair, then one day she could not see beyond the eternal, battering surf and for a moment dropped her head and surrendered to the waves, would you condemn her?

And are you really nicer than God? Are you more compassionate than Jesus?

Paul writes that everyone who enters eternal life will have been supernaturally changed—healed, mended, perfected, fixed. And would not part of this healing include the restoration of the capacity to hope? Would it not include an invitation to experience life untormented by unbearable, unending pain?

In the face of suicide, let’s not offer each other the meager hope of vague statements that God somehow, maybe, possibly, might find a bit of mercy. Instead, let us know with confidence that suicide does nothing that resurrection will not undo. Let us recall the response of Jesus to people so overwhelmed with the torments of evil that they could only writhe in pain and bark hostility. Jesus welcomed them, healed them, restored them to life. If that is how Jesus responded to those lost souls, how much more certain it is that our precious ones who have been hounded to suicide will be welcomed and healed by Jesus. Their collapse is not the final act. God will have the last word: Go. Live.

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