A Pastor’s Response To Suicide

suicide blogThe death of a loved one is always hard to process. And death via suicide compounds the heart ache a hundredfold. As Christian Counselor David Powlison says, “Suicide brings suffering and difficulty into the lives of everyone who is touched by it.”

I can still remember the first time I encountered the suicide of a family friend. I handed my mom the phone and then sat down next to her. Over the next hour or so, my mom’s friend recounted how she had come home and found her dead child. The reality that someone I knew had taken their own life filled my heart tension, sadness, and hopelessness. As the news began to settle, a whole host of questions started to pop up in my mind such as: “Is suicide the unforgivable sin; who’s at fault; and what do we do?”

While the Scriptures do not directly answer why our loved one died, they do teach us how to handle the tragedy of suicide. The following are five biblical truths that should inform our view of suicide:

1. It is Good To Grieve

When Jesus learned that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Jesus cried for his friend (Luke 11:35). When our friends, classmates, and children take their own lives, we should grieve for them. We should grieve for the life that has been lost. All death is grievous; all death is the result of the fall. All death screams that the world is broken and deformed. All death especially of that which takes a life prematurely should be mourned (Rom. 12:15). Those who love the Lord will mourn with those who mourn.

2. There Is Hope For Sinners

Although suicide should be grieved, it should not be excused or honored. Suicide is a sin. The taking a life, even the taking of one’s own life is sinful. It is wrong because all men and women are created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). Men and women are designed to glorify God. If a person commits suicide, he fights against God design for his life. He “essentially blames God for difficult circumstances while simultaneously failing to trust him for deliverance” (p. 115). The Scriptures always present suicide as sinful and shameful (I Sam 31:4-5; Matt 27:5). The taking of one’s own life is an attack against God.

For this reason, we should always take suicide seriously. Those who struggle with suicide are wrestling against God.  We must warn them that their lives and very souls are in jeopardy. We must call them to examine their faith for their very thoughts may be evidence that they are unredeemed.

But suicide is not unforgivable. Suicide does not equal being lost. Nor does it preclude salvation. It is not the unpardonable sin (Matt 12:30-32). The hymn writer, William Cooper who penned “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” attempted suicide. Moreover, King David and Moses both committed murder and were forgiven by God. There is no biblical reason to assume that all those who commit suicide and/or murder automatically go to hell. God offers eternal life to all who repent and believe. Not even suicide can separate a believer from the powerful love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).

So is our loved one in heaven? If they had faith in Christ, then yes. However, only God can see into people’s hearts. He makes the final decision according to his love, mercy, and justice. We must place our hope and trust in him.

3. God Judges People For Their Sins

Often when a suicide occurs, the family and friends left behind begin to assume responsibility for the person’s death. We accuse ourselves by asking, “Why didn’t we see the warning signs; why we didn’t we keep this from happening; how did we miss this?” And while it’s possible that we did things that hurt our friend, child or spouse, we did not cause the suicide. Numerous people have had inattentive friends, mean parents, and argumentative spouses. Most people don’t kill themselves.

Ultimately, the person who commits suicide chose to take their life. Their decision even if impaired by drugs, alcohol, or medication was their decision. We are not responsible for their sin. God never hold us accountable for the actions of another. In Romans 2:6, we read that God will “render to each person according to his deeds.” And Ezekiel 18:20 makes this point crystal clear:

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

We are not judged for our loved one’s sin.

4. We Are Finite

We like answers. We like to be able to explain everything we see and encounter.  When we are hit with the news of a suicide, we often set off in desperate quest to explain why. We want to know why our brother, son, or spouse thought suicide was the best option. But we can’t know these things with certainty. We can’t perfectly retrace our beloved’s last steps and see into their mind. We can’t make sense of suicide. As David Powlison writes,

You will never have an answer that ties up all the loose ends.

We read in Deuteronomy 29:29 that, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Friends, we will never know the secret things. We will never ultimately know why. And that’s ok. Our hope is not tied to the knowledge of everything. Our hope is tied to the all-powerful, loving, good God who cares for us. He knows everything. We must trust him for he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69).

5. Jesus Saves

The ultimate hope for all touched by the suffering and difficulties of suicide is Jesus. Though we do not know why our loved one committed suicide, we know that God is all loving, merciful, and compassionate. Regardless of how we feel, his mercies will be new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). He will hear us when we call (Psalm 86:7). And, he will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). As we deepen our trust in God, we will find hope and blessing.

Admittedly, the tears and heart ache will never fully go away in this life. But they will not last forever. Christ will return one day soon and wipe away every tear and sorrow. And even if our loved one is not in heaven on that day, we will be with Jesus. We will be with God. He will more than make up for all of our suffering. As Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Friends, we are going to glory! Trust in God.

 

If your are looking for more resources on suicide, I encourage you to listen to Jim Newheiser talk on the subject,  COUNSELING AFTER A SUICIDE or to grab a copy of David Powlison’s little book, Grieving A Suicide: Help for the Aftershock

 

From YMCA to Veggie Tales: Children’s Ministries That Last

Blog_YMCA to Veggie TalesJust like its namesake song, the YMCA is quickly becoming classic of a bye gone era. The Christian gyms famously devoted to reaching young men are being replaced with Veggie Tale concerts, Winshape Camps, and a wild assortment of other pubescent activities. Every day churches are updating nursery facilities, hiring children’s pastors, and launching new kids’ programs. Children’s ministry is the new youth ministry. And in many ways the focus upon children’s ministry is a good thing. According to Ken Ham, some forty percent of those who leave the church decide to check-out during their elementary or middle school years.[i] We need to do a better job of reaching our children for Christ. But before we hire a themer or create the hottest new curriculum, we need to ask ourselves what is the goal of children’s ministry?

According to scripture, the twelve and under program should consist of the following three headliners: the gospel, parents, and discipleship.  Before we can look at putting together an A-list children’s ministry, we first need to understand our audience.

In the Psalms, we discover that all babies enter the world infected with sin.  According to the Psalmist, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies” (Ps 58:3). The teaching that all children are born with “iniquity” is reinforced in Psalm 51:5 and in Romans 3:23. Reflecting upon these and other passages, the famed theologian J.C. Ryle commented, “one thing a mother can say with certainty: [her infant] will have a corrupt heart.”[ii] Similarly, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser wrote,

“Children are not good by nature; they are not a “blank slate” upon which we can write our values; they are not inherently innocent, nor are they genetically predisposed to be good. In fact, the Bible teaches that they are genetically predisposed to be bad because every child is born with original sin and a rebellious nature.”[iii]

All babies and infants (and I would argue a majority of preschoolers, elementary students, and middle schoolers, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Gen. 8:21) first encounter children’s ministry as an unbeliever with little to no knowledge of the gospel. What do we do with these precious little ones?

First, we introduce them to the gospel! According to Deuteronomy 6:1-25, we are to teach our uniformed, little sinners the word of God through Sunday school lessons and through our actions. We do so hoping that the Holy Spirit will spark questions in the hearts of our children that will burst into the glorious flame of salvation. As Paul says, the law is the tutor, the teacher, by which we come to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Before we bring out Lottie Moon or anything else, let’s expose our children to this firm yet wonderful teacher.

Secondly, we need to welcome parents onto the children’s ministry stage. In Deuteronomy, Moses charges parents with the primary responsibility of reaching their children for Christ.  We are told that children will ask parents (not pastors or Sunday school teachers) about spiritual matters. Consequently, I believe equipping parents to disciple their own children is one of a children’s ministry leader’s most important tasks. As I look back over my time in children’s ministry, I have seen ample evidence of this truth. The number of children who came to Christ while interacting with their parents far out paces the number of professions made at camps or vacation bible schools.  Not surprisingly, every child that I have counseled has come to my office accompanied by a loving parent who has been fielding their child’s spiritual questions.  Let’s strive to equip our parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4b). During the next few weeks, I look forward to tackling the subject of “leading your child to Christ” in more detail.

Although parents our charged with caring for their children’s spiritual formation, their calling does not negate the importance of the church. Psalm 78 reveals that teaching the next generation also contains a corporate element that extends beyond the immediate family dynamic. As J.C. Ryle notes, “Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice.”[iv] When we have children in our homes, or in Sunday school rooms, or in Wacky Wednesday gyms, we should remember Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, and Ephesians 6. We are to partner with parents by diligently teaching all children the gospel story in a loving, engaging manner. “Both [the family and the church] have been given the task to disciple young people.”[v]

Thirdly, we introduce these warmed up crowds of little people to discipleship. Regardless of our audience’s age, we are called to make disciples not converts (Mathew 28). Consequently, we should make truth for growth a valued member of our gospel focused, children’s ministries. We should teach on Ephesians 6, encouraging our children to obey their parents. We should teach young Christians to put on the “tender mercies, kindness, long suffering” of Colossians 3. But, we must do so in a manner that also recognizes many of our listeners lack regenerated hearts and gospel knowledge. As children’s pastors, teachers and workers, we must remind all the souls under our influence that the Christian life is impossible without Christ. We must constantly show our children their sin and then introduce them to the Jesus who saves and transforms all who call upon his name.

Who knows if Veggies Tales will become a heralded classic or if the cute vegetables will return to forgotten produce isle? But this we do know. The word of God will never pass away (Mat 5:18). If we faithfully build our children’s ministries on the Bible by proclaiming the gospel, equipping parents, and on discipling children, we will escape the bounds of irrelevance.


[i] (Ham, Beemer and Hillard 2012,) Ken Ham also points out that another 50% of those who leave church decide to do so during high school. I wish in no way question the validity of youth ministry as it has a special place in my heart. I came to Christ under the preaching of a faithful youth pastor. I only wish to point out that the enthusiasm of yester year that went into youth ministry has now been redirected towards children.