The Dark Season – Part 2
“Does God understand why I can’t wear a tie?” Suicide works its cruellest damage in the deep places of the survivors. It’s always personal; the statistics always wear faces. The man who, up through high school, influenced me more than anyone except my father, could not untangle the knots of his own darkness and shot himself. Answering a frantic phone call, I ran to a friend’s house where I found him in his basement lying in a large pool of blood. I helped carry his body out. I ‘ve spent late nights on suicide watch to keep someone alive. I’ve put my arms around dear friends as I told them what their son had done to himself. A campus minister asked if I’d come to see his gang. One of their peers was the murder half of a murder/suicide. One of the leaders with a lot on the ball, she would have graduated in a week or so and moved into a position that had God written all over it. Why couldn’t He protect her better than that?
Some unique angles sharply jab those of us who follow Jesus Christ and grapple with suicides of loved ones. Do Christians kill themselves? Yes, they do and denying it renders us insensitive at best and cruel at the worst to survivors when a Christian commits suicide. Leaders do too. I can immediately think of the suicides of three pastors of large successful ministries and a college administrator who was found in a gazebo in the middle of campus. In the stories above, three were Baptist and one a Pentecostal. Christians do a lot of things they shouldn’t do. They steal from the church, cheat on their spouse, watch pornography, commit credit fraud and do despicable things to children. And they commit suicide. And claiming that someone who does this is demonized is often a cop-out for those who can’t deal with it. And, boy, do I understand the feel of that. But if we don’t deal with it, it will deal with us.
What happens to a person who commits suicide? Although I’m not God nor have I left space and time and know all the rules of heaven, I have some thoughts we might chew on together. Some say, with reluctance, that the suicide victim goes to hell because they cannot confess the sin and therefore receive forgiveness. First, there is an unforgiveable sin but most agree that rejecting Jesus Christ and His death on the cross on our behalf fits the Scripture involved. But I John 1:9 specifically links the forgiveness of sin to its confession. Since the victim didn’t survive, there was no opportunity to confess. I get the connection and desire to be true to the Bible. Actually in some suicides, there is time to confess our sin as we realize too late what a terrible thing we’ve done. The survivors just don’t know that the victim did this. They may have. But here is something we need to think about. Almost everyone will die with unconfessed sin including the best Christians we know. Our personal sense of sin is so shallow. A lot of us bury stuff in denial. There’s more to our sin than we know. If we don’t get to confess, can sin we carry through death still be forgiven? If so, then maybe the suicide.
Mark 2:1-12 finds Jesus in the middle of one of those crazy days. The people found out Jesus was home and filled the house. It was SRO. They heard noise overhead and people choked on the dust as debris fell and daylight came through. Some guys lowered their buddy down through the hole in the roof since they couldn’t get in through the door. Swinging in the air on a palette, the man couldn’t walk; they’d brought him for healing. As he swayed back and forth, Jesus said the most interesting thing. He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” (v.5) No confession was made. He’d come for something else.
Luke 23:40-43 takes us to the last words of one of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus. He admits his guilt before the law but that is not the same as directly confessing sin. He asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His Kingdom. In reply, Jesus says that today he will join Him in Paradise. No confession directly made and no forgiveness explicitly granted. But something happened there.
James 5: 14,15 describes someone sick calling for the elders of the church to anoint them with oil. In addition to being raised up, “if he has sins, they will be forgiven” (v.15) Nice perk, huh? Once again, sin forgiven without confession. Combining these thoughts with the idea that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” (designating continuous action) and that God is “not willing that any should perish.” (II Peter 3:9), the Bible shows a considerable amount of forgiveness granted by a God passionate to do it even if no confession crosses a person’s lips.
Abraham left his home and every accompanying security to follow this God no one else knew (Gen 12:1-3). On one occasion, Abraham found himself considering the possibility that this God he’d left everything for was a monster. The bottom line he wrestled down to was that the Judge of all the earth would do right. (Gen 18) That’s good news for Tom.
Tom worked on the maintenance crew at a local hospital and battled alcohol. He came to church sporadically. We learned that if we saw him, he was doing okay. When we didn’t, not so good. Whenever he came, he almost always cursed at me as he left. He meant no harm and never did it when others were around. Waiting until almost everyone was gone, he would walk up and shake my hand and say, “Bleep you, Pastor Dave.” Tom’s life provided him with a vivid vocabulary so “bleep” had a multiplicity of applications. It was his way of saying “Amen”. We both got it. One Sunday he cam up to me and I was ready to get “bleeped” but he surprised me.
“I think I owe you and the people here an apology.” I asked why and he continued,”When I come here, I just wear this sports coat and a shirt with an open collar. I hope my not wearing a tie doesn’t offend or show disrespect.” People in our church wore a little of everything so ties were no big deal and I told Tom so. He went on. “You know me and my problems. One day, I got so sick of what alcohol had done to me and everyone I cared about that I went to the basement and threw a rope over a beam. Then I climbed up on a chair, tied the rope around my neck and kicked the chair away. I must have done something wrong because the rope broke and dumped me to the floor but not before I hung there for a couple of minutes feeling the noose choke the life out of me. To this day I can’t stand anything tight around my neck.” His eyes burned into mine.
“Dave, does God understand why I can’t wear a tie?”
“Yeah, Tom. God understands why you can’t wear a tie,” I managed around the stone in my throat.
“I’m so glad. I’ve never sensed Him like I do in this little church and I’d hate to think I couldn’t come.”
I don’t know what went through the minds of the suicides that touched my life. And I’m not God and don’t know all the Bible. But I share enough here to give us both hope. The Judge of all the earth, who understands why some people can’t stand anything tight around their neck, will do right.
The Dark Season – Part 3 will look at those who ride the bucking bronco of their own darkness and those who would like to help them before it gets too bad. Please return your seats to the upright position and give your night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear.