In the midst of all these events, the nation’s attention has been turned to the reality of death. As of the writing of this article, over a million tweets have been posted regarding the apparent suicide of actor and comedian, Robin Williams. Sunday we read Jesus’ words to us “Don’t Worry,” yet many do worry. Some worry to the point of suicide. The discussion about suicide is always difficult. Suicide of loved ones has touched so many lives and families, including our own church family. There are a number of lessons we should learn in considering the subject.
First, there are lessons about the nature of man and his sinfulness. One of the lessons is that material things and earthly success don’t bring happiness. This is glaringly obvious in the fact that one who the world would consider most blessed was painfully and deeply depressed. Fame, money, power, even comedy doesn’t ultimately bring joy. Only Christ brings joy. Consider the Rich Young Ruler, when Jesus told him the cost of discipleship he became sad. Material wealth and power are hollow substitutes for true joy.
Another lesson about the nature of mankind is that external behavior is not always indicative of internal hurt. Who would ever think that someone who was so funny could be so sad? Depression is a reality of a fallen world. We must recognize that the worst thing we can do is vainly try to make everyone think we have it all together. If we are honest with each other, we will encourage others to be honest therefore allowing them the opportunity to share their own hurts and disappointments.
There is one other important clarification about suicide. Although suicide is often directly related to depression or even mental illness, suicide is sin. Suicide is murdering one’s self; therefore it is both a violation of God’s command and an attempt to take God’s prerogative. He alone has the right to determine when life begins and ends. Although suicide is sin, contrary to popular belief, it is not the unforgivable sin. Some people think because suicide is the final act a person commits it cannot be forgiven because there is not time to ask for forgiveness. This idea betrays a faulty and unbiblical understanding of redemption. Through Christ’s finished work on the cross and in the resurrection and our faith in him and repentance from our sin, Christ redeems us from all sin – past, present, and future. Therefore, although suicide is not in keeping with godly action, it is not in and of itself an indication of a person’s lack of saving faith in Christ.
Most importantly, there is a lesson about the nature of our sovereign God. All of life is a reminder of the deep, deep love of Christ. We are the recipients of his mercy and grace. We are born again because of his obedience to the will of the Father. God is good to us every day and in every way. When you stop and consider the hurt and pain and difficulty for many in our own congregation, you should realize how bold a statement it is to say that God is always good. The events of our lives so often would lead the world to say he is not good. Depression, disappointment, and many other factors lead some to think their loneliness has no solution. How can we come to the point of seeing God’s love and righteousness in every event? As I mentioned Sunday, a big part of the process is gaining a better understanding of God’s Providence. Only by understanding God’s perfect providence can we know that every circumstance has hope. John Calvin said, “Ignorance of providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness.” (Institutes 1. XVII. 11)
William Cowper wrote a hymn in 1774 entitled God Moves in a Mysterious Way. There is an interesting story behind the hymn. “Cowper often struggled with depression and doubt. One night he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the Thames River. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river (another version of the story has the driver getting lost deliberately). After driving around lost for a while, the cabby finally stopped and let Cowper out. To Cowper’s surprise, he found himself on his own doorstep: God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself. Even in our blackest moments, God watches over us.” Obviously, God does not act in this kind of miraculous way in every case, but his providential control of this universe is unceasing. He has a purpose and a plan in everything he does. Here are the words of Cowper’s hymn.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread,
are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.