Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thinking about a Christian Suicide

Jarrid Wilson's personal Facebook account


Earlier this week, Greg Laurie announced through his social media channels that one of the associate pastors at his church committed suicide the night before. The pastor's name was Jarrid Wilson, who was, as described by Laurie, a man who "loved the Lord and had a servant's heart."

There's more than a touch of tragic irony to this story. Wilson killed himself on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day. It is certain that he knew of the timing because just three years ago, he, along with his wife Juli, founded Anthem of Hope, a Christian organization that focuses on combating depression and suicide. The organization also sponsors Suicide Prevention Month.'

Beyond the mere details of this particular matter, though, is the fact that this is all so public in ways that it would not have been in decades past. Just like a suicide committed by a celebrity, a suicide committed by a "Christian celebrity" now becomes a front page headline in whatever mode of digital news to which we subscribe. Given the saturation of information that exists, and the speed at which it spreads, it is hard to imagine that there would be an American Christian who is well plugged-in to social media outlets who is unaware of the Jarrid Wilson situation. The news is right there in front of us -- now we must process it.

Many questions naturally arise in the mind of a discerning Christian when tasked with analyzing a tragedy of this nature. "How could this happen?", "Why didn't someone step in?", "How could a Christian do that?", and "What will his family do now?" are all appropriate and important inquiries.

My concern, however, is that the nature of Wilson's suicide is not being processed from a biblical perspective -- even within the Christian community. It seems that there are endless opportunities in which Christians can turn away from God's word for the sake of listening to the voice within, our own reasoning. The problem with this is that our thinking is infinitely insufficient. We are completely unable to construct meaning, purpose, or truth in our lives. We must appeal to an outside Source, namely God Himself.

Thus, my goal in this article is to address the topic of suicide from the Bible and to give biblical advice for processing it and responding to it when we are affected by it, particularly in the instance of a Christian suicide. I am well aware that a great deal of tact is needed when discussing this subject, especially when it is tied to a real-life scenario that is fresh on people's minds. Yet, as with every other moment in life, a great deal of truth is also needed, riding alongside tact, helping us to comprehend the world around us.

Beginning to Process

Humans struggle to process a suicide because the transgressor is also the direct victim. The human heart desires to sympathize with the victim, but the discerning mind desires to condemn the offender. A person who commits suicide is both the victim and the offender and that bends and twists normal thinking patterns in ways that catch us off-guard. Furthermore, when the person who commits suicide is a professing Christian, a thick layer of bewilderment is cast over the whole ordeal.

Concerning the Jarrid Wilson suicide, some comments have been made on social media that reveal a lack of discernment in processing his death. For instance, a more popular tweet about it stated that Wilson "lost his own battle with depression." The most-liked reply to the tweet states, "I'm having a hard time viewing this as a loss to a battle. He may have 'ended' his battle ... but he didn't lose. He was such a champion...and he's in heaven. That's a win."

Suicide is a victory? This is dangerous.

In an article for Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer wrote, "Jarrid would have told himself that suicide was never the right call. It leaves many behind. But I don't write to say what Jarrid did was wrong. I write to say we need to do what Jarrid told us to do on his best days...'God loves you, life matters, and you have a purpose in this world. Hope is here!'"

As painful as it is, and as horrible as the timing may seem, we all do need to be told that what Jarrid did was wrong. We do need to condemn what he did. We must learn from a situation like this and, in light of God's good law, feel righteous anger.

Murder Is Sinful

God's in charge and we're not.

This is a pithy way of saying that there is only One in existence who has ultimate authority. God alone is able to assert His will autonomously and perfectly. The rest of us must yield to what He wants. We're not in charge. He is.

Furthermore, God is morally perfect. He has no need whatsoever to learn anything or conform to an outside standard. He is the standard. He is the origin of morality itself; thus, He is perfect. From eternity past through eternity future, God is absolutely pure in all things.

In contrast, all human beings are found wanting morally. Romans 3:23 simply states, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We're told why later in the same book. It's because humanity's representative, Adam, rebelled against God and died. And when our representative did that, we all died with him (Romans 5:12-21). Therefore, we are born into this world dead in our trespasses and sins as children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3) and we are totally dependent on God for any and every good thing.

Throughout history, God has revealed more and more of Himself to humanity so that they may know what is holy, just, and good, and so that they may know that they are not. One of the most prominent moments of this revelation occurred at Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments for His people, Israel. The sixth of those commandments simply states, "You shall not murder."

This commandment speaks to unjust killing, which is concisely expressed in Genesis 9:6 (contrast with a passage like Deuteronomy 13:9). Because all men and women bear the image of God, they have intrinsic value. Therefore, it is morally wrong for a person to kill another person outside of the parameters listed in Scripture. Murder is evil and it is worthy of punishment. In fact, Genesis 9:6 instructed Noah's family to enact the death penalty whenever a murder was committed. It is a sin and sin is worthy of death.

It seems apt to note that although murder is a sin, it is not the unpardonable sin. At the center of Christianity is the gospel and at the center of the gospel is forgiveness of sin. Murder is a sin that absolutely can be forgiven. Moses, David, Paul, and other men of God were murderers. They were forgiven and pardoned by the blood of Christ. Now, this fact does not justify murder or put it on the same level as murmuring a profanity. But it is not unpardonable.

No Exceptions for Self-Infliction

You've just read the subheading and you're wanting to jump to that topic immediately. But let's pause and ponder for a moment.

What defines sin? We should know that it's not about what may adversely affect our well-being or happiness. It's not about what might make someone else grumpy. And it's certainly not about trampling on another person's "rights."

Sin is sinful because it is opposition to God, who is Himself the standard of morality. And sin is defined by God's revelation to us in the Bible. Sin glances at the holy and righteous command of the Creator of the universe and says, "I know better." Sin is pride and it breeds many idols. Sin transgresses the only law that has absolute authority.

So when it comes to the subject of suicide, some will argue that the act isn't exactly murderous because the crime is "victimless." The murderer murdered himself; therefore, the murder isn't murder. But remember: a sin is not defined by infringing on another person's rights. The victim of murder is merely a footnote when analyzing an action to determine whether it was, in fact, murderous. If the act was a willful destruction of the image of God, then, according to Genesis 9:6, it was murder. The act broke the sixth commandment given to Moses at Sinai. And suicide is indeed murder.

Think of Adam and Eve in the garden, enjoying the only perfect environment this world has ever known. Their act of eating the fruit was "victimless" in a humanly perception. Yet the lack of a clear victim in the moment did not diminish the grave reality of deep evil taking place. In my book You're the Husband, I compare Eve's bringing the fruit to her mouth with the act of lifting a gun to her head. Both acts are sinful and both result in death. God rightly judges them both as evil and rebellious.

These truths are particularly difficult to remember and embrace when a person struggling with depression decides to end his own life. If the situation were a "murder-suicide" (murdering another before murdering self), Christians, along with the rest of the world, would promptly look at the suicide with righteous indignation. Yet when only one murder occurs, the murder of the self, it is tempting to relegate the action to its own category, as something different altogether. This should not be so.

So with suicide it remains true that just because the act is self-inflicted and only directly affects the one person's body, the act still breaks the sixth commandment. It is murder.

And yet, it is often the temptation of man to avoid this reality. If suicide could be given its own category, it could be handled differently. Perhaps it could be treated as a matter of foolishness vs. wisdom, rather than unrighteousness vs. righteousness. But Scripture doesn't allow for that treatment of this subject.

Furthermore, Scripture doesn't allow for "the Devil made me do it." Suicidal people are often spoken of as "wrestling with demons" or "battling depression." As true as those statements may be, they do not negate the responsibility of the individual to address those issues in a biblical way. A Christian is equipped for the spiritual fight (Ephesians 6) and has access to the all-sufficient Word of God for all of life's problems. These realities do not make problems disappear, but they take away any excuse a person may have for abandoning his or her stewardship from God.

Murdering yourself is absolutely tragic and incredibly sad. It is also selfish, prideful, and sinful. We must agree with Scripture on this point.

How Then Shall We Process?

We live in a world where, by and large, the vast majority of ideas are questioned because truth is seen as relative. For many, suicide is only wrong because, pragmatically, it may "leave many behind," as Stetzer noted (quoted above). Whether or not the murdering of self is a transgression of the command of God is a moot point for much of the culture. But the reality is that death is worthy of mourning. Sin is worthy of mourning. Sin is worthy of full condemnation. And in response, Christians are to lay aside falsehood, speak truth, be angry without sinning, and keep Satan from opportunities (Ephesians 4:25-27).

Sadly, it seems that many Christians are finding temporary hope and healing in this situation by exalting Wilson himself. They remember things he did or said, the ways he served them, and the way he treated his family. But exalting Man is never the answer. It's always idolatry. Man, obviously, will always disappoint us in the end. But God never disappoints.

So let us receive our comfort from the Comforter, the One whom Jesus sent. He helps us to pray and He guides us into all truth, namely the Word of God. These two simple pillars, prayer and God's revelation to us, are foundational to life. In moments like these, as with all other moments, our analyzation of reality must rest on the Spirit's counsel through the Word of God in response to our pleas for wisdom.

And we do well to remember the role of the local assembly of Christians, those members of Christ's body who are there to serve one another and provide insights into life. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you [all], with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs..." (Colossians 3:16).

As these elements come together in processing shocking news, like what has been announced about Jarrid Wilson, we will find that we're still mourning and we're still angry. But we're also truly hopeful about his salvation if he really did know Christ as Savior. And we're comforted by truth alone as opposed to the carnal schemes we may be tempted to employ. This range of emotion is complex, but it's also committed to seeing things through the lens God has given us -- and that is ultimately what matters most.

Through this biblical worldview, while the Christian addresses his own thinking, it is also his duty to comfort others in the truth (2 Corinthians 1). Weep with those who weep. Mourn with those who mourn. Grieve sin and find hope in Christ.

Final Thoughts and Encouragement

There exists a golden rule in officiating funerals that goes something like this, "Don't preach him (the deceased) into heaven and don't preach him into hell."

This is a good rule of thumb for life in general. Only God exalts and only God condemns. He has clearly revealed in His Holy Scripture how sinners can be saved -- and it happens in the heart. God, being the only Omniscient, is the only One who knows what goes on in a man's heart. He's the only One who knows the eternal resting place of every individual.

I do not know with the certainty of God whether or not Jarrid Wilson is in heaven. And I, along with the rest of those concerned with this issue, must rest in that.

Now there are Christians who are reading this who may be thinking and feeling the similar things as Wilson often expressed in his transparent struggle with depression. How then shall they live?

The matters of our lives can be overwhelming at times. God governs this universe as He pleases, and He has decided to appoint stewards over the affairs of the world. The responsibility God has given you may cause your heart to despair and you may experience a measure of grief. Perhaps even now you find yourself in full agreement with the prophet Jeremiah's lament.

But Christians are called to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Remember the great hope that comes from Jeremiah's laments: "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I have hope in Him,'" (Lamentations 3:21-24).

The Scripture goes on to say that the Lord is good to the one who seeks Him, waiting silently for His salvation, bearing the yoke of his youth. It is good for a man to embrace the hardship God has placed on him and, in response, lie face-down in reverence to his God. He should embrace his sufferings because after the grief, God sends compassion according to His mercy and brings about justice. God's people are not to complain about what God has given, but instead they are to examine themselves and turn to Him. God will hear the voices of His servants and draw near to them. He pleads their souls' cause and redeems their lives. He destroys the enemy.

This is the Christian alternative to suicide and it is the counsel we give to those believers who, while still breathing, are dealing with grief.

On this side of the cross, we not only have these encouragements, but we have the example of our Savior. Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of the world and bore our griefs and our sorrows. By His wounds we have been healed. Now, through our own wounds we know Him more and are drawn closer to Him. And we, together, are to put on the love He has given us, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14).

There is no easy way to escape the hardships of this life, yet there is an eternal comfort and good hope by grace, given to us by the Triune God who comforts and strengthens our hearts in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). God does this in us through His Body, the church, as we grow up together in His love (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Embrace the Word of God and embrace the people of God. This is your hope in this life.

If you are contemplating thoughts of suicide, you can seek immediate help through the suicide crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, and it may be beneficial for you to listen to a message I preached on the topic here.

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