Is It Wrong To Long For Death?

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The issue of suicide is extremely complex.  There was a lot of information on the topic that I wanted to include in Sunday’s sermon that I simply had to leave out for the sake of time.

I did briefly mention that it is not wrong to have thoughts of longing for death, but those thoughts can be a sign that there are serious underlying issues that need to be addressed.

Let’s think through this issue together.  First, all believers to some extent should long for death because it means that we will be together in heaven with Christ.  This is Paul’s point in Philippians when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…I desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil. 1:21-24)

But more than that, there seem to be specific seasons when even great men and women of God longed for death as a way to end the pain and misery of life in a fallen world.  Elijah says, “I have had enough, Lord.  Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4); Moses says, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:15).   Of Jonah it is said, “When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.  He wanted to die and said, “it would be far better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:8). Even Jesus said, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

Other than the case of Jonah, God does not seem upset by these requests for death from his servants.  In fact, their longing for death moves him to action based on his infinite compassion.  So it is not wrong to long for death, even to request it of the Lord.  But the key difference is that none of these men took matters into their own hands and attempted to take their own lives.

For those who serve the Lord today in the midst of a fallen and broken world, we can almost expect that there will be times of great anguish where we, too, wish for death.  This, however, is different than a persistent voice from the Evil One in a person’s soul telling him to end his life or thoughts that the world would be better without him.  Desiring to be with the Lord is different than on-going depressive thoughts and feelings that leave an individual feeling that death is her only way to end the pain.  Any on-going encouragement to commit suicide is a sign that what an individual is experiencing is different than what Moses, Elijah, Jonah and Jesus experienced.

So, if you find yourself at times of great stress and anguish longing for death, please know that this is not wrong.  But if there is a persistent, regular urge to end your life, you should follow the encouragement of the Psalmist who writes: “Why are you so downcast, o my soul? Why are you so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (42:11) and the encouragement of James who says, “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)  It is important that you talk to a trusted friend or church leader who can help you find your strength in the Lord.

Blessings,

Jim

Saul in Heaven?

undividedCan a person who commits suicide end up in heaven?

The most provocative and perhaps troubling statement from Sunday’s sermon on suicide for some people was my belief that Saul is in heaven.  Since Sunday, a few people have questioned whether saying suicide is forgiveable might actually remove a barrier that is currently preventing people from ending their lives.

While I would never want to encourage anyone to sin, using false barriers to keep someone from sinning is almost as bad as encouraging them to sin.  If it is true that genuine believers who commit suicide still end up in heaven, hiding that truth from those struggling with suicidal thoughts does not seem the right approach to me.

So let’s tackle this in parts.  First, let’s revisit the question of whether someone who commits suicide can still end up in heaven, then we can answer the question of whether it is wise to share that information with someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Saul’s suicide provides valuable insight when considering this question because he is the one suicide example in the Scriptures who could genuinely be a believer.  We are explicitly told that Judas was not a believer and we don’t know enough about Ahithophel and Zimri to know one way or the other.  But in Saul’s case we know that God’s Spirit came upon Saul in power.  In 1 Samuel 9-11, there is strong evidence that Saul is a believer in God and demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit.  Would we really think that God would choose someone to be the first king of Israel and offer him an everlasting dynasty (1 Samuel 13:13) if he was not someone who believed in the Lord?  One other point worth considering is in 1 Samuel 28 when Saul summons Samuel from Sheol, Samuel says to Saul “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Samuel 28:19).  Now it is possible that Samuel simply means that Saul is going to die.  But as my wife pointed out to me, it could very well mean that Saul and his sons will be in the part of Sheol where Samuel was, namely paradise.  Certainly this is where Jonathan is headed.  My guess is that this is where Saul is headed as well.

After all, isn’t this what we mean when we say that we are saved by grace and not by works?  If good deeds didn’t earn us eternal life then sins – even ones as bad as suicide – cannot rob us of eternal life.

But if it were known that suicide does not disqualify a Christian from eternal life, isn’t it better to keep quiet about this in case those who are tempted to commit suicide might be encouraged down that road?

I don’t think it is for two reasons.   God never tells believers to withhold truth.  The idea that God’s grace can be abused and become a license to do what we want is very real. Paul addresses this in Romans 5-6.  Since the more we sin, the more grace we get, Paul is forced to ask the question, “why not go on sinning so that grace can increase?” (Romans 6:1).  Paul’s answer is not, “because you won’t be forgiven.”  His answer is that someone who is genuinely a believer can’t live in a state of constantly desiring to abuse God’s grace.  But God never hides from us that all our future sins as Christians will be forgiven.  I think we have a responsibility to do the same.

The second reason why I think it is important to declare publicly that God will forgive a genuine believer who commits suicide is that those who are struggling with depressive thoughts and feelings need to understand the depth of God’s unconditional love for them.  God’s willingness to forgive his children’s willful rebellion is a demonstration of his unconditional love.  If a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the best thing to share with them is God’s unconditional love.  To imply that God will only accept them if they behave in a certain way seems the exact opposite of what they need to hear.

It is true that every believer will have to give an account of their actions to God and the person who commits suicide will have to stand before the Lord and answer for their actions.  And it is true that on that day anyone who does commit suicide will wish they had chosen a different course.  But whether God is pleased with us as his children and our behavior is a radically different question than the question of whether we are secure as God’s children.  If someone has accepted Christ as Lord, even if we are faithless, he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

So while I do not want to encourage anyone down the path of suicide by claiming that Christians who commit suicide will be in heaven, I am committed to sharing God’s truth and grace with all people trusting that truth will win out over any other approach.

Blessings,

Jim

Old Books

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I love books.  As a child, my secret goal was to read every book in the youth and children’s section of the local library.  I’m sure I never even came close to that goal (due in part to the fact that libraries keep adding new books all the time!) but it was not for lack of giving it a significant effort.

So, it is probably not a surprise that one of my favorite Christmas traditions is giving each kid a book to read aloud as a family.  It has been so great to re-read books that I loved as a child, such as the Little House books by Laura Ingalls, as well as discovering great new books.

Some of my favorite quotes about reading come from C.S. Lewis, who says:

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.
No book is really worth reading at age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty–except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.
…a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.

Even though I am not to 50 yet, one of the great joys of having school-age children is rereading “children’s books.”  They are treasures of history, imagination and adventure.  It is often interesting to read them through an adult or parent lens.

As I child I didn’t realize that when Laura Ingalls wrote about being hungry during an extended blizzard in The Long Winter that they weren’t just hungry.  When I was young – and living in Texas – being shut inside during a blizzard sounded a little like a great adventure.  But, when I reread it as an adult, I came to the shocking realization that they were literally starving to death.  In addition, to read about the amount of work Ma Ingalls had to do in order to feed the family takes on a far different meaning now that I am preparing three meals a day for a similar size family.

We just finished reading Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  I had forgotten how much I loved the story.  But, it is funny to read some of the sections from the perspective of an adult…and a pastor’s wife.  Here are my favorite quotes after absorbing myself in the world of Anne of Green Gables:

…isn’t it nice to think that to-morrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?  (Chapter 21)
I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.  It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.  I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties—what curves and hills and valleys further on. (Chapter 38)
And besides, we met the new minister and his wife….His wife is very pretty.  Not exactly regally lovely, of course – it wouldn’t do, because it might set a bad example.  Mrs. Lynde says the minister’s wife over at Newbridge sets a very bad example because she dresses so fashionably.  (Chapter 21)
Mrs. Lynde says that sound doctrine in the man and good housekeeping in the woman make an ideal combination for a minster’s family.  (Chapter 21)
It’s always wrong to do anything you can’t tell the minister’s wife.  It’s as good as an extra conscience to have a minister’s wife for your friend. (Chapter 24)

As a young girl, I am sure those statements about the minister’s wife didn’t even make me pause but now they make me laugh – a little from acknowledgement of the truth that people often have certain expectations of the minister’s wife and thankfulness that most of those stereotypes are gone.

Now that winter has finally arrived, perhaps you can find your favorite “old” book and take some time this winter to enjoy it afresh.

I also would love to know your favorite “old” book.

All is well,

Lisa