Tag Archives: suicide

An Unnatural Passing

Today we celebrate the birthday of our second daughter.  She was born on this day in 2003.  Exactly one year earlier, on the same day, we lost my mom.  God took away one year and gave the very next — we do bless his Name.    Someone wrote me on Facebook the other day asking me how to comfort someone grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide.  I passed on to him this article and it seems like a fitting day to share it here.  I share, not to elicit sympathy for myself, but so that you can comfort others in a helpful way should the opportunity ever present itself.


For many years, the subject of suicide has been virtually taboo in our circles.  It has happened that a person passes away and only many years later is it disclosed that he or she took their own life.  Part of this has to do with what seems to be a left-over from Roman Catholic teaching, namely that suicide is an unforgivable sin.  In our churches today, there are still people who doubt and question the salvation of one who has taken their own life.  Being open about the fact of suicide inevitably means that the tactless will hurtfully air their doubts and questions.  So, it is always easier to keep it quiet.  But thankfully, we live in times where depression (which is behind most suicides) is more commonly addressed and has less stigma – as a result, suicide is also being addressed more openly.

I have had personal experience with the fact of suicide.  It is one of the most painful experiences of my life to think about.  Having had a loved one take her own life has changed me forever.  I had opportunity to think about this further when a quarterly magazine from Wycliffe Canada arrived in my mailbox.

The Spring 2004 issue of WordAlive features the story of David and Henny Thormoset, Wycliffe linguists who work in the African country of Cameroon.  On a September morning they received the phone call which makes you fall over in grief.  Their son, Andreas, had taken his own life.  He was back in Calgary, struggling with depression, while they continued their work in Cameroon.  Suddenly, their lives were turned upside down.  Within hours, they were on a plane back to Canada.  Along the way, they struggled with the same issues that everybody who experiences the suicide of a loved one does.

I would like to share with you those issues in a frank way.  I would like to share with you the way that believers can support and encourage one another when a tragedy like this strikes.  I would like to share what “suicide survivors” such as myself have learned.

Family and friends who experience the suicide of a loved one feel many different emotions.  The experience tears you apart.  One of the most difficult aspects is the uncertainty.  You are filled with doubts and questions, especially about the spiritual life of the deceased.  You ask yourself, “If he was a Christian, why would he do something like this?”  Answers which focus on depression as a disease do not satisfy everybody.  Everything is up in the air.  Everything is uncertain.

Accompanying this uncertainty is sometimes a feeling of anger.  You get angry at yourself:  why didn’t I see it coming?  Why didn’t I say things differently the last time I saw her?  You get angry at other family members or friends:  If only they had done this differently or said that!  You get angry at the deceased:  how could he do this to us?  I thought she loved us!  This is the most selfish thing that she could do!

The anger and uncertainty are only compounded by a feeling of being misunderstood.  Suicide is not the same as other deaths.  When well-meaning people offer platitudes like, “Well, we know where she is and we can take comfort in that,” you want to scream.  Or when people pretend that the suicide is not real…  “She would never do something like that, how can you say that?”  Being misunderstood and feeling alone are difficult aspects of grieving the suicide victim.

In every way, a suicide is much different than a normal passing away.  You cannot comfort the same way – any joy in the passing is hidden deeply behind a seemingly frowning providence.  In fact, the best comfort you can offer, especially in the heat of the loss, is no comfort at all.  The people who will be appreciated the most are those who say nothing and just listen.  Those grieving a loved one lost to suicide do not need your words – they need your presence.  They need you to listen as you sound out your uncertainty, confusion, anger, sadness.

The Thormosets’ experience with their son taught them to find comfort in God’s power and strength.   David Thormoset said, “Andreas’ death abruptly brought me face to face with what I am – weak and dependent.  Every day I need to lean heavily on Christ, to experience his power, rather than trying to work from my own minute strength.”  These are certainties upon which you are forced to rely in the midst of a loss due to suicide.  You are forced to think about the things that you know for certain.  You are forced to consider God’s covenant promises and his overwhelming grace and mercy for sinners (even sinners who take their own life!).  Rather than finding your comfort in what people have done, you have to think about who God is and rest in that.  I have learned that my only peace and comfort are in God – I cannot find those things in weak and sinful man.

The Thormosets, myself, and other Christian “suicide survivors” have learned what it is to wrestle with God.   When you lose a loved one to suicide, there are no pat answers.  There is a sense in which there is no closure – at least, not yet!  It leaves you feeling that there has to be something more.  There will be… At the end of the struggle, our only conclusion can be to let God be God.  As his infantile children, we have to rest in the undisputable biblical fact of Father’s goodness.  There is nothing else to hold on to.

God’s Grace for the Depressed and Suicidal

Fluoxetine.  Paxil.  Celexa.  Wellbutrin.  Zoloft.  If those words are familiar to you, this article may be for you.  Even if those words aren’t familiar right now, someday they may be.  They’re all names of popular anti-depressants.  Depression is a widespread problem in our society today.  In the United States, over 19 million adults are thought to suffer from it.  On a per capita basis, things are not much different in Canada.  Depression is often accompanied by suicidal feelings.  Approximately 15% of all people who have been hospitalized for depression eventually succeed in taking their own lives.

Today, if you or someone dear to you is suffering from depression, I want to bring you some good news.   This good news comes from God’s Word, the Bible.  You have to know:  it’s not pie-in-the-sky idealism.  This is real world stuff.  The real God has a message of grace and hope for us when we’re in the middle of worst-case scenarios.  I know because someone I love dearly has been there.

My mom suffered from depression for many of her adult years.  Having been sexually abused as a child and teenager, she had a difficult time coming to terms with the past.  Various physical ailments only complicated her situation and made things that much worse.  She was prescribed numerous medications.  At the time of her passing, she was on approximately a dozen different drugs.  My mom passed away too soon at the age of 56.  She took her own life in 2002.  She was suffering enormously with her depression and could see no way out.  Maybe you or someone you know feels the same way today.

You may have a hard time believing it, but there is someone who understands.  A lot of times people who are depressed feel like there is no one who understands.  People say a lot of trite things.  They tell you to think positively.  “Stop being so self-absorbed and negative!”  They tell you to get out of bed and help somebody else.  But you can’t.   And they just don’t get it.  They don’t get this deep dark pit that you’re in.

Someone who understands

The man who wrote Psalm 88 understands where you’re at.  Ponder some of his words for a moment:

…my soul is filled with troubles.

And my life comes near the grave.

I am added among those who go down into the deep hole.

I am like a person without strength.

I am left among the dead,

Like those who have been killed and lie in the grave,

Whom you remember no more…

You have put me in the deepest hole, in a dark and deep place…

You have taken my good friends far from me.

You have made me hated by them.

I am shut in and cannot go out.

My eyes have become weak because of trouble.

I have called to you, every day, O Lord.

I have spread out my hands to you.

Wouldn’t you agree that this is somebody who understands where you’re at right now?  Isn’t this somebody who knows what it’s like to be depressed, to be in the pit of despair?    This is somebody who believes in God, yet he feels like God has abandoned him.  It wasn’t because of some sin he’d done.  It was just the way things were.  He feels like God is distant, uncaring, emotionally removed from him.  Even though those feelings may not accurately reflect reality, those feelings and emotions are raw and real for the one who is suffering.  The Bible takes those feelings seriously!

So, we can look in the Bible and find at least one person who understands where we’re at when we’re depressed.  It’s a start, but it’s not really the answer we’re looking for, is it?  After all, we could find a support group for other depressed people and get the same thing.  Even though we feel like we suffer alone, the truth is that there are countless others around us who are depressed too.  But imagine if those words from Psalm 88 were not just the words of a man.  Imagine those words were the words of God.  The grace of God for you today is that they are the words of God.  The grace of God for you today is that they are the words of someone who was both God and man.  You see, in the New Testament, one of the most quoted books is the book of Psalms.  So often, the Psalms are coming out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ or used to talk about him.   It happens so often we can say that the Psalms are the songs of Jesus.

When we know this, we can read Psalm 88 in a new way.  Psalm 88 is the song of Jesus Christ.   Not through any fault of his own, the Lord Jesus was the one abandoned by God.  He cried out on the cross, using the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you turned your back on me!?”  And not only God – all his friends and disciples abandoned him too.  The Lord Jesus suffered with a rawness that we will never grasp.   God poured out his anger against sin on Jesus Christ, so that everyone who holds on to Jesus with faith will be accepted by God as an adopted child.

Jesus Christ understands

If you’re depressed, Jesus Christ knows what you are going through.  If someone you know is depressed, Jesus understands.   And he is the way in which God has given grace to us.  Grace – being given something we don’t deserve – is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.  We don’t deserve to have somebody who listens and understands.  We don’t deserve to have a Saviour like the Lord Jesus.  But God has mercy and compassion on us.  God knows what you truly need at this moment.  You need Jesus Christ.  You need to call to him, the one who understands what you’re going through.  Tell him how you feel.  Tell him about your weaknesses and your sins.  Ask him to lift it all away.  You see, Jesus Christ came into this world to deal with sin and the consequences of sin.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin at the beginning of the world, depression came along with it, along with cancer and hundreds of other ailments.  Jesus Christ came to deal with it all.  His victory through suffering is his gracious promise that someday we too will be entirely free of depression and other forms of suffering.   Read the last chapters of the book of Revelation (the last book of the Bible) and you can see what waits for those who hold on to Jesus in faith.

Suicide and grace

Yet, this present life is full of suffering.  Sometimes it can be confusing.  This is especially so when suicide comes into the picture.  If you’re feeling suicidal right now or ever feel that way, you need to talk with someone.  Talk until something gets done about it.   You need to find counselling.  A good place to start would be your medical doctor or local hospital.  And if someone you know is talking about taking their own life, please take it seriously.  You need to find help for them.

But it can and does happen that somebody takes their own life.  What does God’s Word say to that?  Some say there is no hope, no grace for such people.  But this approach fails to see the depth of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  If someone says that they believe in Jesus Christ, and yet they become depressed, even to the point of taking their own life – that does not take away the grace of God for them!  The Lord Jesus deals with all the sin in our lives.   Not what we do, but Jesus Christ makes us right with God.  Why would our eternal destiny be determined by the final act of our lives?   When we believe, God’s grace in Jesus Christ is deep enough to cover every sin, even the sins done in the weakness of our final moments.

Whether we’re depressed or know somebody who’s depressed, whether we’re suicidal or know somebody who has taken their own life, for all of us:  there is God’s rich and deep grace in Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, there is someone who understands.  In Jesus Christ, there is someone who promises to deal with your pain and suffering.  In Jesus Christ, we have somebody who helps us to at least start making sense of a broken world.   When we truly take hold of Jesus Christ and trust that he is the one who saves us from our offenses against God, our whole life, even when we are depressed has the potential to take on a new perspective.

In conclusion, please consider Hebrews 4:14-16.  This passage speaks about Jesus Christ as the great High Priest, he is the one who brings a sacrifice so our sins are dealt with and we can be right with God.  Listen to God’s Word to you:  “We have a great High Priest who has made the way for man to go to God.  He is Jesus, the Son of God, who has gone to heaven to be with God.  Let us keep our trust in Jesus Christ.   Our High Priest understands how weak we are.  Christ was tempted in every way we are tempted, but he did not sin.  Let us go with complete trust to the throne of God.  We will receive his grace and have his loving-favour to help us whenever we need it.”  May God bless you with his grace in Jesus Christ!

Our Faith is Not a “Fix”

I have found Michael Horton’s Too Good to be True [now published as A Place for Weakness] to be an enormous source of encouragement.  If you or someone you know is struggling with some kind of tragedy, I can highly recommend this book.  It’s very pastoral and above all, scriptural — which is to say, it points to Christ.  In this excerpt, Horton again mentions his friend Steve who took his own life:

Christianity is not true because it works.  In many cases, it does not work.  That is to say, it does not solve all the problems we think it should solve.  It isn’t a technique for our personal therapy, but the truth that God has overcome sin and death in the cross and resurrection of Christ.  Those who became Christians because they were told that it would fix their marriages, only to find themselves in divorce court, might well give up on Christianity.  Those who expected to be free of all their sinful habits, temptations and desires after a conversion in which sudden victory was promised may find themselves disillusioned with God altogether, when they realize they are still sinners saved by grace.

At that difficult funeral of a pastor, friend, father, and brother in Christ who had ended his life of suffering, many people were wondering out loud, ‘If Christianity didn’t work for someone like Steve, how can it work for me?’  It is an honest question, an understandable question.  But it assumes that Christianity fixes everything.  It doesn’t fix everything, not at least here and now.  It does promise that everything will be fixed at the end of history, but in this wilderness experience, we are on pilgrimage to the Holy City.  Some pilgrims will find the journey much more difficult than remaining back in Egypt, in unbelief.  Steve was not one of those pilgrims who turned back to Egypt.  Others will bear their lot in life as best they can, and Steve and his wife were towers of strength to me in my own pilgrimage, as I watched them meet successive disasters by turning again and again to God and his gracious promise.

But Steve was a pilgrim for whom the hike to that eternal city eventually became so heavy that he looked for a shortcut.  With his godly wife, he was ‘longing for a better country’ (Hebrews 11:16), but was unwilling to wait.  He did not accept God’s timing — and yet he still found a mediator who interceded for him at the Father’s right hand.  He, with us, will receive the prize for which he hoped, even in weakness.

Well said, Mike.  Well said.   And there’s far more like that in this book.

(Reposted from Yinkahdinay, 09.27.06)