Tag Archives: suicide

Open Letter to All Tasmanian MLCs

The following letter was sent this morning to all Members of the Legislative Council in Tasmania.  This is related to the End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill in front of the Council.

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Dear MLCs,

I’m writing to you today concerning the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) bill.  Let us peel away the political language and call it what it is:  state-sanctioned suicide.

I have experienced the pain of suicide in my life.  After suffering both physically and mentally, my mother took her own life in 2002.  This was the most painful thing I’ve ever endured.  She determined her own way to die, but it was a choice which caused enormous heartache to our entire family.

Because we recognize the pain it causes, our society invests so much time and energy in suicide prevention.  Just yesterday, the “R U OK?” campaign was in action.  When a celebrity like Robin Williams takes his own life, after suffering horribly with mental illness, the world laments his choice.  We’re told that “suicide is never the answer.”  When the TV news features a story about suicide or depression, they always include a mention of the Lifeline number.  It seems like society wants to prevent suicide, while this bill aims to allow it.  This is double-mindedness.

During the debate over same-sex marriage, proponents of SSM argued that a vote or plebiscite on it would lead to LGBTQ youth committing suicide.  This is significant for two reasons.  One is that the idea was that removing the cause of their suffering (i.e. a vote on SSM) would save their lives – which were worth saving.  The other is that this political activity was considered to be triggering to vulnerable individuals.  If this was true, does not consistency then demand that we focus on 1) alleviating suffering, and 2) avoiding triggering vulnerable individuals through political activity related to suicide?

Getting into the legislation itself, one of my chief concerns is the slippery slope.  It is a documented fact worldwide that legislation like this is only ever the beginning.  My native Canada adopted physician-assisted dying in 2016.  This year the Canadian parliament is debating (via Bill C-7) the expansion of provisions for physician-assisted dying.  In fact, Tasmania’s proposed legislation even has the slippery slope built into it.  Section 142 proposes a review in two years about expanding to include minors under 18 years old.  Where will it end?  In the Netherlands and Belgium, legislation has progressed past the point of doctors facilitating suicide for mental suffering.

In 2009, Dr. Philip Nitschke appeared before a Tasmania parliamentary inquiry.  Under oath, he admitted to breaking the short-lived Northern Territory legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.  Dr. Nitschke euthanized Bob Dent.  Why?  Because he was socially isolated.  Dr. Nitschke was never charged.  NT police looked the other way.  If this legislation is enacted, can we have confidence that Tasmania Police would not do the same if this legislation is violated?

All these kinds of laws are fraught with problems.  I urge you to reject this bill and recognize the worth and value of all human life.  Human beings are not animals which can be euthanized when they’re suffering.  We have a conscience.  We have the capacity to love and be loved.  If there is suffering, we must seek to alleviate it, not to extinguish the life of the one suffering.

Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to propose legislation which will expand palliative care in Tasmania.  We need a network of hospices for professional, compassionate end-of-life care.  Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to invest more funds in suicide prevention programs.   We have to do more to prevent vulnerable people from hurting themselves and their loved ones.  Truly, suicide is never the answer.

Thank you for your time and attention.  I wish you God’s blessing as you serve our state.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Pastor, Launceston Free Reformed Church


Discern God’s Sovereignty and Providence

In his book Is God to Blame?, Gregory Boyd tells the story of a woman named Melanie.  After preaching a sermon on living with passion, he was approached by this distraught middle-aged woman.  She used to be on fire for God, but a tragedy in her life deadened her spiritually and sent her into a pit of deep depression.  She said, “I used to love to read the Bible and pray, but now I find it both laborious and aggravating.  I just feel dead!”

She hadn’t gotten married until she was in her mid-thirties.  After three years, she and her husband still hadn’t been able to conceive a child.  Doctors told her it was unlikely she ever would because of a medical condition.  But then suddenly, it happened.  She was pregnant.  It seemed to be a miracle.  The pregnancy went fine, but as the baby was being delivered, something terrible happened and the baby died.  Their miracle had turned into a nightmare.  Melanie and her husband were left with a question that tortured them:  “Why would God miraculously give them a child, only to take the baby away while coming into the world?  Why did this happen to them?  Even more tormenting, why was God preventing them from conceiving again?”  Those are tough questions and the answers they received from other Christians didn’t satisfy them.

Greg Boyd’s answer is that God didn’t have anything to do with it.  God didn’t bring this tragedy into Melanie’s life.  Instead, God sees what happened to her and he wants to free her from her pain and help her get beyond it.  Boyd says, “…we have no reason to assume God put Melanie and her husband through this tragic ordeal.  Rather, we have every reason to assume God was and is at work to deliver Melanie and her husband from their ordeal.”

That sounds like a nice answer.  It’s an answer that appeals to many people today.  It’s an answer that comes out of a trend in theology known as open theism.  Open theists like Gregory Boyd don’t believe God is sovereignly in control of all that happens.  Instead, they believe God has given up control and allows the universe to take its course.  Events that happen are just as surprising to God as they are to us.  Open theists speak about God taking risks and chances and respecting and allowing for human freedom to the fullest extent.  Open theism is the logical endpoint of the Arminian view of God and his sovereignty – Boyd and others like him admit as much.   Moreover, as you can see from the story about Melanie, this is not some pie-in-the-sky ivory tower academic discussion.  How you view God and his sovereignty and his providence impacts how you reflect on what happens in your life, both the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant, even the ugly and heart-breaking.

As always, our plumb line for discerning truth has to be the infallible and inerrant Word of God.  We have to set aside our own feelings and opinions and let God speak.  When we do that, we discover three important related truths in the Bible.

First, the Bible speaks about God’s overarching absolute sovereignty.  He is fully in control of all things.  Psalm 135:6 says, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”  God is, as we say, omnipotent — all-powerful.

Second, the Bible speaks about God in his providence is in control of all good.  He sovereignly ordains all the things that we experience as being good and immediately perceive as beneficial.  For example, Psalm 65:9-13 speaks of how God waters the earth so that crops grow.  God crowns the year with his bounty.  Few people have difficulty accepting this biblical teaching.

The third truth is far less palatable, but just as biblical.  God also sovereignly ordains and controls all the things that we experience as being difficult and have trouble perceiving as being beneficial for us.  There are numerous Scripture passages which teach this.  Here are a few:

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.  (Isaiah 45:7)

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come? (Lam. 3:38)

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again. (Psalm 71:20)

In addition, you could also see Psalm 60:1-4, Psalm 66:10-12, Psalm 102:10 and Deut. 32:39.  Moreover, the Bible also teaches that all things (both the things we experience as good and those we experience as troublesome) work together for our good (Romans 8:28).  In the beautiful words of Answer 26 of the Heidelberg Catechism, God will turn to our good whatever adversity he sends us in his life of sorrow.  Nothing happens to us by chance — it’s all in the hands of our good, loving heavenly Father.

Sadly, open theism has made significant inroads.  Quite some years ago, I wrote about how Philip Yancey in some of his books used the language of open theism.  In books like Disappointment with God, Yancey writes of God having taken various risks and chances.   Today these kinds of views are widely accepted.  In fact, research just released by Barna shows that even among American Christians with an orthodox view of God, only a third believe that he is actively involved in their lives.   This reflects the kind of deist theology being peddled by Gregory Boyd and other open theists.  It’s a huge departure from the Word of God.

Anyone who’s experienced significant personal loss and suffering is likely going to struggle with what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty and providence.  Speaking personally, I struggled with it enormously after the loss of my mother to suicide in 2002.  The temptation is there to let your feelings dictate how you’re going to view God.  We need to resist that temptation and build on the only sure foundation:  God’s Word.  In the wake of my mother’s death, what got me through and helped me accept my Father’s will was what I knew for certain from the Bible:  the cross.  I looked at the cross and with my suffering and dying Saviour I saw the love of my Father.  The cross was a horrible tragedy, far worse than anything anyone will ever experience.  Yet out of that tragedy, our sovereign God brought the greatest good, both for the one who suffered (he was crowned with glory!) and for those who believe in him.  I came to see that the cross is how God proves his children can trust him.  I’m like a little child and I don’t understand all my Father’s ways and why he does things the way he does.  But I look at the cross, and I know he loves me and I know I can trust him.  That’s enough for me.


The Sad Case of Francesco Spiera

There was a time when the name of Francesco Spiera (or Francis Spira) was well-known throughout the Reformed churches of Europe.  His story frightened, inspired, and motivated many.  It was a story repeated numerous times in all the languages of Europe.  His story caught the attention of John Calvin and many other Reformed theologians.  Spiera became an example and a warning.  Yet today his name is all but forgotten.  I’d never heard of him until I came across a reference to him in a book written in the seventeenth century.  I doubt you’ve heard of him.  But I think you should know, because his life and death are still instructive, as are the reactions that followed.

The Life and Death of Francesco Spiera 

Francesco Spiera (ca. 1504-1548) was an Italian.  We know nothing about his childhood or upbringing.  What is written about him focuses entirely on the last years of his life.  He appears out of the blue as a lawyer working in the region of Venice.  He was an intelligent man with a solid reputation and a faithful Roman Catholic.  He was married and had eleven children.

Spiera’s world was turned upside down in the early 1540s when Reformation writings appeared for sale in his area.  He apparently purchased some of these writings.  He compared these writings with the Bible and became convinced that Reformation theology was biblical.  Moreover, he didn’t keep his new faith to himself.  He taught it to his family and his friends and to whomever would listen.

In November of 1547, some of his neighbours denounced him to the Roman Inquisition.  The Inquisition existed to stamp out heresies and errors and whatever challenged the authority and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Spiera was put on trial in Venice in May of 1548.  Among other things, his possession of an Italian Calvinistic classic, Beneficio di Cristo, was evidence that he had set out on a road away from Rome.  The trial lasted into June of 1548 and at the end he was commanded to retract his Protestant beliefs publicly and to buy an altar-piece for his local Roman Catholic Church building.  He appears to have followed these instructions.

Problems set in almost immediately afterwards.  Spiera had second thoughts about his abjuration.  He reportedly heard the voice of the Son of God accusing him for having denied the gospel and telling him that he was now a reprobate condemned to hell.  He fell ill and spent most of his time in bed suffering from physical pain and emotional despair.  Friends and family tried to reason with him.  Roman Catholic theologians and priests made an effort to convince him, and when that failed, they attempted to exorcise whatever demon was tormenting him.  Spiera continued to despair.  He died in that condition on December 27, 1548.  Some say that he died of despair, others that he took his own life.

The Danger of Apostasy

We live in a comfortable age at the moment.  Stories such as the one about Spiera seem entirely disconnected from our reality.  We would never face an Inquisition for being or becoming Reformed.  At least not at the moment.  However, we should not assume that things will always continue to be the way they are.  A day could come when you are dragged before a court and pressured to repudiate the gospel and your Saviour.  Spiera’s story reminds us that betraying our Saviour comes at a cost.

The story of Francesco Spiera was used by both Protestants and Roman Catholics to advance their agendas.  Roman Catholics used Spiera’s story to warn their people about the dangers of even departing from Rome in the first place.  Protestants used the story to warn people what could happen if they were to abjure their biblical faith.  Historians recognize that the historical accounts are coloured by these agendas.  Yet both Roman Catholics and Protestant reports of Spiera’s demise highlight the enormous suffering and despair that he endured because he did not stand strong one way or another.  I think we can say with certainty that this is a historical fact and it’s something instructive for us.

Protestant Reflections on Spiera

It’s also instructive to survey the different ways in which Protestants have treated the case of Francesco Spiera.  One of the earliest commentaries comes from John Calvin.  In 1549 Calvin wrote a preface to an account of Spiera’s despair.  Calvin used Spiera as an example in his struggle with the Nicodemites.  The Nicodemites, like Nicodemus, were secret believers.  They were people who held to Reformed theology, but continued to remain in the Roman Catholic Church.  Spiera was an example of what could happen to such people.  But Calvin went further than this and explicitly declared judgment on Spiera.  Calvin referred to him as an example of the reprobate who “never fail to proceed from one sin to another.”  His despair was God’s justice on him, a justice that came to full fervour after his death.  Calvin essentially asserted that Spiera had been consigned by God to eternal destruction and his betrayal of the faith gave evidence of his reprobation.

Subsequent Protestant theologians and authors took a similar line.  The English Reformer and martyr Hugh Latimer (ca. 1487-1555) asserted that Spiera had sinned against the Holy Spirit – committing the unpardonable sin.  In 1865, a book of poems was published by the Englishman James Hain Friswell.  The first one is about Francesco Spiera and its opening lines clearly indicate where the author believes Spiera ended up:

The words of Francis Spira, man of Law,

A man in sin begotten and conceived,

Reaping damnation, which he much deserved,

Dying with friends about him whose vain words

Would comfort him whose doom is fix’d past help!

Similarly, on a couple of occasions the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) referred to Spiera and compared him to Judas Iscariot.  While he did not come right out and declare that Spiera was reprobate, there is a hint of it.

Another Line

However, there is another line in Protestant reflections on Francesco Spiera.  It’s found both among Reformed writers and Lutherans during the seventeenth century.  The post-Reformation was far kinder and sympathetic to Spiera’s case than many before and after.

Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) is one of the giants of the Reformed faith in the seventeenth century.  He taught theology at the University of Utrecht.  He is remembered for his deft blending of serious academic thought with warm-hearted commitment to Christ.  Some of his books were written exclusively for an academic audience.  Others were written for the common Reformed person.  One of those was a book entitled Spiritual Desertion (Geestelijke Verlatingen), first published in Dutch in 1646.  In this book (which has been translated into English), Voetius mentions the case of Spiera twice.  The first time is in a discussion about the circumstances that most frequently accompany a feeling of desertion by God.  He mentions persecutions, diseases as well as considerable physical weakness which leads to death.  And he writes that an example of this is what happened with Spiera.  He adds, “This history ought to be read and can be read, since it available in more than one language.”

He comes back to Spiera later.  Voetius notes that when it comes to judging what happened to Spiera, he is in agreement with the assessment of the English Puritan William Perkins, the German Reformer Wolfgang Musculus, and even Arminius.  Voetius writes:

For certainly one must not give credence to their cries or confessions of despair, because that voice is not a voice of credibility or truth but of weakness; it is not making a statement but expressing a doubt…Finally, even if it were the case that they were not restored inwardly before their death but departed during a severe attack of insensibility and temptation, nothing certain could be concluded about their final and total impenitence and unbelief.  This could be done only if it were first established that actual, particular, and always ensuring repentance and remorse (renewed after every sin) is absolutely and indispensably necessary to salvation. (Spiritual Desertion, 53)

According to Voetius then, it is inappropriate to claim that Spiera was reprobate because of the manner in which he died.

Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666) was a disciple of Voetius.  Voetius actually never finished writing Spiritual Desertion, so he commissioned Hoornbeeck to complete it.  Hoornbeeck wrote a lot more about Spiera, but it was all along the same lines as that of Voetius.  A short quote will give you an idea of what he thought:

[Spiera] did want to return to God but thought that he could not do so.  We silently pass by the judgment that others have pronounced.  On the basis of his burning desire and his heartfelt longing for God and his grace (longing that he frequently displayed), we consider ourselves duty-bound to suspend our judgment – if not to speak in his favour. (Spiritual Desertion, 86)

Hoornbeeck considered Spiera to be a “frightening example” but yet he believed that Spiera’s despair and spiritual struggle could not be evidence of reprobation.  After all, the reprobate give no care to their standing before God.

The last author I can mention is Johannes Andreas Quenstedt (1617-1688), an orthodox Lutheran theologian from the seventeenth century.  He discusses Spiera’s case in an important academic work entitled Theologica Didactico-Polemica.  It comes up in a discussion regarding the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  This is what Quenstedt concluded:

Spiera must be held least of all to have sinned against the Holy Spirit, because: 1) he defected to the papacy, not from malice, but from weakness; not by his own will and initiative, but through the persuasion of friends.  2) He did not impugn or blaspheme the doctrine of the Gospel, but he was greatly pained that he had defected from the truth.  It was therefore assuredly despair, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit… (Theologica Didactico-Polemica (1715), Vol. 1, 1064, translation mine)

Thus also Quenstedt regarded Spiera as a sad case, but not one in which observers can make a definite conclusion as to the Italian’s eternal destiny.

The Take-Aways

The post-Reformation period showed a remarkable degree of mature, biblical analysis of the Spiera case.  There was much more hesitancy to jump to conclusions regarding Spiera’s ultimate destination, whether that be heaven or hell.  Instead, the post-Reformation theologians that we’ve surveyed believed that Spiera suffered despair, even a sort of depression.  While he brought it on himself through his betrayal of the faith, the fact that he was in so much pain up till his death does not disqualify him from the kingdom of God.

As mentioned above, today we don’t face the immediate possibility of persecution.  Yet there are still countless people in our churches who suffer with despair and depression.  Sometimes, sadly, we even hear about those who take their own lives – as Spiera may have done.  Spiera’s story and the way the post-Reformation writers worked with it teach us to be careful when making judgments about someone’s spiritual state.  Struggle, doubts and difficulties are not indicative of reprobation, even when they culminate in suicide.

Sometimes the post-Reformation is wrongly described as a period of aridity in Reformed theology, as a low point in our heritage.  The story of Spiera indicates that there is much that we can still learn from men like Voetius, Hoornbeeck and even Quenstedt (Lutheran that he was).  These were men who valued faithfulness and precision in their theology, but it never came at the cost of passion for Christ and compassion for those who suffer.  One can only hope that we’ll see more post-Reformation material coming into English translation.


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.

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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

Black-dog-step-on-you

Depression — “The Black Dog.”

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 — past, present, and future.   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 a terrible sin 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!