Friday, January 22, 2010

The FAQs of Suicide

Dad's death filled me up with questions. God has given me answers, or He has given me peace about not having the answers. I'd like to share with you, especially those of you with similar questions, what God is showing me.

In Job 31:35, Job basically asks God, "Why are you doing this to me?" In Job 38-41, God answers Job. But He doesn't give Job the answer he's looking for. He doesn't answer the "why are you doing this to me" question. Instead, God focuses Job's attention on Himself. He displays His power to Job, and the message is twofold: 1) "I am powerful enough to have this under control, I know what I'm doing, and you can trust Me," and 2) "I am powerful enough to squash you like a bug if you defy Me." Will God squash me like a bug? Of course not. Jesus was crushed in my place (Isaiah 53:5). God's display of power to Job is both staggering and comforting.

Equally staggering and comforting is the fact that this same God, Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the one true God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, is completely sovereign over my dad's suicide. I give Him praise and glory.

However, I believe it is good and right to be full of questions. Some have less questions than others, and that's okay. But I think it's important that we ask every question we have. If we ignore questions, or stuff questions, or heap guilt on ourselves for our questions, then we get stuck in the grief process. By letting the questions come, we can submit them to God, and let them go.

These are the questions I have asked.

What's Dad doing right now?

To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Did Dad really appear to several of us in spirit shortly after his death? Do departed saints ever function in angelic capacity?

The Bible doesn't say. Therefore, we have no proof one way or the other. God has not given us the answer to this question in this life. Dad knows the answer, though. :)

Do visions really happen?

Of course. They are detailed all throughout Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament. Joel 2:28 says, "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions."

If God determines in advance each person's lifespan, would Dad have died some other way on December 29 if he had not taken his own life?

God has numbered our days. Job 14:5 says, "Man's days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." This doesn't necessarily mean the answer to the above question is yes. But what it does mean is that God absolutely kept Dad alive until December 29, God knew Dad would die on December 29, and God allowed it to happen. God is sovereign.

Is Dad now outside of time?

He is in eternity. That's happy. But specifically, when I asked this question, I was confused about various instances in Scripture of the dead rising from their graves (John 5:28-29), Jesus raising the dead up on the last day (John 6:40), the dead in Christ rising first (I Thessalonians 4:16), and the sea, death and Hades giving up the dead that are in them (Revelation 20:11-15). I wondered if Dad was in some sort of death stasis waiting for all that to happen. But our pastor reminded Jeff and me about the OT dead rising with Jesus when He was glorified after the resurrection, and the *current* heaven ("Today, you will be with Me in paradise"), and the *new* heaven, described in Revelation 21-22, which hasn't been created yet. Right now, Daddy is with Jesus in paradise, awaiting the new heaven. So... is he outside of time? I don't think so.

Does cremation prevent entry into paradise?

No. Of course not. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Or, to put it in terms of my dad's favorite funeral joke, once a young pastor performing his first funeral sought to comfort the family. Stumbling over his thoughts, he gestured to the body of the deceased and reminded the mourners, "Now remember... this is just a shell. The nut has gone."

What if heaven is not real and Dad is just gone?

This doubt is from the devil. Really, the numerous mentions of heaven in Scripture mean that what I am actually asking is, "Do I believe the Bible is true, or don't I?"

Does a Christian who commits suicide still hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest"?

First of all, I think I combined two passages to make that phrase, which I just found out. Secondly, Jesus Christ died once for all. Isaiah 53:6 says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." 1 Peter 3:18a says, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."

Dad's final act was sin. He died in sin. But suicide is not a "super sin." All sin is equal. There's not a grading scale. Lying - 1 demerit. Stealing - 2 demerits. Cheating - 5 demerits. Suicide - 20 demerits. No. Romans 3 clearly states that sin is sin is sin, and we have all sinned, and we all fall short of the glory of God. Dad's final sin was quite public. But when Jesus Christ died once for all, He died for all of Dad's sins, both private and public. The penalty for Dad's sin of suicide has already been paid, by Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross. Jesus Christ died once for ALL. Period.

What's the point of righteousness if we are all going to die in our sin anyway?

Velma says, "The point of righteousness is that it is a gift from God and we are in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. And even though we sin here on earth, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness, God sees us as perfect and sinless." How freeing is that! Righteousness is a gift from God.

What about Dad's eternal reward? Did he ruin it?

Given that suicide is not a super sin, the answer to this question is no. Dad's death did not ruin his eternal reward any more nor less than you or I, whose causes of death are as yet undetermined, have ruined our eternal rewards. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." It is mankind, apart from Scripture, who has placed suicide in the "super sin" category. I think my asking about Dad's eternal reward could really, at the motivation level, be rephrased thus, "Will I get a bigger reward than Daddy?" I don't know. Will I? The point is this: Dad's eternal reward is none of my business. What *is* my business is my own actions. "So we make it our goal to please Him..." (2 Corinthians 5:9a).

Did chemical imbalance play a part in Dad's death?

Dad never received a medical diagnosis of chemical imbalance. Even among those who knew him best, there is not a solid, shared opinion about whether or not Dad had a chemical imbalance. The viewpoints of his siblings, wife, and children range all over the spectrum. So I can't even say, "Well, those of us who knew him best would say he was thus-and-such a way, mentally." We nearly all disagree. However, in my opinion, Dad had a disease called suicidal depression. I believe it was a clinical condition and could have been clinically treated. I believe if it had been clinically treated, Dad would still be here. That's what I believe.

The following passage has provided me with immense comfort. "As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?'
'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life'" (John 9:1-3).

It's the same with Dad, in my opinion. Immeasurable good was done through him during his 61 years on this earth. His struggle with depression makes the good life he lived a picture of grace. The work of God in his life, despite his personal demons, was really quite a spectacular sight to behold. Daddy's life is proof that we serve a very powerful God.

Did medication play a part in Dad's death?

Daddy had a heart attack last February. After his heart attack, his doctor put him on a medication that has a specific set of rare side effects pertaining only to those who have a history of depression. These rare side effects are anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and death. A pharmacist friend was able to quickly and easily identify the culprit drug off the top of her head from a list of the medications Dad was taking. Does this mean Dad's history of depression combined with the rare side effects of his medication are the cause of his death? No. Dad died because he made a bad choice. But I absolutely believe suicidal depression, combined with the side effects of Dad's meds, cultivated the altered mental state in which suicide was a viable option. I believe Dad's medication was a contributing factor to his bad choice.

Does God ever prevent evil? When evil happens, does it mess up God's plan? Was Dad's suicide part of God's plan?

My dad's college thesis was titled The Sovereignty of God vs. The Freewill of Man. He is the one I typically direct this type of question to. However, having exercised his own free will with stark finality, Dad is not available to answer this question for me. I am so thankful for my Abba Father, who will never leave me nor forsake me, and who provides all the answers I need.

Jeff and I are also thankful to our pastor, who sat down with us earlier this week. He explained the difference between God's active will and His permissive will. God's active will, or sovereign will, controls creation (Psalm 104), determines the outcome of every roll of the dice (Proverbs 16:33), guides the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), determines when and where each people group will thrive (Acts 17:26), shows mercy as He chooses, and hardens whom He chooses (Romans 9:18).

God's permissive will allows evil, but only when it can result in good. God never says, "Whoops, that was out of My control. I couldn't stop it that time." No. He sees beforehand all the bad choices mankind will make, and He continually redirects, repairs, heals, and "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:11).

Does God prevent evil? Yes (Numbers 22:21-35). Does evil mess up God's plan? It is under the jurisdiction of His permissive will (Acts 14:16). Was Dad's suicide part of God's plan? It too is under the jurisdiction of God's permissive will. God could have prevented Dad from killing himself by causing the tree branch above him to snap, or by causing Dad to have a fender bender on the way out to the mountains, or by orchestrating differently any number of circumstances in the days and moments leading up to Dad's final decision. But God did not do any of those things. He chose to allow Dad's suicide. It was not beyond His control.

Dad cheated and won. That's not fair.

What about the mental torture Daddy endured? What about the utter misery he faced? What about the hopelessness he felt that caused him to despair of life itself? Was that fair? No. That wasn't fair either. But I am my father's daughter, and despite the compassion I have for my dad and my relief that he is no longer suffering, a teeny part of me still wanted to see justice done.

But our pastor said he thinks no one ever commits suicide without knowing what they've done and what they are doing. In the split second before they die, he thinks they know. And we can't say for sure if this is true or not because none of us were there, but our pastor also said he thinks right after Dad died, he and Jesus had words. God is a very, very just God, and our pastor said he thinks Jesus looked at Dad and said, "You know what? That was stupid. You just hurt a LOT of people."

If that happened, then you know what I think happened next? I think Daddy's heart broke into a million pieces and he crumpled to the ground at the feet of his Lord. Then I think Jesus knelt next to him, put a hand on his head and whispered the truth of grace. I think Jesus said, "...but I forgive you."

I forgive you, too, Daddy.

Did God choose suicide as Dad's method of dying in order to bring Himself glory?

My heart wants to wish God made Dad's death happen, and Dad didn't really have much choice in the matter. Not because I want to be mad at God. I don't. But because if God made it happen, then my sweet daddy whom I love with all of my being did not break my heart beyond mending.

Understandable, I think, to want the circumstances to be other than what they are.

But God is showing me that lies, no matter how nice they sound or how comforting they might be, are always a prison. Freedom can only be found in truth.

The truth is that God is never the author of sin (James 1:13-15). He did not cause Dad's death. He did not cast aside Dad's life for His own glory.

The truth is that God will be glorified through Dad's death, because He works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11), and in all things He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The truth is that even though my heart and my flesh may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

The truth is that my heart is not broken beyond mending. My daddy can't mend it. But broken hearts are my Abba's specialty.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~Psalm 147:3