By Rev. Peter Preus
Grieving for a loved one who has committed suicide in one sense is like grieving for any Christian who has died. You feel a deep sense of loss. You question “Why?” You wonder how you will cope without this parent, husband, wife or child. In another sense, grieving for a suicide is very different. You want to say, “He was a Christian!” “She was a Christian!” But how can you be so sure, when you were told not so long ago that those who commit suicide do not go to heaven? Until recently, many in the church believed that suicide was an unforgivable sin. The truth is, most people who take their own lives are suffering from a very serious illness known as severe depression.
Unfortunately, people today still make unfair judgments when depressed Christians die by suicide. People judge that this person killed himself because something was wrong with his faith. He didn’t follow through with given duties. He wasn’t hearing God’s Word. He wasn’t feeling what a Christian is supposed to feel. He was without hope.
Faith with No Follow Through
You may have said it yourself, “He was a Christian! Why didn’t he act like it? He constantly skipped school. He spent days at a time in front of the television. He hardly ever got out of bed. Why?” Others may complain, “She was a Christian! Why didn’t she play the part? She didn’t seem to care that she was a daughter, sister, or Christian friend. She just kept to herself, hardly ever leaving home.”
Faith without Hearing
Other survivors may question how this family member could have remained in the faith when he wasn’t hearing God’s Word. Even if you got this loved one to church, he got little or nothing out of the service. All he could think about was what a disappointment he was to everyone and how his grades were not what they should be. He kept talking about how worried he was that no college would accept him. He’d never get a decent job or amount to anything. How long can a person remain a Christian, you want to know, if he can’t concentrate on the Gospel and its promises?
Faith without Feeling
Still others may have questions about how their loved one did respond to God’s Word. A parent recalls the last few Sunday mornings. “I know my daughter heard Pastor’s sermon. She simply wasn’t feeling anything when she listened. She believed the good news about her Savior was meant for someone else. No matter how much she wanted to, she could not apply the Gospel to herself.” Or a brother or sister remarks, “My sister told me she didn’t feel the same joy or enthusiasm she used to when she went to church. The only thing she was feeling was worthlessness. Because of her illness she was sickened by what she felt she had become.” Can a Christian really feel this way?
Faith without Hope
A final question that Christian families may ask following a suicide is why this loved one lost hope. Most believers expect their trying times will end eventually. They anticipate that in the near future God’s blessings will be more evident. They believe that God’s gracious purpose is at work in all things. However, this loved one simply gave up. And he made it very clear what he was thinking. “My life will never get better!” “My condition will never get better!” “I’ll never be who I should be to others!” “Things will never be the same!” Can a Christian lose all hope?
Faith Saves Because It Receives
If you’ve lost a friend or loved one to suicide, remember that everyone with severe depression experiences the loss of hope. Yes. This special person committed a costly sin and died because of it. Thankfully, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Yes, depression can deprive us of the desire to be there for others. Depression can muddle one’s mind with senseless worries. It can strip from us the joys God intends to give us in his Word and snatch away one by one every hope and every dream. And yet, no matter how severe depression may be or how tragic a sin suicide is, neither has the power to snatch one out of the hand of one’s Savior (John 10:27) and rob one of one’s faith.
Christian faith, you see, is not to be equated with how successful one is in following through with one’s Christian duties. Christian faith is not based on one’s ability to hear, feel, or hope. Christian faith is a God-given trust in one’s Savior, and nothing more. That’s why Christian faith saves—not because it behaves a certain way and is visible to others but because it is God’s gift, and it receives the forgiveness Christ earned for us by his suffering and his death! Recall the words of Paul, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). It matters not if we’re healthy or sick. In life and in death we receive by faith in Christ God’s verdict of “not guilty!”
Rev. Peter Preus is currently serving as pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Triune God in Brooklyn Center, MN. His book, And She Was a Christian: Why Do Believers Commit Suicide? has recently been published through Northwestern Publishing House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author’s Note: Are You Depressed?
If you or a friend is suffering from major depression or have had thoughts of suicide see your doctor immediately for a referral. Many Christians experiencing hopelessness have benefited either from medication or counseling or both. And make sure to see your pastor for comfort and strengthening from God’s Word.