The tragedy of suicide is ever with us. High profile cases like Robyn Williams or Brittany Maynard may grab our attention, but nothing grips our hearts like the suicide of a dear friend or family member.
Reactions to suicide run the whole gamut of opinion. On one end, we have the seemingly obligatory pablum, “Now she’s at peace.” At the other end, is the decision of the medieval church that a suicide should not be allowed a Christian burial. As late as the 1600s in England, suicides were treated as criminals. Their property was confiscated, and they were buried face down at a crossroad, with a stake driven through their bodies.
The church has historically regarded suicide as self-murder. More recently, we have come to realize that not all instances of self-destruction are the same. Some involve a deliberate defiance of God’s right to determine the length of our lives. In other cases, the suicide’s reason may be clouded by pain, grief, or prescription drugs. When the reason is impaired, responsibility and guilt are diminished.
Regardless of how responsible a person may be for his death, suicide does not change his fundamental relationship to God. A man who was not at peace with God in life will not be at peace after death. On the other hand, those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can say, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
If a child of God will not lose his place in God’s family through suicide, why should he choose to endure suffering rather than taking the shortest route to his heavenly home? Scripture points us to God’s purposes for our pains.
First, God has ordained the suffering of His children as the means by which the power of Christ in their lives may be revealed. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,” so we may respond, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Second, suffering borne for the sake of Christ is turned by the grace of the cross into heavenly gold. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Third, God is good. We ought not to “be surprised at the fiery ordeal” we face. Rather, “those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:12, 19). Suffering may come at the hands of evil men; it may come from our adversary the devil; it may come because we live in a fallen, broken world. Ultimately, however, nothing can touch the child of God apart from the loving purpose of God.
If you belong to Jesus, you do not live for yourself. You live for Jesus. You don’t live for your family or for your work or for your plans and pleasures. You live for Jesus. He defines the purpose of your life, of your suffering, and of your death. Entrust your life to Him because He is faithful.
(This essay was first published in the Allentown Morning Call on April 25, 2015. I preached a longer version of this message on April 19th. It is located at http://godisbeautiful.com/Sermons%20for%20Various%20Occasions.htm.)