Suicide is an all too common thing these days — especially among adolescents and younger adults. I thought I’d repost an older piece for a Christian perspective on such tragedies. Some of these words also give perspective on the evil of recent events. -JB
The forces of darkness are always around us. Most of the time, if we’re fortunate, the dark cloud of death is not hovering over our home. Though our number is coming, and many have already faced difficult seasons of suffering, pain, death and loss in our own lives.
Maybe cancer has taken a loved one long before their time. Maybe a car accident stole away a life in it’s prime. Maybe you lost a child before they even had the chance to be born. Darkness is real. The world is broken.
This week darkness and death won a victory in the town where I minister, as a young man, “16 years old, full of life, and smiles,” took his own life in a moment of desperation. The young man has been described over and over again with words similar to these by a Young Life leader:
“He was very involved in Young Life Ministry — committed his life to Christ at camp, spoke at their banquet, and was in a campaigner bible study 3 or 4 hours before he hung himself. He was a fun loving kid, hugged everyone he could pick up (and being a heavy weight wrestler, that’s everyone) and had a smile that lit up the room. Kids, leaders, we all loved him.”
In the wake of this tragedy, many students connected to our youth group are struggling to make sense of it all. We’re all trying to understand the darkness better. I’m flooded with with text messages asking questions like:
“Do good people who commit suicide go to Hell?”
“Why did a 16 year old so full of life and smiles have to die?”
“How could God allow this to happen?”
“Why does God seem so distant, and so hesitant to answer our prayers?”
“Why? Oh, why”?
Tonight many youth groups in the Burnsville area will stop their regularly scheduled message series and take a night to address such questions. How do we make sense of it all? Is “making sense” of it even the best use of our time? Isn’t part of the problem the fact that the darkness so often doesn’t make sense?
I still think we as Christians need to turn to God’s Word and seek to understand such things from a biblical perspective. Tonight our goal is to provide space for our students to both (1) share their thoughts and grief together and lifting up prayers for this young man’s family and friends, as well as (2) providing a biblical framework to make some sense of tragic deaths, deep suffering and grief.
Some things on my mind from a pastoral perspective are these:
1. We find out what we really believe about God and our faith when tragedy strikes. Many claim to believe God is all good and not the author of evil, but when tragedy strikes, immediately many start blaming God and wondering why he didn’t spare them. This shows that many of us really do believe God is responsible for all things — including evil. That’s their true theology — that is, what they believe about God; and I believe it’s deeply mistaken theology.
2. Our world is broken and not as God originally intended. Many of us, on a confirmation test or in the Sunday school classroom, say we believe in the fall (Genesis 3) and the fact that the world is marred by the presence of sin and evil. Yet, in our daily lives we seem surprised and puzzled when we’re faced with real life proof of this brokenness. We start asking ‘Why’? We forget that Jesus promised us that “In this world you will have many trials and tribulations” (John 16:33). The Bible says, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). While we can never truly be prepared for great loss, we should never be completely surprised by it either. The world is broken, we are broken, and until Jesus returns and “makes all things new” (Rev 21), God’s will is not always done. Sometimes God’s will is done. Sometimes ours is. And other times the Devil gets his way.
3. God’s will is not the only will that matters. There is an enemy in this world, Satan and the principalities and powers, and other forces of darkness that have as their only goal the thwarting of God’s plans and the destruction of human souls. Again, Christians tip their hat to this reality and acknowledge Satan’s existence at church on Sundays, yet many forget that he’s busy at work all week long attempting to lead people astray and bring about their destruction. The Bible warns us, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are given strict orders to remain alert and be dressed for warfare. Yes, we live daily in the crossfire of an invisible, spiritual battle for our souls. This is not popular in a culture that only believes in the material world and dismisses the spiritual world. But, for those who believe the Scriptures we must remember these words:
Weare not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
As I try to make sense of what led this young man, an active member of a Christian ministry and believer in Christ, to take his own life, I can only guess. I don’t know what was going through his mind. I think we’re all asking ourselves that question. But I can say with biblical confidence that at least part of the reason involved being overwhelmed by the powers of darkness and despair, and we know that this is the Devil’s playground.
While it is overly simplistic to say, “The Devil made him do it,” I think that it is foolish to deny that he wasn’t somehow involved. Satan is not a little horned prankster in red tights with a pitch fork running around like the cartoon caricatures. The Scriptures describe him as the “Father of Lies” and his work is all about “seeking to steal and destroy life” (John 10:10). The Devil’s lies weave their way into our minds, reinforced by other people’s false messages, our own self-doubt and insecurities, often intensified by mental illness and bouts of depression. The Devil tells us, “I’m alone”, “this pain will never go away”, “there’s no hope for me”, “things will never get better”, and more.
So, as I prepare to address a room full of teenagers with pain, confusion and deep sadness tonight, I believe it’s accurate to say that the Darkness won a victory this past week. The lies of Satan in that moment of despair, whether spoken directly or through a web of confused, despairing thoughts, must have been louder than the truthful words of Jesus in his mind. “The Devil prowls around like lion looking for someone to devour.” The lion found one this week and snatched him from us. And we mourn this reality. We weep over the reminder that we must “stand firm” or else… Yes, darkness won a victory this week, but….
But there is hope…
But there is very good news — the gospel!
4. Death is Not the Last Word. The Darkness may have one a small victory this week, but it only lasted a split moment. For we know that the War has already been won for those who are in Christ Jesus. We know that the grave has already been conquered and death has been defeated once and for all! We know that there is another Lion, the Lion of Judah, who faced off one-one-one with the Devil 2,000 years ago at Calvary. Satan thought he had won the war as God’s own messiah, the last and only hope for the world, was nailed to a cross and hung there dying. Satan thought those nails in Christ’s hands were the “nails in the coffin” and Jesus’ last dying breath was the closing curtain on God’s attempt to conquer evil and win his creation back to himself.
Satan was badly mistaken. This was the pathway to victory. This was the strange way God was overcoming all evil, sin, death and despair. All of the world’s suffering, injustices, and sins in that divine moment all fell upon one person. God became man and took upon himself the iniquity of us all. He bore our pains, suffering, despair in his own body on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty of our sins. Jesus died in our behalf in order to conquer the power of Death so that we would never have to experience the full sting of death.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor 5:21).
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
And then on the third day He arose from the grave, victorious over the power of death!
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
(1 Cor 15:54-55)
All of this means that whereas the Darkness occasionally wins a victory, that victory is really a sham. It is very short lived if that person is found in Christ and secure in the grace of God. We mourn that this young man’s life was cut short and he’ll never accomplish the purposes God had for him in this life. “But we do not grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13). For our God has conquered Death and Jesus has won our ransom, and “Those who the Son has set free are free indeed” (John 8:36). “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). “To be absent from the body is to be in the presence of the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).
To all who are mourning the loss of our young friend whose life was all too short, let the following promise of God found in Romans 8 lift your spirit and give you hope:
“If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39 The Message).
Even when the Darkness wins a victory, we who are in Christ Jesus still win the War! Death has been conquered. Love wins.