As I picked up and read your note from the living room table yesterday afternoon, I had to blink away the tears. I had just come from the back bedroom where your dead body lay. Your mom was weeping quietly on the couch, and the ambulance's siren was wailing and echoing toward the house. The hurt and shock of it all hindered my full comprehension of what you had written in your letter. The police would take your letter with them, but I remember your main points. You wanted your friends' and family's forgiveness for what you were doing, you knew you had God's forgiveness through Christ Jesus, and you were taking your life because you saw no way out of your problems.
Fine. Now it's my turn to write a letter to you.
I can't write for anyone but myself, but after spending the rest of yesterday and several hours this morning with your family and friends, I think my few, brief words reflect what those who love you feel.
You have done the most incredibly selfish thing a human being can ever do. You have believed that your pain and your problems are deeper and more foreboding than the pain and problems you leave behind for others because of your self-inflicted death. The searing throbs in the broken hearts of those you love are almost audible. The tears of your loved ones sting them like hot irons pressed on flesh. Surely you considered the emotional devastation your suicide would create, right? Then, why? Why did you do it? Had you become so self-absorbed the last few months that you lost your way and forgot God's call on your life to only and always love others more than yourself? You and I both know our lives are designed by God for the benefit of others. God's grace in your life turned you into an incredibly selfless and loving person. But where is your graciousness and love in death? You died in an extremely selfish state.
I know, I know... you thought that ending your life would be a way of escape for you--and possibly others--from the pain of having to face your problems. On the contrary, your death and your willful absence from the lives of loved ones brings searing torment that is far deeper than you can imagine. You have family asking, in feelings of guilt, what they could have done to prevent your death. Others, those who often received encouragement and spiritual comfort from you, are now wondering if your spirituality was simply hypocrisy. Some loved ones are even pondering whether Christ really does give meaning to a life, because if He does, what happened to your sense of purpose?
Do I sound angry about what you've done? Truth is, I am.
I'm angry that you thought more of yourself yesterday than you did others. I'm angry that your self-inflicted death has brought so much agony to the people who love you. I am angry that you were so doggone selfish yesterday.
Yet, I refuse to let your life be defined by your death. Your life meant so much more. That's why when I see you in heaven, I'll hug you, then give you a belt to the chin, then hug you all the more. Our relationship will not be--cannot be--ultimately defined by your death. It will be forever defined by our mutual life in Christ.
It's just hard for us right now.
Some people said to me today, "How can he be forgiven of suicide? Is it not the unpardonable sin? He had no time to repent?"
I understand their thinking, but I simply explained to them that one of these days we also will die, and there will be many unconfessed sins in us as well--even unseen sins of the heart such as selfishness, pride, envy, etc ... Thank God our forgiveness of sins is tied to the fidelity of Christ's work at Calvary and the power of His resurrection from the tomb and not our ability to remember, confess and repent of every single sin in our lives. We serve a gracious God who atones for sin through His work, not ours.
I feel better after writing this letter. Day after tomorrow we will remember and celebrate your life at a memorial service. When your family sits in front of me it will be my task to help them see past your death to the goodness of God in your life. It's my belief I can only do that after I help them deal with your suicide through both truth and grace. Your suicide was an incredibly selfish sin; that's the truth. Your sin has caused us to fluctuate between feelings of sadness and anger. But we shall not remain there in our feelings. We've been forgiven by God so totally and completely that we can't help but forgive you; that's grace.
I would like for those who are even remotely considering taking their own life to know that your example in death is not worth following. But your example of life in Christ is.
It is impossible to ignore the pain you have brought us by your sin of suicide, but we shall rejoice in the grace that God brings to all us sinners through His Son Jesus Christ. He is our Balm in Gilead, and to Him we look for our healing.
Always in His Grace,
A Suicide Letter on Behalf of Suicide's Victims
Monday was one of the toughest days for me in over a quarter century of pastoral ministry. A friend--a man respected in our community--took his own life. I know him as a Christian man. Fourteen years ago, while playing a round of golf with him, we paused for a few minutes on the 15th tee box where he prayed to receive Christ as His Lord and Savior, the wonderful culmination of sharing Christ with him over several months. His suicide letter, left for family and friends, articulated the reason for taking his life--enormous personal/business debt. The letter contained a clear expression of his faith in Christ, and a request that people forgive him for what he was doing; but he wrote that he saw no other way out. Last night, after several hours of reflection on the last day's events, I wrote the following letter to my friend who took his own life.
Posted by wadeburleson.org at Tuesday, August 25, 2009