I will never forget the inner healing session I conducted with the distraught widow of a member of my congregation in Virginia a quarter of a century ago. Her husband had hanged himself in the entryway of their home, and she found his body when she returned from grocery shopping; their six-year-old found it with her. During the inner healing session, she had a vision in which The Father allowed to see her dead husband – alive with Him. When He asked her if she had a message for her husband, she replied, “I want to beat the stuffing out of him.” The Father answered, “Well, he owes you at least that”; and she proceeded – in the vision – to punch him until she was out of breath. She opened her eyes and said to me, “Now I can forgive him.”
That may not seem like a very Christian way to forgiveness – it doesn’t to me at least – but the reality is the husband brutally injured the wife and young son. He left himself in the front hallway deliberately and with calculation. We do not belong solely to ourselves; we belong as well to the God Who created us and the loved ones we invite into covenant with us. G. K. Chesterton calls suicide an ultimate expression of a will to destroy. That young widow was entitled to express her own rage. When it was done – in the vision and not to the husband’s physical self – she was truly able to forgive and begin to heal and move on.
Equally burned into my memory was the time I had to forcibly restrain my own mother from swallowing a whole bottle of pills in our front hallway. I literally held her by the throat until she spat them onto the carpet. Another time, I restrained her as she screamed she would drive her car off a cliff; I had my brother disable the car.
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Please don’t misunderstand me. The despair that can drive a person to want to end his own life is real and compelling. It runs in my family, and I neither question it nor mock its gravity. On top of this, there are mind-altering drugs that can produce suicidal thoughts and motivations; some of these may have played a role in the death of Robin Williams. But if we learn anything from the Word of God and our own pre-disposition to admire sacrifice and sacrificial heroism, it is that only a life lived for others has meaning. Our original fall from grace was all about human beings deciding to live for their individual selves instead of for God and each other. Jesus Christ came into the world to restore the naturally-created economy of sacrifice with His own sacrificial death and resurrection.
Suicide is an ultimate choice to seek one’s own good at the expense of others. The greatest irony is that it turns out to be the enemy of all life doing a number on one more victim every time. Victims of attempted suicide, for whom intervention was successful, are virtually without exception the first to admit how grateful they are. It may sound like old fashioned guilt-tripping, but it is appropriate to point out that every person has forged interdependent and covenantal relationships that carry mutual obligation. The so-called right to die is a non sequitur; rights are for the living.
When my mother entered the last stage of her battle with an atypical form of tuberculosis, she asked me to do something that was unthinkable for me as a Christian. She wanted me to connect her with a Dr. Kevorkian type who would usher her out of this life. I told her I would gladly prevent doctors from taking heroic measures to extend her life, but under no circumstances would I play God by facilitating the termination of her life. Once she knew I was serious – over the next few days – she became interested in asking Jesus Christ into her life for the first time in her life. When she actually popped the question, she said it was because she had never known the peace she saw in me, even when the world was crashing down around me. We prayed, and that peace entered her, even as the Spirit of God entered. Four days later, she lapsed into a coma and went home.
Had I cooperated with her expressed desire for suicide assistance, she would not have gone anywhere. Our choices are seldom easy, but they really are that simple. Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and that abundantly.” This is true, and it is good.
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