A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
I need to take a brief break from my series on heresy to comment about something else.
I am saddened by the death of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, and I pray for them. A lot of people have offered condolences and prayer, and I am grateful for those thoughtful responses. But I am also horrified by the hateful social media comments that some people—Christian and non-Christian alike—have so quickly unleashed, like scorpions out of a demonic fire hose.
This tragic situation has also caused some other people to share their personal grief about losing someone to suicide, not only in an attempt to empathize with the Warren family, but also to ask some very real and painful questions about what happens when human beings voluntarily end their lives.
Does God abandon them for all of eternity?
There was a time in the history of the Christian church—both Catholic and Protestant—that a doctrine about suicide insisted that there was not hope for salvation for a person dying in such a way. After all, murder is a grave sin, right? But a murderer can later repent and seek God’s forgiveness. But a suicide cannot do that. It’s too late.
So, a genocidal maniac can kill untold numbers of people and then confess and repent just before the hangman’s noose snaps his neck, and he gets an eternal get-out-of-jail free card (even though his victims might have been denied that opportunity). But the person suffering deep pain, depression, and hopelessness is denied such grace? There is clearly something wrong with this way of thinking.
The Roman Catholic Church has changed its doctrine on the subject. Pity, compassion, and prayer for the mercy of God are the proper responses rather than the insistence on eternal condemnation. Most Protestants take the same view. I’m sure there are others in the mix holding on to the old view. You can hear from some of them on Twitter and Facebook.
The apostle Paul says something very important about human death and how it relates to God:
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
We speak of Jesus as one who has “abolished death” (2 Timothy 1:10), and we see death as an inevitable event for all people, but an event that has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55).
In the death of Jesus, God destroyed the power of death to have the last word. Death, by whatever means, has lost its sting. There is no deathly power that can trump God’s love. Even death by one’s own hand.
O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant Matthew, being raised with him, may know the strength of his presence, and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)