Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ministering to the suicidal

Matt Walsh has written a controversial post on the suicide of Robbin Williams:
To begin with, Walsh is angry. Unfiltered anger. I find that refreshing. Authentic emotion. 
He also says a number of good things along the way. For instance:
Free? I’ve seen a lot of this kind of rhetoric. Robin Williams is “in a better place,” he is “free,” he is “at peace,” he is “smiling down upon us,” he’s “happy.” 
This all might seem pleasant enough, but have we stopped to think how it looks and sounds to those who may be contemplating this heinous deed themselves? Can we tell our friend to step away from the ledge after we just spoke so glowingly of Robin Williams’ newfound “peace” and “freedom”? This is too important a subject to be careless about. We want to say nice things, I realize, but it isn’t nice to lie about suicide.

I, too, find it nauseating when people who despise and revile Christian theology keep an ersatz version of heaven in their closet to whip out whenever someone they care about dies. These are functional atheists. Do they really believe that's what happens after death? 

Here's another good point:

The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.

However, this statement is more problematic:

We are all meant to lead joyful lives, and the key to unlocking our joy isn’t hidden under a pile of money and accolades.

The sentence ends better than it begins. Are we all meant to lead joyful lives? Fact is, many people, due to their circumstances, are condemned to a life of misery. Think of Third-World street children and child prostitutes. 

I’ve seen it in the neighborhoods where I’ve lived and the schools that I’ve attended. I’ve seen it in my family. I’ve known adults and kids who’ve done it. I’ve seen it on the news and read about it in books, but I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. 

This is what I'm going to focus on. I'm not discussing the morality of suicide. I'm not discussing whether suicide is ever justifiable, but whether suicide is ever understandable. That's how Walsh himself frames the issue. 

This is important from a pastoral standpoint. We need to be able to comprehend why some people commit suicide. 

It's understandable why Walsh finds it hard to understand. He's at a very good time of life. He's young and healthy. Happily married. Young kids. A job he loves. And a Christian outlook. His incomprehension is a natural reflection of his inexperience. 

Let's take a couple of comparisons. In real life, Siegfried Farnon was modeled on Donald Sinclair. Sinclair committed suicide. Why? All you have to know are a few autobiographical details for his suicide to be comprehensible. He was 84. His brother died a few years before. His best friend died four months before. And his wife of 53 died about a week before. (He remarried after his first wife died just six years into the marriage). It was a botched suicide attempt, so he lingered for a few days. 

That's too much to lose. People can get to a point in life where all the good is in the past. The good ran out. There's nothing left to look forward to. 

When his wife died, on top of everything else, the good came to an abrupt end. He no longer had her to come home to. That simple and elemental. 

I'm not saying this to justify his action. I'm merely making the point that there's nothing mysterious about his reaction. The difference is that Walsh is nowhere near that point in life, and may never be.  

Let's take another example:

Eminent philosopher Stephan Körner, who served on the Yale faculty for more than a decade, died at his home in Bristol, England, on Aug. 17. 
Professor Körner, who was 86, committed suicide with his wife, Edith Körner, 79, who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. 
Very understandable. He's about to lose his wife of 40 years. He's 86. It's too late to start over again. 
Again, I don't say that to justify their suicide. My point is that we can't minister to the suicidal unless or until we can at least see how life looks, not from our viewpoint, but from theirs. 

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