Thursday, August 21, 2014
Recently a popular comedian was found dead in his home. He had committed suicide. For reasons we may not fully comprehend, he was a man who was troubled to the point of ending his own life. It is not a subject I take lightly so I want to be careful not to sensationalize what has gripped the attention of the world. I also don’t want to minimize how deeply this has impacted survivors of this unfortunate tragedy.
Despite all the soul searching, I honestly cannot say I understand suicide. Nor do I pretend to. I’m not saying I don’t know what events that often lead to the thoughts of suicide. Most people can give typical reasons for why a person loses hope and eventually surrenders their life. The reasons can range from depression, terminal illness, chronic pain, alcohol and drug abuse, loneliness, failed marriages, loss of a job, and so on. It’s typically the missing piece of the puzzle that is the “one thing” that pushes a person over the edge.
It’s in times like this that people search for answers. Anything to explain how something like this can happen. However some deal with their problems, they often don’t let on to those who really know them how close they are to the edge.
This is also a time when Christians often try to offer words of encouragement. Pastors, leaders, and Christian counselors typically point people to Scripture and offer theological advice. Words, though, seem so inadequate. Sometimes they can come across as cold and distant. I am certain that is not the intention of any Christian. It’s only that Christians understand a truth that is relevant to these discussions and that is Jesus is the Answer.
As a Christian, I understand that suicide is not the answer. Let me say this again because it’s worth repeating. Suicide is not the answer. I don’t say this to belittle anyone who has had thoughts toward this end. It’s not something that can be easily explained away. Anything that can drive a person to the point of reaching the end is something that needs serious attention. The point is that in whatever situation a person finds himself or herself, Jesus is the only One who can turn that person’s life around.
In writing this post, I’m not trying to give the impression that I know more than Christian Scholars and Theologians. In fact, I think there are several posts and articles written by others on this subject that are more noteworthy. This blog found at Bible Gateway gives a scripturally based response to depression. It’s worth noting that God doesn't condemn anyone for his/her feelings, even depression. Can certain attitudes and behaviors, like anxiety, be wrong in God’s eyes? Sure. We may be self-absorbed or focused only on selfish wants and desires. But true feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression seems different. Certainly this is a multifaceted subject. There’s no one right answer because we’re all unique and we all have problems that are specific to our situations. One thing that I do see as a source of hope is God. He is the constant that we can rely on and He can be the anchor for our lives and our souls. One of the greatest needs in the life of someone who is contemplating his/her end is relationship. Human relationships may help in a temporal way. However, when God offers Himself to us we have access to a relationship that is much deeper, significant, and eternal.
In the same way, at Patheos there’s an article that backs up this idea of a relationship with God being the answer to man’s greatest need. Or as the author puts it, the Ultimate Christian Gift. The author emphasizes on what a relationship with God brings, and that’s unconditional love.
I agree with these writers that a relationship with God is a key element in combating these deep emotional issues. I say this in regards to those who are able to rationally think about the choices they are making. For the most part, that’s me. Though I can be an emotional wreck and believe that suicide would be a quick way out, I am also still able to rationally think about the choices before me. And I do. I think about God and what He would think about the choice I am about to make. Since God is my Creator, would He be okay with me circumventing His authority over my life by taking it myself?
The question, then, is what about those that do take their own life? Have they made the ultimate error and committed the unforgivable sin? This is a complex issue and I’m probably not qualified to answer this. But in my limited understanding about God and Scripture, there’s a time when we become accountable for our choices and lives. For example, a baby is born into this world with a sin nature. If a baby dies without being able to accept Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior, does that mean the baby doesn't go to heaven? There is a debate on this but I tend to follow John MacArthur’s logic on this issue. You’ll have to read it yourself to understand.
Now take this same argument and apply it to mental and emotional disabilities. My point being is that it’s possible that those who are not able to consciously make proper choices may not be held to the same level of accountability as someone with a sound mind and body. Let’s say a Christian develops Alzheimer’s. Obviously, this is a debilitating disease that leaves little doubt as to the ability of rational reason or thought. If this Christian commits suicide, is he/she then in sin and unable to reconcile with God? Or should we say a Christian can’t take their own life because of Alzheimer’s?
Again, I point to the fact that this is a complex issue. We’re not always talking about people making rational decisions. Often, there are those that are going through deeply emotional and psychological issues. It would be naive to think that these issues pertained only to nonbelievers. For certain, pain and sorrow and even illness are a part of life for the Christian as well.
People are sometimes diagnosed as clinically depressed. It’s a more severe form of depression. People are also diagnosed as having a wide range of mental and emotional disorders. With that being said, I’m not as certain to say that when a person is sick that he/she has the full mental capacity and clarity of choice. It’s possible this person could commit suicide. Believers and non-believers suffer alike, go through pain, and sometimes are not aware of the choices they are making. Can we say that one person was more fully aware of choice than another if there’s suicide? Maybe not. Does that somehow point to an obscure fact that this couldn't have been a Christian? I don’t think so. In my estimation, only God is able to determine that.
What is clear to me is that suicide is a problem the church and the community must deal with together. Anyone who is fully aware of his/her choice, it needs to be crystal clear that suicide is not the answer. For a person struggling with this on a conscious level needs to realize that there is a God who loves him/her. For the Christian, the relationship with God and knowing His Holy Spirit resides in us ought to give us hope and strength. Relationship is such a strong, emotional anchor that grounds us to reality. How much more impactful is a relationship with the Creator of the universe?
For the unbeliever, hope may be fleeting. Where can one go? You may be able to muster the strength to make it through the drudgery of life. However, a greater bet is to place your security in the One who holds the balance of your life, body and soul, in His hands. What a great tragedy it is for anyone to go through life without knowing how much God loves and the extent to what He will go through for us. And for someone to end their life without that hope and the knowledge of that truth is what is truly tragic.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Meme by http://www.funnymemes.net/funny-ecards-still-a-hypocrite.html
I admit I do get frustrated more and more these days. I really must temper my feelings toward the world. Read the newspapers, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or whatever news source you read and you can see how the world is becoming more corrupt by the day. Evil is running amok.
No matter what position you hold toward Israel or Palestine, you probably have very strong opinions regarding either side. If you side with Israel, you probably think that the government there and its citizens are completely innocent of any bloodshed or any wrongdoing. If you side with Palestine, you surely are incensed at the lives lost, many of them children.
What is your position on the world’s religions? Be it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or even atheist you likely have a strong opinion on what you believe. Throughout history, as I understand it, most wars have been waged because of religion. Let me expand on that thought. I googled this question about wars being caused by religion and one website states that is not the case. They explain that wars are waged primarily because of sin. So let me just argue my opinion that religion is still a factor because man is waging war in his heart against God. Is it religion or not? If you’re someone who’s raising his fist against God and say you’re atheist, agnostic, or whatever, it’s a conscious decision to follow and be loyal to that belief. I argue that in itself this kind of belief system is religion. But I digress. Right or wrong, these are beliefs and traditions that run deep throughout our culture.
And of course there’s all the political games being played out in Washington and throughout the country. I might as well say throughout the world. You may be one of the few who still believe in any of the promises that President Obama makes. You may actually like the Affordable Care Act, want the IRS to harass citizens for political motives, and have the EPA radically change business and the economy. However, even if you disagree with the president and his policies, what are your options? Are you trusting in the Grand Ole Party? (I know, it’s supposed to be Grand Old Party but I don’t care.) This party is resembling the Democratic Party more and more. Can any politician put the country and its citizens before his or her own self-interests? One can become increasingly cynical as to believe anything positive can come out of any government.
These are only a handful of examples to get across a point. We all have strong beliefs. But while we maintain them, do we betray those beliefs? Are we hypocrites? Let me explain. Let’s say that you feel extremely strong about the United States being exceptional, that it’s a Christian nation and that it defends weaker nations and so on and so forth. You’re likely to point out all the positive aspects of the US and avoid any of the negative parts of its history. You can be very loyal, even to a fault. I consider myself to be part of that camp. However, we should be totally honest in that the US is not perfect. It has skeletons in its closet. There are the obvious moral lapses such as slavery, the slaughter of American Indians, the civil war, the discrimination against race, the oppression of women, etc. But what about today? My beliefs on abortion, immigration, and homosexuality run deep. While I maintain those beliefs, though, how are my attitudes toward those with opposing views? I have to admit that in my anger my behavior often is rude and antagonistic against the opposition. Obviously, these are subjects that evoke strong emotions on both sides.
One of the definitions of hypocrite is a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. The key here is “does not actually possess.” I believe I have higher virtues and moral beliefs. And you may think you have higher virtues and moral beliefs, even though our views are in complete contrast with each other. In pursuit of our stated beliefs, I think all of us at one point pretend to take some higher moral ground. We think our position is superior. In while I love to argue and debate, there will always be someone who thinks differently and will point out obvious flaws in my positions. And in debating, I tend to ignore the gray areas or the parts where there is some bad truth that can be exposed. At that point, it certainly is hypocritical to carry on as actually possessing a higher moral ground when I’m aware of its flaws. Perhaps we can state there is no position that is absolutely perfect. That’s why we’re all hypocrites. No one or no idea is without flaw. That is the human condition.
There is One who is perfect and without flaws. There is One who can say that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is forever consistent in His actions, promises, and behavior. Jesus is the only One who can say that He stands on high moral ground that is superior to anyone else’s. By saying this I realize that there are many who don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Their opinion of Jesus is going to be far different. However, this is the one position I would argue to the death. There is no one else that can compare to Jesus. He is the central focus in all of history. He is the God and Creator of heaven and earth. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. I may be a hypocrite in many ways and in following Jesus I may do and say things hypocritical. But that does not change who Jesus is and He is in every way perfect, without spot or blemish. The Bible says in 1 Peter 1 that it was by His blood that He shed on the cross that saves a person. Peter says Jesus was a sacrificed lamb, without blemish or spot.
It is because of this fact that Jesus is perfect, and was perfect when He was sacrificed on the cross, that He stands alone as Judge. Jesus pointed out our hypocritical natures. But despite our sin, God loved us. Romans 5:8 says “ …God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is why we can have hope for our hypocritical nature. We don’t have to be perfect because Jesus was and is. Since Jesus fulfilled the law of God, He did what we couldn't do. He died for our sins, the penalty for sinning against a holy God. He acted as a substitute and bore our sins. He was the Judge and then became the defendant accepting our conviction of death. So what then? He in exchange offered His righteousness so that we can be made holy before God, justifying us who deserved death. Again, in 1 Peter 1, Peter points out how we live foolishly. But because of Jesus we can live differently. We will not be perfect, or glorified, until we reach heaven, but we can become more like Jesus if we put our faith in Him alone. As Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The only thing is is that the choice must be a conscious decision. You can choose life and you can choose death. In choosing life, you must be born again. That is, “… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) I pray you choose life.
(NOTE: I want to thank my wife, Shelby Spencer, for being co-author with me on this blog. If it weren't for her meticulous attention to detail and being editor of these posts, my writing would indeed be often incoherent and difficult to read. Thank you Shelby for all that you do. I love you!)