Updated: Aug 1
Navigating Faith, Death, and Suicide --
***Almost two weeks ago, a close relative of a member of our church killed his wife, whom many have described as the love of his life, and then committed suicide after years of battling with depression. I pray that my words help...
In the face of the shocking and tragic news of the death of a loved one at the hand of another loved one, it is natural to feel a surge of emotions ranging from sadness to anger, impotency, and even a lurking desire to withhold forgiveness because of the unforgivable. However, as disciples of Jesus, we must remember that our faith in our Lord can serve as a guiding light in the midst of a dark valley, providing hope and comfort to those who continue the journey of life; we are the ones left behind with the scars of death and suicide. Because of these scars, let us explore the intersection between faith, death, and suicide and how we can find faith in action and healing amidst the turmoil and grief.
As described in Psalm 23:4, Faith is like a "Rod and Staff" that brings comfort in the darkest valleys. Faith in the God of 1 John 4:8b is the source of motivation, resilience, and moral guidance during difficult times. However, it is crucial to remember that the impact of faith depends on how it is wielded, and we must use it responsibly and with empathy for others. The death of a loved one at the hands of a person battling depression is especially complex, as it brings forth a mix of emotions and demands understanding of the role mental illness can play in distorting thoughts and emotions.
The tragedy of depression that leads to suicide has been a topic that faith communities struggle to address. Today, I wish to address that very subject, with the promise to address the other significant subject later.
In the past, suicide was viewed as a grave sin, and some believed that those who died by suicide were destined for hell; I don't think that seeing suicide as a black-or-white thing is faithful to the gospel. However, a more purposeful understanding acknowledges the complexities of mental illness, anguish, and fear that can lead individuals to such a desperate act. It is essential for faith communities to revise our understanding of suicide and approach it with compassion and support for those affected. In today's world, an increasing number of individuals are grappling with various mental health challenges. From the painful realities of suicide and self-harm to the burden of worry, anxiety, stress, and depression, these issues touch the lives of nearly everyone. Whether we are facing these challenges or know someone who is, it is crucial to have open and honest conversations about mental health and cover each other in the love of God.
When there is Death and Suicide there is no time to cast stones. It is the time of Faithin the presence of God.
Suicide prevention is a critical responsibility for Christians, as spiritual beliefs and practices can significantly provide hope and meaning in people's lives--Christian communities are perfectly positioned to deal with suicide; however, it is the responsibility of a community. A person, a partner, or a family alone will never be as successful in preventing suicide as a COMMUNITY of faith empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Faith communities can create an environment where those at risk for suicide or who are experiencing suicide ideology feel seen and valued and find a purpose-driven life. Know that while faith leaders or pastors often become the first point of contact for individuals struggling with depression or other mental health issues, the person or family struggling needs not a leader with insight or knowledge but a community.
In the same way, the journey toward healing and hope may be arduous, but faith communities play a vital role in supporting those left behind after death and suicide. They must offer comfort, understanding, and a safe space for survivors to share their grief and pain. By being prepared to respond to suicide deaths and providing support to those left behind, faith communities can foster resilience and promote healing, but this means that you must train and forge the Holy Spirit and the peace beyond understanding.
The Struggle of Depression is a real thing. The sting of death is a real thing. Faith in God is "THE" real thing.
Experts in suicide prevention emphasize the importance of comprehensive approaches that include emotional support, identifying at-risk individuals, and facilitating access to professional help. Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention provide valuable resources for both faith communities and individuals seeking assistance.
In these times of immense grief and confusion, we must remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Our faith in Jesus Christ can be the anchor that keeps us steady in the face of the storm, knowing that His love and grace are unwavering.
You truly do not need to know further details, only that you are part of the answer, part of the solution
As a faith community, let us come together to support one another to embrace those who are hurting, and to be beacons of hope for those who feel lost. Let us strive to reduce the stigma around mental illness, encouraging open conversations and providing compassionate care for those struggling with depression. In times of darkness, let us be the light that shines the way towards healing and restoration, trusting in the unending love and compassion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Where do we go from here... A Concise Approach
Acknowledge the Impact: Openly discuss suicide in prayers, sermons, and conversations to break the silence surrounding mental health struggles and create a safe space for sharing burdens.
Support Suicide Survivors: Extend compassion and non-judgmental listening to families burdened by grief, stigma, and isolation after losing loved ones to suicide.
Break the Stigma: Speak openly about mental health and suicide to eliminate shame and encourage seeking help within the faith community.
Share Hope: Share the Gospel's message of hope, life, and resurrection to address suicide from both spiritual and practical perspectives.
Recognize Warning Signs: Equip faith leaders with knowledge about identifying suicidal intentions and local treatment and prevention services.
In a world that is often fractured by pain and suffering, faith communities can be beacons of hope and healing for those affected by suicide. Faith leaders can create an environment where individuals feel accepted and understood by acknowledging the challenges, providing support, breaking the stigma, and promoting education and awareness. Embracing hope and compassion, faith communities can make a significant impact in preventing suicide and offering a lifeline to those in need.
For further reading...
Monica A. Coleman, “Suicide leaves scars, not the stain of sin.” Commentary from Religion News Service appearing in The Presbyterian Outlook. 9/29/16. https://pres-outlook.org/2016/09/suicide-leaves-scars-not-stain-sin-commentary/