Burn, Baby, Burn – Christianity and Suicide

This past weekend Brittany Maynard, a young woman with a terminal illness, ended her life. Her story has caused quite a stir in Christian circles, and discussing life and death is a worthwhile conversation to have.

It’s easy to function in a black and white world. When our options are limited to black and white, right and wrong, the choosing process becomes simplified. It is when we add the many-varied shades and colors of reality that life gets exponentially more difficult. As children we are taught things in black and white because that’s the way a child’s brain operates. If I tried to teach my kids how to use discernment between varied shades I think their heads might explode – or mine would. They’re too young for that right now. We all teach our kids in black and white. Sadly, sometimes we forget to help them move beyond that into the world of grown-up discernment.

When I was a kid I remember learning the black and white of suicide. I was always told that it was one way – suicide is a sin (therefore wrong) and that those who commit suicide are eternally doomed to remain outside the presence of God. In fact, many parts of the worldwide Church still teach people that black and white truth. Too many of us in Christianity have not moved beyond into adult discernment.

As an Evangelical pastor, I believe that the Bible ought to be our primary guide for action, thought, and behavior. But too often we look to man-made traditions to shape our beliefs rather than what God has revealed through the Bible. So the really tricky question about suicide is: What does the Bible actually say about taking your own life?

Surprisingly little.

I only say “surprisingly” because, as strongly as the church preaches against suicide, you would think that the Bible would say quite a bit. Nope. No “Thou shalt not’s” or “You’re gonna be soooorrrry!” about suicide. There are a few stories about suicide, but those stories simply relate the tale – there is no judgment, guilt, or moral derived against suicide.

Judas, the infamous (which, according to the Three Amigos, means MORE than famous) disciple of Jesus, was so filled with sorrow and regret for his behavior that he committed suicide. But one of my favorite stories in the New Testament is actually a suicide prevention story.

The Apostle Paul and his colleague Silas were imprisoned for sharing their beliefs about Jesus. Late at night there was a massive earthquake and the jail cells and prisoners’ chains broke free. The guard who had been sleeping (hey, it was late) woke up, saw the busted cells, and decided that the only way to regain any sense of honor for his family after the prisoners escaped on his watch was to kill himself. As he was about to plunge his sword into his body, Paul calls out, “Hey, don’t do it. We’re all still here!” Paul was able to share about Jesus with this jailer. Even still, there is not any condemnation of the guard’s intent. Just a story of how Paul introduced him to faith in Jesus.

So why do we tell people that those who commit suicide are Hell-bound for eternity? The human logic behind it is this: suicide is murder and, since that grievous sin is the last thing you do before eternity, there is no chance to confess and repent. Thus you are doomed to Hell.

I don’t buy it.

The Bible only says that there is one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Spirit of God.

That’s it. Everything else is forgivable. The only permanent, unforgivable sin is to credit God’s work to Satan, to accuse the spirit of God of evil. I don’t see that with suicide. Which means that even suicide is a forgivable sin.

But what about the lack of confession and repentance? It’s a common human misunderstanding of how grace and divine forgiveness works. It’s not a quid pro quo kind of deal. We don’t offer one confession for one act of forgiveness. Grace is freely given to us. When we become believers in Jesus and surrender to God then his grace covers us. We ought to be sorrowful for sin in our lives, but I do not think that individual acts of sin will prevent us from an eternity in his presence. Otherwise everyone who dies unexpectedly without confessing and repenting is gonna be spending a long, hot eternity away from God.

My theology says that God is bigger than that. My theology says that God’s grace covers us and that God understands that we are still broken people trying to do our best to live righteous lives in a broken world. But I don’t have to worry about dying without being able to confess and repent. His grace covers us.

Thus I believe an honest understanding of the Bible admits that people can have “committed” sins and still be covered by grace. I believe that a Christian who commits suicide will still spend eternity with God. Frankly, I believe a lot of people who are in heaven will surprise us (and a lot of people who DON’T make the list will also surprise us)!

But let’s look at the other side of the same coin:

Though suicide is not an unforgivable sin, I do not believe that Christians ought to commit suicide. Suicide tends to be about seeing no other alternative to terminating suffering in this life. Suicide is the human attempt to exercise ultimate sovereignty over life. This is the wrong attitude. God is sovereign, not us. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Or next week. Or next year. There’s no way to know that your life situation will stay on the setting “SUCK” for your entire life. It could change at any moment.

Perhaps God is trying to use your misery and suffering to refine you – to help you become a better you. Perhaps he’s prepping you through your suffering to minister to and help others. Bottom line – don’t try to take control away from God. Let God be God, even through the junky times where we’d rather just give up.

If you’re reading this and you’ve ever thought, “It would just be easier if I weren’t even here” I’d like you to know that you’re not alone. Those kinds of thoughts are normal things for us to think when we’re suffering. Welcome to normalcy. But let God be God. The tougher the situation, the more we should lean on him and lean on a good, caring spiritual family.

If you’re reading this and you’ve had loved ones take their own lives – know that suicide is not a one-way ticket to Hell. God’s love and grace are bigger than you can imagine.

In the end I don’t know all of the specific reasons for suffering. Some of it is because stupid people do stupid things and those things have consequences. Sometimes suffering is redemptive and makes us better. Sometimes suffering is punitive and we pay the price for our own wrongdoings and behavior. Through it all let God be God. Trust him. Lean on him.

And, in the words of the illustrious Captain Jason Nesmith:

NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER SURRENDER!

** If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts there are some resources available. Check out Emerge and NSPL to start…

America: Still Racist After all These Years

Racism. It’s still there. Sometimes it feels like we pretend it doesn’t exist but it does. It affects the way we look at people. It affects the way we treat people. It affects the way we talk about people. But it’s not something we address openly and honestly until something blows up and then everything is chaos and then all hell breaks loose.

No, I’m not even writing this in response to the Paula Deen debacle, though it certainly seems to fit.

Paula Deen’s situation reminds us that, no matter how far we have come, we are a people that draw lines of distinction based on race and heritage. Sometimes those lines of distinction are good and result in a renewed sense of pride and family background. I applaud people who utilize websites like ancestry.com or 23andme.com in an effort to know and appreciate their genetics and history. Knowing from where we come and from whom we come goes a long way in helping us create a personal sense of identity.

In regards to the words we use to define ethnicity, I do believe and emphatically suggest that we call people what THEY desire to be called, not what we think they should be called. I am Anglo-European. Let’s be totally honest, I’m Scottish on one side and Irish on the other. I’m white. A honkey.  But I’m married to a brown-skinned woman. It doesn’t matter what language was used around me growing up, she deserves to be identified in the way she chooses; Black, African-American, Negro, or even colored (which is how some of my wife’s older relatives still refer to themselves). Anything less is disrespect towards her AS A PERSON. It doesn’t matter where people come from – call them what they desire to be called.

This was part of Paula Deen’s problem. As an older white woman from the south, she probably grew up with some choice descriptors for brown-skinned people. And let’s be honest – it’s hard to break free from the language and images that were around during our formative years. It really takes a lot to move beyond how we were raised.

This is not to excuse something she might have said nearly 30 years ago, but it does help to understand where she is coming from and how she is wired. But this is a great illustration of the problem. Racism exists still. Many people don’t even realize that their behavior is racist – and that’s just wrong. It’s when you hear someone telling a story about someone else and they just “happen” to throw in the description of ethnicity.

“I was help up at knifepoint by this wild-eyed Mexican guy…”
“I was cut off by this black lady…”

We are racist every time we feel a need to describe ethnicity. Does it matter what race the thief was? Does it matter what race the crazy driver was? It adds nothing to the story except for the racist subtext you want to convey to your audience. We are racist every time we alter our behavior because of or around someone of different ethnicity. We are racist, and I don’t mean “we” as in “European-Americans like me.” Humanity is racist – we divide along ethnic lines.

Yet there is supposed to be a kinship that supersedes ethnicity. The bible says that we share a new family through our faith that moves us beyond all titles, descriptions, and subtext. It is no longer white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever-mix-you-want-to-be…. We shed all of that with one new title: CHRISTIAN.

This new title is supposed to characterize all we say and do. It’s supposed to saturate us and flow out of every pore. It’s supposed to take the old way of thinking about things and people and replace it with God’s way of viewing things and people.

Yep – we’re a racist planet. And we always will be as long as we hold to our ethnic identities over and above our spiritual identities. So, Christian, it’s time to grow. It’s time to change. It’s time to let stop identifying yourself by your race and to start identifying yourself by your faith.

Who are you?

My name is Chris. I’m white Christian.

A Christian Response to Gay Marriage

horrified-faceToday I was contacted by a woman who had some pretty heavy questions regarding the LGBT lifestyle (unless you have your head stuck in the sand or are stuck at home raising multiple children you will know about the Supreme Court’s decisions today…). She had a question about an appropriate response and felt like and “outsider” because she didn’t feel contempt for the gay community or have a strong desire to convert them to heterosexuals. The following is the letter I wrote her back. I understand that you may differ in your take, but this is coming through my lenses on how I see the world and how I read the Bible – which I believe should set the standard for actions and belief.

From my reading the Bible is pretty clear that God’s design is that sex be restricted to one man and one woman who are married to each other. Do people break God’s design? ALL THE TIME! You are right that God’s design is also for marriage to be a life-long commitment without divorce, yet that happens as well. We live in a broken world in which people act in broken ways.

In that sense we’re all messed up, loved by a gracious God in spite of ourselves. There are probably several reasons why the church focuses so much intensity and anger towards the LGBT community, but that is our error. We are called to love people no matter what their personal sin is. Some drink to excess – yet the Bible says that drunkenness is a sin. We love them still. The Bible says not to divorce, but Christians do. We love them still.

I believe that God designed male and female to be compatible. Same-sex sexuality goes against the natural order. But let’s differentiate between sexual behavior and sexual inclination/attraction. I do know people who have same-sex attraction as a result of life circumstances (bad parenting situation, sexual abuse, etc.). There is also a cultural push to see same-sex friendships as gay because we are uncomfortable with the idea of a deep friendship between two men. I have heard some people interpreting the intimate friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible as being a homosexual relation. While they were closer than brothers there is no indication that they were gay. But we are often uncomfortable with same-sex intimacy. How can you experience intimacy with someone of the same sex unless it is sexual? This is more of a Western point of view than an Eastern one. My wife, who has a degree in missions and has traveled quite a bit in southeast Asia, tells me that it’s not uncommon in foreign countries to see two men walking down the street holding hands as a sign of camaraderie and intimacy, even though they are both happily married to women.

Even still, some people claim same-sex attraction with no childhood trauma. I am not a scientist, so I will not deny that it may be possible that there is a same-sex attraction born in some people. To my understanding this has not been proven. But even if it were proven, I believe that God’s Word remains unchanged about same-sex behavior and that God loves them no matter what (if our behavior determined God’s love we’d ALL be in trouble).

To the person who claims attraction I would differentiate between attraction and sexual activity. Some see this as a cop out, but I believe it to be a valid way of maintaining a sense of truth to oneself and to God’s design. Just because you might find yourself attracted to the same sex does not mean you have to act upon it. Humanity has a marvelous capacity to exercise self-control if we want to – sadly, much of our society laughs at the idea of self-control (and not just in regards to our sexuality, but to every other area of life).

At the end of the day you are right that God calls us to love and embrace all people regardless of their choices. People go against God’s design all the time – we love them anyway. Ultimately God is judge and we are not. As a pastor I will tell people what I believe God’s design is. It’s up to them and God as to whether or not they act on it. I still love them no matter what they choose.

And I do believe that, at the end of time, there will be people in heaven that will surprise us – and people in hell that we never expected to be there!

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Related Posts:
Forced Gay: Punishment for Religious Dissent?
Forced Gay: Part Two

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To my readers, please feel free to engage in discussion, but we will do so with decency and kindness, even when we disagree with each other.