Franklin James Cook

Christian Writers Push Back against Suicide Stigma

In Grief, Mental Illness, Stigma on April 30, 2009 at 7:00 am

[Editor’s note: Two recently published articles written by Christian authors give perspectives that push back against the stigma about suicide to which Christianity has historically contributed. The ideas they touch upon reflect a trend over the past century–and increasingly in recent decades–for Christian churches to be more understanding about mental illness and suicide and less judgmental and prescriptive about related behavior.]

In a story in Christianity Today, journalist Christine Scheller writes candidly about her religious faith in relation to the death of her son by suicide.

For nearly two decades, love gave rein to Gabriel, his brother, my husband, and me as we galloped prettily through life. Then we hit a rough patch … Our church experiences alone had left my husband and me limping and our sons jaded … Just about the time I thought we might regain our family stride, Gabriel died by suicide. He was 23 …

Early on, the suicide felt like a cruel cosmic joke. It was as if God, or the Devil, or some Job-like combination thereof, was mocking and toying with us.

The family received comfort from a psychiatrist Scheller had recently met, Aaron Kheriaty of the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum, who assured them that their son’s death was not their fault and “firmly insisted that the death would never make sense: suicide is inherently an irrational act.”

Kheriaty was a safe person to invite into our moment of horror, unlike some pastors who later described the suicide as an “unwise choice” and simple spiritual failure.

Kheriaty delivered the homily at Gabriel’s funeral, explaining that

“For reasons that are quite beyond our comprehension, God allowed Gabriel to suffer a terrible illness … Gabriel’s death issued from an unsound mind that was afflicted by a devastating disorder.”

In the end, Scheller writes as a survivor who needs “time and space to come to a realistic self-assessment”:

I trust that for me, the crucible will forge a better person, and lead to peace … When I think of all that Gabriel suffered in this life, I do not understand. I find it difficult to trust God or engage him with the intimacy I once enjoyed. And yet every day, I inhale moments of grace. I am immeasurably grateful for the privilege of being Gabriel’s mother.

As Gabriel was walking out the door of this life, I called out after him, “I love you.” Love is as strong as death, wrote Solomon. The love of God is stronger.

The latest column in The Citizen (Fayette County, Georgia) by Pastor Justin Kollmeyer of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville is titled “Suicide and Heaven.” According to Kollmeyer, not merely “the truth” but “the truth with power and conviction” is that

[Suicide is] wrong. It’s horrible. It’s cruel. It’s regrettable. It’s not the answer. It’s not God’s will. It is never an acceptable solution. It’s an atrocious wounding of all those who love the one making this decision, especially the family …

But I believe there is more to committing suicide than just making one bad and damnable decision for all time …

Kollmeyer first accounts for those who die by suicide because of clinical depression, which he says “is a disease, just as a heart attack is a disease, and cancer is a disease, and diabetes is a disease.”

Health care professionals remind us that suicide is not an inevitable or acceptable outcome of depression. None of us “accepts” suicide as a result of depression, but in hindsight we can see the disease at its most destructive when we see suicide. Death by disease? Unfortunately yes.

Then he goes on to answer the question of suicide being an “unforgivable sin” from a Christian point of view:

Fortunately no! God declares in His word through scripture that He loves His creation, especially His human creation despite the “fallen-ness” and “brokenness” of human sin … God can disagree totally with the decision of one of His dear children, who commits suicide. But at the same time, He keeps His promise to grant salvation and receive sinners into eternal life. Ultimately, we all get into heaven the exact same way. Not earning it, not deserving it, but by trusting in and believing in the sheer grace of God. Can someone who commits suicide go to heaven? Simply, yes. By the grace of God.

Kollmeyer tosses suicide on the pile with all sin (including the Christian concept of “original sin”)–which is contradictory, for one must ask, Is being sick a sin?–but nonetheless, he asserts the belief that Christian doctrine does not condemn those who die by suicide to hell.

[The abridged URL for this post is:  http//tinyurl.com/ChristianStigma .]

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  1. Landon loved the Lord. He had a deep faith and served in missions to Mexico. He self governed at an early age and I did not feel worthy to be his mom. He was a better person than I was. I was on vacation, almost a week when he shot himself at age 21.

    It made no sense to me but it floored me when folks started suggesting he was not in heaven. A few years ago, Christian stores had tee shirts stating that one drop of Jesus’s shed blood was enough. Do we believe it or not? I do. I look forward to a reunion with my son.

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