“I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.”
—From the song “My Life” by Billy Joel
Tragic events during the past few weeks have caused us to think about trends in our society and it doesn’t look good. Locally, two high school students at Shawnee Mission Northwest committed suicide and in Parkland, Florida, fourteen students and three teachers were killed. I have to admit that I am perplexed about the way the communities have responded to these tragedies. The response from the Shawnee Mission School District is to put out the word that students are special, they are loved, they are worth something. All great things to say. Yet on the second floor of the high school, there is the famous evolution of man mural that reinforces the idea of man as a bag of chemicals that were randomly thrown together and miraculously produce a living cell. How are those two concepts reconciled? In Parkland, the prominent message from the media and local officials has been all about gun control and midterm elections, yet no one speaks about the excessive gratuitous violence that is heavily promoted by the many communication channels, not just limited to the entertainment industry or the media. So which is it? Does life have meaning in our country or not?
In the present post-modern times, Western culture has striven to become amoral, and to a large extent, has succeeded in doing so. An amoral culture is one that no longer has use for the concept of right or wrong, in fact, it does not even recognize a shared reality. To eradicate morality, it was necessary for Western culture to remove God from the equation. If God exists, then there is a divine will and a consequence for not conforming to that will. By removing God from our society, we have reduced our lives to an absurdity, a worthless existence. This was the conclusion of existentialists, some Greek philosophers, and Solomon; a life without God is meaningless. So should we be surprised by all the violence and other issues like the “Me Too” movement in our society? These events are the natural, real consequences of removing God from our culture.
What is our response as Christians? Simply this: our life is not our own. It is a gift from God and as such, it is God who has pre-ordained our days on earth so that we may fulfill His will. We leave this earth when His will for us is complete, something we may not always understand or agree with when loved ones unexpectedly pass away or suffer for a long time before they leave this earth.
The Bible is clear about whose life it is:
- Psalm 139:16 – Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
- Isaiah 64:8 – But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
In the case of suicide, we are naturally upset and struggle to understand why people take their own life and are concerned about that person’s eternal destination. I have known too many individuals that have committed suicide, including a childhood friend’s mother, a Lutheran grade-school teacher, and a high school classmate.
One of the first questions I had was if a person committed suicide, was he or she automatically condemned to hell? After all, Jesus does say in both Matthew and Mark that it would have been better if Judas (the betrayer) had not been born – words of judgement. The answer is no, suicide is not a one-way ticket to hell. It is not for us to decide. The reason Jesus said this was that Judas did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, not because Judas took his own life. People sometimes feel sorry for Judas, but in reality, he was a scoundrel, as John records in chapter 12:6, “He [Judas] said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
How do I discuss suicide with my children? First, I unequivocally state that suicide is a sin, it is not God’s will for us to take something that is His. Sometimes knowing that a behavior is absolutely wrong and forbidden might lead a person to question their thoughts and seek help, knowing their intended action is not normal. Suicide is not an option.
Is suicide a forgivable sin? Yes, the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Spirit – unbelief. People take their lives for many reasons that can be related to an abnormal physiological and/or psychiatric condition that causes depression. At some point a rationalization takes place along with severe mental depression that leads one down a very dark emotional road. One key that leads to suicide is isolation and the feeling of loneliness. Satan often uses isolation as a means to our end. In the example of the Lutheran grade-school teacher, genetics were at play and thankfully, it was recognized and treated in one of her children. I am confident that fellow Christians I personally knew that took their life were forgiven and are in heaven with their Savior.
There is help for someone struggling emotionally and I encourage my children to talk to me, my wife, their siblings, a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, anyone. Another thing I mention is the story of Ken Baldwin who jumped off the Golden Gate bridge and as he left the bridge, he instantly realized that everything in his life was totally fixable, except for having jumped. The same thing happened to Kevin Hines, another jumper who survived a jump from the Golden Gate. When we are despondent, we need help, we need others, we need God’s word of comfort – it’s going to be okay, there is nothing that He can’t handle.
As for shootings taking place in public spaces, the Christian response is that we are fallen, sinful creatures that live in a fallen, sinful world that is at war against God. Shootings are just one outgrowth of our sinful condition. For those Christians who were killed, we mourn, but not as those who have no hope, for we know they live eternally with God and all those saints who have gone before them. If anything, it teaches us to always be prepared, to have our “spiritual bags packed.” Instead of focusing on gun control, perhaps a better message is captured in the hymn, “I Walk in Danger All the Way” (LSB 716). Each verse begins with a theme as follows:
I walk in danger all the way
I pass through trials all the way
And death pursues me all the way
I walk with angels all the way
I walk with Jesus all the way
My walk is heavenward all the way
I believe such a message as contained in this hymn is a much better response to our wayward culture than political movements that can’t resolve the real problem and ultimately have no meaning. Isn’t it wonderful that we can take comfort in God who restores us as a new creation through Jesus? That is what gives our lives meaning.
See you in church!