From Pastor Jay,
Robin Williams is gone. That isn’t news. If you’ve flipped on a radio, television, or internet browser within the past 48 hours, you already know that. You’ve seen the grief and the outpouring of condolences at the gate to Robin’s home.
I’ve seen discussions about how we should treat Robin’s death. Should we memorialize him even though he took his own life? Should we let his death stand as a sobering reminder of the plight of so many people who battle depression and thoughts of suicide every day? They all boil down to the question: what should we do about suicide?
In Luther’s day, the standard practice was that someone who died by suicide was not allowed to be buried within the church yard. The thought was that this would work as a preventative to suicide since the prevailing cultural thought at the time was that if you were not buried in the church yard, your salvation was questionable. The stigma of a questionable salvation was thought to be perhaps a greater force than the depressive desire to end one’s own life.
Martin Luther, when wrestling with this topic in pastoral practice, said that those who died by suicide should not be looked upon any differently than someone who was attacked by robbers on a lonely road and killed because someone who had committed suicide had obviously been attacked by a demon on the lonely road of life. Even in the 1500’s, Luther had a sense that there was more going on in suicide than first meets the eye.
But those things don’t really help us settle the question of what we do about suicide. During my life so far I’ve had two friends who have ended their own lives. What do I do about them? The frank and honest answer is – not much. Their status, whether in the church yard or out of it, is in the hands of God.
Instead, I would suggest we reframe our question. What DID we do for them? What did we do for Robin Williams? What did we do for those whom we have known who have taken their own lives? Did we show care for them? Did we speak the sweet sweet Gospel to them? If we didn’t, then we have a reason to repent and ask for forgiveness from God, and amend our lives to show that love and care to all people with the knowledge that everyone needs that love, that care, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will right all wrongs – even suicide.
in Christ, PJ