Wednesday 31 May 2023

A Pastoral Response to Suicide

There are a lot of people struggling. Some have chosen to end their life and their friends and loved ones have questions. All of us should, really. Recently, I was asked to share a few thoughts about religion’s response to suicide. I don’t feel that I can speak for religion. I can only say what my faith tells me. This is what my heart says.

I would never presume to know what’s in the mind and heart of someone who takes their own life. Nor would I think I could judge them for it after they’re gone. There are religious traditions that do, but they are not mine.

Mine says that God is love. God is the spirit of creativity and life. God offers grace and forgiveness for all. All. When Jesus says we should love everyone as we love ourselves, Jesus doesn’t say there are exceptions. All means all. I believe that means we all return to God. Yes, return. I think we come from God and return to God when this earthly life is done, no matter how it is done.

Even if you believe that God is some grand celestial being, you cannot teach that we believe in a God who loves all and, in Jesus, forgives all and then suggest that there are those who can’t be forgiven and there’s a place for them called hell. And by the way, when we do that, it’s us that are judging them here, not God. You cannot teach that it is God who judges and then speak in judgement for God. I don’t believe that any of us have that power.

Even if you want to suggest that the Bible says suicide is wrong, that argument rests mostly on the sixth commandment (and lesser texts in Hebrew law), which is that you will not murder. And you’re arguing that suicide is murdering oneself. First of all, again, breaking the Law isn’t beyond God’s love and forgiveness. It may be beyond our’s, but that’s not ever the same thing. Second, as Jesus repeatedly points out, it’s what’s at the heart of the law that is most important. And what’s at the heart of the law is to cherish all life, to care for it and, as Jesus often says, to try and bring heaven to this life. What should be more concerning is what, in this life, might have brought someone to suicide.

You cannot teach that we believe in a God who knows what’s truly in our hearts and not know that God’s heart breaks with ours when someone ends their life. But, while we might struggle with our thoughts and feelings or worse, judge people for what they chose to do, God simply embraces them and welcomes them home.