Three people in my life have committed suicide; my best friend when I was in 8th grade, my wife’s 13-year-old cousin, and my brother-in-law. All tragic, and all left scars that will never fade. Every person has left behind unanswered questions and feelings of guilt and self-blame. These emotions are strong; I still ask the “what if” questions of 27 years ago, but this guilt is misplaced. I read something recently that I found helpful and personal experience has allowed me to expound on this idea, to help to resolve some of these emotions.
Jesus traveled to Bethany to visit his sick friend, Lazarus. When Jesus arrives, He discovers that his friend has already died. Martha and Mary approached Jesus and stated: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (English Standard Version, Jn. 11:21, 32). Pastors Warren and David Wiersbe focus on the first two words; “Lord” and “if,” and note that of these two words one heals and the other hurts (200).
If is a natural question, it comes from our grief; it is a response that understands that something is not right in the world. If only I had called him. If only I had recognized the signs. If hurts. The problem with if is that it is good at asking questions but never gives answers.
- If looks backward: It diverts our attention to a past we cannot change, and to alternate outcomes which will never exist.
- If is our ego: It suggests that we are in control of everything, including the actions of others.
- If dethrones God: It places blame on God suggesting either He allowed it to happen or even He could not prevent it.
Which leads to the healing word; Lord. Even in their grief Martha and Mary recognized Jesus as Lord. Martha states, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27). In this chapter, Jesus did the miraculous and raised Lazarus from the dead, but the purpose of this miracle was to glorify God and show that it was He who sent Jesus (vv. 4, 40, 42). God didn’t send Jesus to change past events, He used those past events to His glory and brought many to faith in Him (v. 45). Jesus states; “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (v. 25-26). Looking to the Lord, looks to the future, a time of healing when He will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
God is not responsible for our poor choices, just as we are not liable for the freely made decisions of others. Part of free will is that, either good or bad, all actions have consequences. However, having to endure with the consequences does not mean that God is apathetic. God introduces Himself to Moses and states that he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). In John’s Gospel it is mentioned three times how Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters (11:3, 5, 36), it was out of love that He came to them and out of love that he wept (v. 35). So, where was God when the one we love has died? The same place he was 2000 years ago when His only begotten Son died; on His throne. God experienced the same emotions and same repercussions of loss. He cannot only sympathize with us; He can empathize with us. Our loved ones who have passed were also His children!
Which of these two words are you taking for yourself? Is it the one that hurts or the one that heals? Grieving is normal, but know you are never alone. God is with you grieving, but He is pointing you to a future of healing. Understand that no matter where you are in life, or what you have done you are never too far away to look to Him.
If you are reading this and contemplating suicide talk to someone, seek help. You may not see it right now, but your life has value. If you don’t feel that there is someone you can confide in, then call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255. As someone who has lost loved ones to suicide, I can tell you that there are people who care about you. Your life is not a burden.
English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Wiersbe, Warren W, and David Wiersbe. Ministering to the Mourning: A Practical Guide for Pastors, Church Leaders, and Other Caregivers. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006. Print.