Blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock is hosting a “broad conversation about faith and mental illness” and last week I responded to his question about the way my own faith community has historically viewed mental illness, and how my own faith shapes my views of it. This week Warnock touches on the very sensitive subject of suicide.
Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?
In my 20+ years as a believer, I have found it very difficult to nail down what Christians truly believe about salvation, let alone suicide. There are Christians who believe in “once saved always saved” theology – there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and even fewer Christians seem to know what that means. There is another set of Christians who believe that if you renounce your faith and walk away from God, you absolutely can lose your faith. I can only assume that ending your life – which, if you believe in Christ, is no longer yours but His – would fit into the category of renouncing your faith and walking away from God to this particular group of Christians.
I don’t believe religious faith protects against suicide in every case. Certainly, for many it does. But mental illness isn’t really about faith, and that’s why this conversation is happening and why this blog exists in the first place. Wow, don’t you wish you could just believe yourself out of faulty brain? Lots of people seem to think you can – ha, if only!
My official stance on this issue is simple: I’d rather not find out. But God knows the difference between someone who just decides to abandon Truth and someone who is truly afflicted with mental illness and can’t choose.
Here in Christian America, we love telling people that God has a “wonderful purpose” for their lives.
We gloss over the parts of the Bible where it says, “Things on earth are going to be really crappy. Hang in there.” It’s easier to witness to people that way. People want to hear how wonderful things are going to be. It’s harder to win souls by saying, “You will be miserable sometimes, and God doesn’t always seem to answer prayer, but He loves you so much.” So we highlight the balloons and rainbows and pretend everything is great, until reality happens. Then we struggle with a good answer because we insisted on giving a bogus one at the beginning.
On my deepest, darkest days I have never wanted a slap on the back and a promise that God has great things for me.
I want acknowledgement that things suck. I want someone to admit they don’t have the answers to my questions. It doesn’t make life seem hopeless to me, it makes it seem tangible. It lets me know that I am not alone and that I am not the only person who is not pooping Skittles right now. I want to hear “I love you” and I want someone to sit with me in the quiet. Paint a picture for me of how lives would change for the worse if I took my own. Make me laugh. Read the Word to me. God never promised an easy life, but there are so many beautiful promises in that book. Remind me of them.
That’s how you discourage suicide AND comfort a grieving family.
And you tell those people that God knows… God knows a broken mind and a troubled heart, and His grace is big enough to cover and forgive both.