Some time ago I conducted a funeral for a man who committed suicide. This man, Glen, was my friend. And he was a Christian.
Since the funeral, various people have asked for a copy of the message that I gave at the graveside. And it has occurred to me—and to Glen’s widow—that others might benefit from it, too.
So, to people suffering from suicidal thoughts, and to people suffering from the loss of a loved one by suicide, and to pastors who must present the truth with love in the face of such suffering—I offer this message of caution and comfort.
Dear people, we are gathered here today in tragic circumstances. And the only thing I can think to do is to deal with that tragedy head-on. The fact of Glen’s death is sorrow enough, but the manner of his death adds sorrow to sorrow.
As most of you would know, Glen was troubled by depression for various reasons for much of his life. In recent months his depression became quite severe, and although he sought the help of doctors and friends, he could not break free of it. Then last week he tried to break free by taking his own life.
What Glen did was wrong. Indeed, the sense of bewilderment and hurt that infects our grief today is testament to just how wrong it was. We must leave our deaths in the hands of the Lord who gave us our lives. Suicide is wrong. That needs to be said. But there are many other things that need to be said, too.
It needs to be said that sometimes a person—and a Christian person at that—can fall into such a dark place that he can see no light at all. How and why he fell is not the issue here. The issue is that a person can fall. Darkness veils Christ’s lovely face to such a degree that he loses all sense of Christ’s unchanging grace. And so he does a desperate thing.
It also needs to be said that suicide is not the deciding factor in a person’s salvation. A Christian who takes his own life will have something to answer for on that account, but he will not be cast out on that account. We are not saved by grace through faith … plus obedience. We are saved by grace through faith … plus nothing! “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13). And once a person has called and been saved, what can separate him from his Saviour? Can “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, no, never! “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38, 39). Dear people, we are saved not by our faithfulness to Jesus, but by his faithfulness to us.
It also needs to be said that a man is not saved by the strength of his faith, but by the fact of his faith. Glen, it seems, had many questions and many difficulties concerning the Christian life. But he did not doubt the truth of the gospel, the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead, so that whoever believes in him will be saved. Glen believed the gospel, and he called on the name of the Lord and was saved. You know, the stronger a man’s faith in God, the stronger his experience of God’s love: the weaker his faith, the weaker his experience. But irrespective of the strength or weakness of his faith and experience, the reality of God’s love for him is unaltered. Even if Glen’s faith was as small as a mustard seed, it was sufficient in Christ to move a mountain of sin from between him and his God.
And finally, it needs to be said that Jesus is very tender towards his people, and never more so than when they are suffering. Jesus knows that sometimes people—his people—can get so low that they can see no way out. He knows that sometimes people can feel such despair that they are moved to desperation. And he does not look on his people in these circumstances with anger and severity and condemnation, but with sympathy and kindness and yearning.
The Gospel of Matthew records how John the Baptist fell into despair after King Herod put him into prison. John felt so low that he began to doubt that Jesus really was the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world. He felt so low that he even sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NASB) This man who had spent his life making a straight path for Jesus now said to Jesus, “Are you the One? Are you really the Son of God and the Saviour of the world? Are you? Are you?” And the Bible tells us that after Jesus confirmed by miracles that he truly was the Expected One, he turned to the people around him and talked to them about John. And this is what he said: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” (11:11). Oh, don’t you see it? Just when John thought the worst thing he had ever thought about Jesus, Jesus said the best thing he had ever said about John.1Jesus was not angry with John. He did not rail against John because of his doubt and his despair. On the contrary, he loved John all the more!
Jesus will not, he simply will not, “break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick” (Matthew 12:20). He is very tender towards his people. And he is very tender towards Glen, as Glen now knows.
Dear people, I tell you these things in the name and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, that man of sorrows who was deeply acquainted with grief. Put your trust in him. Take your comfort from him. For
Jesus knows all about our struggles,
He will guide till the day is done
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus
No not one, no not one.2
1. The Rev Dr Allen Fleece, Principal of the ColumbiaBibleCollege, made a comment to this effect in a sermon that I heard on audio tape many years ago. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the particular message or the exact comment.
2. “There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus” by Johnson Oatman Jr.
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown 2003, 2013
Published by Life Ministries. Additional copies of this pamphlet are available from Life Ministries, Suite 4, 334 Wanneroo Road, Nollamara, Western Australia, 6061. Phone/fax: (08) 9344 7396Website: www.lifeministries.org.au