My son, My son: On the Death of a Child

The Warren family lost a son.

I wish there was something I could do to comfort them, but cannot form any helpful words. Should I reach out? I wonder if it is appropriate for me to write publicly about their private pain, until I see that this pain has become public.

They have no need for any wisdom from me and I would not insult grief by pretending a parent can be talked out of the pain of losing a child to suicide.

Their pain is their pain and nobody can relate to it whatever our own experiences might be. Pain and difficulty incarnate themselves in a person’s life in unique ways. The sins, problems, and the start of the pain are the same for us all, part of our common humanity, but then suffering works itself into the crevices, folds, and wrinkles we have made in our particular lives.

The hurts are similar, but it is the particular pain that is so difficult. General advice is worse than useless at such times. It helps with the general pain, but not the real ache that no man can touch, because the man suffering it cannot reach that place and the rest of us cannot find it.

Or so I have found it.

To lose a child . . . I cry with David: “my son, my son.” I would die rather than see any of my children die, but that is not a choice most of us ever get. Life is too severe for that simple mercy. My Dad knew. He would have done anything to help me, but in my worst days had to give me to God.

I have been so depressed that I thought about taking my own life in my early twenties and my own family, including my wife, struggles with a depression that has a biological root. Some of my Christian friends cannot understand this fact, because they think all such problems have a spiritual solution. Some such problems do, mine often does, but others do not: my wife’s does not.

Spiritual problems require spiritual cures and depression is not always a spiritual problem.
All human problems are in a deep sense of the result of the break between God and humanity that came because of sin, but sin works on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. We don’t go to the medical doctor to confess our spiritual failings, but this implies we shouldn’t go to our pastor to deal with biological problems.

Some depression has a physical cause, other depression is the result of mental choices, and other sorrows have sinful choices we have made as their cause.

Why doesn’t God just heal? He does heal, but slowly. Why? God loves each person so much He does not root all that is wrong immediately. If He did, then the structure of our being; body, soul, and spirit, would collapse. We would be mere rubble. Instead, he invites us to be transformed by renewal.

Our physical renewal begins in aging, moves through death, into life. We can, justly, put of this process, but not stop it, because the problems in our physical nature run too deep for superficial cures.

The same applies to our minds and souls. We can be saved, and once saved our healing can begin, but only begin. The problem is too deep for quick cures. You can “pray away” the problems, but only over long periods of time and with great suffering. The final cure, the severe mercy to heal our broken state, is death. We are judged by Christ’s merits, die with Him, and then come to new life.

This side of the eternal City of God nobody will be free of physical, spiritual, or mental pain. The good news is that progress is possible, we can become more like ourselves because God helps us become more like Jesus, the only human who is not at all broken.

We tried to break Him, but He endured!

This is why my immediate reaction to this death was so flawed. The Warren family used all the tools God has given us to help their son: medicine, Faith, and psychiatry. Nothing worked . . . or is that a presumption on my part.

The outcome was horrible, but even that broken moment can be healed in Paradise. The crooked will all be made straight. The rough places smooth.

Why didn’t Christianity help this young man? For all I know it did. It prepared him for the City of God. Why didn’t science help this young man? For all I know it did. It helped him to work out his salvation as long as he could. Why didn’t psychology help? For all I know it did.

We work until the night comes and then we cease from our labor. This is so true, that at some points in my life I wondered if I could go on. I did go on, because it was right to do so as long as I could, because however painful the healing had to continue.

The healing process will not end with my death anyway, if Christian teaching is to be believed, but will continue. (See C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce.) If I can choose, then I must leave the healing in the hands of the Great Physician or risk spoiling His sure cure.

Progress, small as it may seem, I do see, but not always. My spiritual nearsightedness will not allow it.

Some people are so broken that in the end they cannot choose for themselves. They did not kill themselves, their disease, mental, physical, or emotional, kills them.

I don’t know what was true about the Warren son . . . but I know he had good and decent parents who loved him. This young man professed faith in a God that loves all his prodigal children. Nobody dies in sinless perfection, but we can die in having been made right with God . . . and in the process of perfection.

And someday, some Final Day, we will be fully changed, glorified, and begin the eternal process of changing into our full humanity untied with the Divine. Meanwhile, I pray for the Warrens and for their son. May his soul and that the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

Hosanna! Maranatha!

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  • bookmimi

    AMEN and thank you, John Mark. I join you in praying for the Warrens. For their son I pray, “May Light perpetual shine upon him”! Charles Williams’ terrifying and wonderful DESCENT INTO HELL brings me comfort today. I hope that, like the suicide in his story, those who take (or lose) their lives in a state of intense, overpowering despair will be drawn to the Light shining from the City of God and will walk toward it. I pray that he will find true rest, complete healing and everlasting joy in the presence of that One who creates, redeems and perfectly loves each of us!

  • MaryLouiseC

    I was on the Christian Post website and I couldn’t believe the shots atheists were taking at God and Christians regarding this young man’s suicide. A person truly has to be filled with hate and anger to use a tragedy like this to vent their spleen. That’s why I appreciate this blog that is full of compassion and sensitivity that honours God and speaks kindness to a family that must be reeling in the wake of their loss. Thank you for writing it.

  • There was an excellent prescription for churches on this topic at Internet Monk