Rick Warren’s Horrific Tragedy & The Sickening Response of Some “Christians”

Rick Warren’s Horrific Tragedy & The Sickening Response of Some “Christians” April 9, 2013

Now is a good time to go back and re-read Warning: The World is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another.

Why do so many people not want to have anything to do with Jesus? It’s because of the cruel, harsh, self-righteous, and judgmental attitude that some professing “Christians” level against their fellow believers.

“Why would I want to be part of that bunch!?” . . . is the common response by so many non-Christians today.

Yesterday, I got the sad news that Rick Warren’s youngest son committed suicide. Here’s a short explanation with quotes from Rick himself.

The 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren has taken his own life after a lifelong struggle with mental illness. The internationally known Christian leader at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, made the announcement about his son early Saturday morning in an email sent to his staff.

“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today,” wrote Warren.

“Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us,” began the staff email from him.

Warren described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man,” as those who grew up with him would also say.

“He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them,” he continued. “But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”

Warren said that he and his wife often marveled at Matthew’s courage “to keep moving in spite of relentless pain.”

“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’ but he kept going for another decade,” he wrote.

If you are a Christian and your heart doesn’t go out to this brother and his family, something is wrong with you spiritually.

I don’t care what you think about Warren’s theology, his books, or how he combs his hair. The fact is, he lost a child. Few things can be more painful and nightmarish in this life.

To add insult to injury, just take a look at some of the comments by fellow “Christians” (professing ones at least) to the news. These are comments that were left on various Christian news websites under the Warren article:

Train up your children in the way, live a godly example with right priorities, care enough to home-school despite the great sacrifice involved, don’t let them date unchaperoned, have daily family devotions, turn off the 1-eyed idiot, TRULY HAVE A PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, and your children WILL NOT COMMIT SUICIDE, nor will they be involved in homosexuality, nor fornication.

He killed himself, it’s much worse than fornication or homosexuality or Onanism or eating pork. He denied himself a chance to get better. If your kids need a chaperone to date, why do you let them date? They shouldn’t be dating if they are not mature enough to control themselves.

Suicide happens soon after your stupid enough to read “The Purpose Driven Life”.

Poor Matthew denies God’s Love with suicide.

He could not save his own because Mr. Warren does not truly understand how his own heart works, how it is broken and the mechanism by which Jesus laid out the example of how to fix it. Matthew killed himself because he did not understand either. He was a victim of his own ignorance and the ignorance of his family, friends, society and Christians around him — presently!

Sisters and Brothers, we have not so learned Jesus Christ!

There were more comments like these, unfortunately. And they made me want to vomit.

“If Christians cannot extend grace through faithful presence within the body of believers, they will not be able to extend grace to those outside.”

~ James Davison Hunter

I remember reading a book by Watchman Nee in my youth. In it, Nee made the remark that he observed a certain pattern throughout his life. Every time someone judged another person harshly for a mistake they made or because of something that went wrong in their lives, sometime later, the person who made those harsh judgments had something far worse happen to them.

Having been a Christian for over 30 years now, I’ve observed the same pattern.

Consequently, I fear for those who made these deplorable remarks. The Scriptures clearly teach that how we treat others is how the Lord will treat us. And if we have the knife out for one of His children, we will eventually end up falling on it ourselves.

Paul said you will reap what you sow. That’s written in the heavens.

So be very, very careful how you respond to someone else’s tragedy, mistakes, pain, or loss.

I read the New Testament once and Jesus taught that the entire Law and the Prophets is fulfilled in this one statement: Treat others the way you want to be treated in every circumstance.

Ergo, how would YOU want to be treated if you lost a child?

How we respond to bad things that happen to others (be they tragedies, failures, or pain) is a barometer that reveals how well we know our Lord. In fact, there may be no greater test.

I could say much more about this particular issue. And I have elsewhere (see Haters Gonna Hate: How to Deal with Haters).

Let’s keep the Warren family in our prayers and in our thoughts.

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  • Mary

    Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with you 100%.

  • Gabby

    May God hold Rick and his family in his arms while they go through this say time in their lives.

  • lew

    My heart does go out to the Warren family and friends, and brothers and sisters who know them. I wouldn’t want this on anyone. My prayers go out to his family.

    That being said.. there is NO way to know whether any posts you listed are from Christians except for the first one. Even at that you really don’t know unless you can read the mind of this person, or they’ve stated so themselves.

    The other posts seem to be from snide non-christians posting snide remarks about O.T. laws and such.

    I’d be a little on the slow side to attribute every comment on this to christians.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Sadly, I am not surprised. But comments against a man who lost a son is still pretty low. Lots of people call themselves christians but they could care less about studying the Bible or even believing in Jesus as the Son of God. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says that in the last days, people will be without natural affection and will be haughty. They don’t have the fruits of the Spirit because they don’t spend time with Him who is the source. The fruits of the Spirit are love and peace, not hatred. The unbelievable comments against Mr. Warren only prove that. John 13:34, 35 prove the standard by which we can know true Christians. In fact, false Christians have persecuted true Christians for centuries: John 16:2 that there are people inside Christianity who think they are Christians and they will persecute true believers. But Matthew 7: 21 says that the haters masquerading as Christianity will get their just deserts. God will repay. Jesus was the Son of God and he said he was meek in Matthew 11:29. Those unmeek people should be ashamed of themselves.

  • You are not alone in your feelings. Thank you for being brave enough to be honest!

  • Alexis Johnson

    So many call themselves Christians that’s easy……Jesus says you WILL know MY people for LOVE that
    they bare. The religious folks condemn everyone but their SELF RIGHTEOUS SELF. True LOVE is unconditional and a TRUE BELIEVER examine self first not others……We shouldn’t be surprise when we see or hear things of such matters…….The wolves that are have stolen the sheep clothing WILL and CAN NOT live like a SHEEP…..they will be expose……lovers of themselves…….EXPOSE…..

  • What a beautiful response!

  • It is as simple as “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn”. To turn this sad and grievous occasion into an opportunity for venomous judgmentalism says everything about those who mouth such idiocy and nothing about those it is directed at. I choose to mourn with the mourners on this very sad occasion.

  • Holly

    I have struggled for years with depression; I was molested as a child by my maternal grandfather. I was gloriously saved at the age of 13. I KNOW Christ personally and intimately. We have a very unorthodox relationship – but it’s close and personal. I think ALL Christians want this…and it is attainable. NOW, does this mean that I have NEVER suffered since? NO! I still suffer; I still have bad seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, etc. As I look at Matthew I KNOW FOR A FACT – there but for the grace of God at this MOMENT in time, goes I.

  • Carla Oliveira

    people that would comments like that are not true Christians. We are taught as Christians not to Judge and to speaks words that lift eachother up not tear eachother apart. God is love and without love you are nothing. We are called to support one another and give eachother hope regardless of what this world throws at us. If we can’t love those in the church then how can we fulfill Gods plan to win souls. My heart goes out to the Warren family. Pr Rick, don’t ever let ANYONE break your faith in God. Hold your head up knowing that you did everything humanly possible to help your son. Things don’t always work out the way we want it to but trust that God will always hold you in the palm of His hand. May God give your family the peace and comfort that you need at this time. You have sown your life into the lives of others and now its our turn to return that love that you have shown God’s people. God Bless You

  • Doc Mike

    The struggle for me is to not feel superior and more righteous than those people who made such irresponsible comments. Otherwise, I’m no better than they are.

  • Frank Viola

    The virtiol goes way beyond this justification, I think. In addition, I don’t see anything in Rick’s message that presents or promises a perfect life void of suffering. He actually talks quite a bit about suffering and pain in his tweets.

  • Translation:
    Perhaps these type of responses have a deeper element. I wonder if there is a way of interpreting the Purpose Driven movement in such a way that it communicates a perfect life without suffering or pain, even to the point where the Cross is forgotten.

    Perhaps these types of responses are a rejection of such an interpretation. Perhaps the true purpose of life is centered around the way of the cross.

    Unfortunately, real people get hurt in bad theology. But then, perhaps that same woundedness is an important part of the salvation story.

  • Charlie Day

    Mensa guy? What did you mean to say in English? Pompous at best….

  • This is not the time to criticize theology or preaching…or anything. This is a time of compassion and prayers for a family that has lost their son.

  • JSL

    Very well stated. Frank. I am not certain how Christians become so locked into a scaffolding of doctrine (even correct doctrine), and so locked into the mentality of their particular Evangelical subculture that the heart of the Christian faith is totally and completely missed (or disregarded) in a moment like this. I have never been a huge fan of Warren’s work, but the idea of passing judgment over the quality of his son’s faith or Warren’s quality as a parent simply never crossed my mind. I stand astonished that it has not only crossed the mind of some professing Christians, but has actually found public expression in some cases. What part of “mercy triumphs over judgment” do we not understand in moments like these? Are we assigned, as “vessels of clay holding heavenly treasure,” to bring compassion and healing to the torn? Or is the anointing we bear to the suffering that of sharp-tongued, presumptuous, self-righteous, blame-laying correction? It is not just surprising to hear about some of these responses. It is grievously disturbing. I left the institutional church close to a year ago. My intention was to find a place where Christ was more clearly and simply expressed than I’d been experiencing. However, the longer I remain outside the institutional church, the more many of the illusions of stock Evangelicalism evaporated. My original intention to return to it has all but completely disappeared. It is in moments like these that any questions of whether or not I have made the right decision also all but disappear. I want to spend eternity with Christ, but I am not sure I want to spend another split-second in “Churchianity.”

  • Tim W

    Only God can judge and He will do it on His own time. As Christians, we should pray for comfort and peace for Pastor Warren, his family, and his congregation.

  • Brian Pendell

    One additional comment: I certainly agree with the author of the piece that, as far as the evangelical church goes, “sensitivity” and “emotional intelligence” are not words that spring quickly to mind. In the churches I was brought up in, Bible education was prevalent but there was very little to speak to the heart of the believer, the emotional center. To the contrary, the overwhelming emotion I remember from childhood is negative — angry old men in suits declaring God’s judgement on a sinful world.

    If that’s what we train people in in church, it shouldn’t surprise us that what comes out is rude , arrogant people who “speak the truth” in the cruelest and most vicious way possible. It is, after all, what they have learned “love” is.

    I crave emotional support and acceptance . I also crave thinking instead of pat answers to be spat out whenever someone pushes the right button. I haven’t seen much of either in church. I can only try to provide it myself. Maybe I can start by praying for Rick Warren and his family in this difficult time. And think before I speak.

  • Brian Pendell

    I personally am not proud of my reaction to this tragedy. But I think my reaction wasn’t so much to Rick Warren as to the marketing machine around him.

    Y’see, in a previous church we had purpose-driven life stuff everywhere. It was marketed as The Answer To All Life’s Problems. I had to grind my teeth through months of Saddleback propaganda at the hands of well meaning Christians until I at last found another church.

    So I find in my heart two distinctly different reactions: One is to the Purpose-Driven Life Juggernaut and it’s attendant marketing. I see that it is revealed as not being the Ultimate Answer as was marketed to me again and again, to my great resentment, and I feel a certain degree of satisfaction at that.

    But that has nothing whatsoever to do with Rick Warren the man. Rick Warren the flawed believer. Rick Warren the man who strives with all his heart and soul to serve his savior. Rick Warren the man who loved his son and did the best he knew for him.

    For Rick Warren the man, I can feel nothing but sympathy and pity. We have both suffered the loss of our children, and we must both account to God for our deeds. So we’re not enemies, but brothers. Both in faith, and in suffering.

    The sad thing is I don’t have much to do with Rick Warren the man. I’ve never met him. Most of my encounters with “him” have been with well-meaning church people who insist I get on board this program or that program or attend this seminar or sign up for this good work. And yet I feel guilty for telling these people no because I’ve got that internal religious programming that tells me religious people are good people.

    So when I find some sign that maybe I wasn’t wrong to ignore the propaganda despite the strong insistence of fellow believers that I do so, I cannot pretend this makes me feel sad.

    Where to go with this? I suppose it’s just an artifact of the world that I can be tempted to hate a man I’ve never met, despite the fact that he’s a fellow sufferer like me, that he has griefs like me, and that he loves God no less than I. Probably more.

    I guess all I can do is resolve to be good to my fellow sufferers no matter how stupid and twisted the world gets.

    So God bless Rick Warren, flawed man and fellow believer. May the Holy Spirit be the comforter to him and his family as Jesus promised.

  • I lost my son in the same way as the Warrens. As a pastor and Christian leader I experienced much of the same. To this day I keep aspects of my private life private for fear of the brethren. We have lost sight of the way of Jesus.

  • Brian P.

    I wonder if this has deeper subconscious elements. I wonder if there’s an interpretation of purpose drivenness that receives a utopian interpretation, that through a Christian life there’s a idyllic perfection, perhaps even that the Cross itself gets bypassed.

    Perhaps this is a rejection of that untenable conceptualization. Perhaps the drive of the purpose is ever so cruciform in its Nature.

    Unfortunately real people get hurt in bad theology. But yet, perhaps that’s elemental to the salvific narrative itself.

  • Amy

    The bottom line is….a young life has been lost, a family is in grieving, and sad truth is all of us have been judgmental at some point in our lives with another. Frank, your comment that reminds all of us that mental illness IS physical illness is spot on! I pray for this young man, his family and his friends that they may feel the ultimate comforter. I also pray for the hurting souls out there who find it so easy to judge, seems like they need prayers as much if not in some ways more than this young mans family. Jesus didnt judge……He loved the hurting…..it’s as simple as that, and I know without a doubt this young man has finally found a place free of pain.

  • Kara

    My heart breaks for Pastor Rick Warren! Pain of loss by suicide is unfathomable. People respond out of fear and ignorance to the pain, the struggle, even the Word of God. So often throughout scripture, the agony of grief is poured out onto the page. I find such comfort and release in the pages of scripture.

  • Julio

    It’s our failure to see Christ’s worth in and as the members of His body that often makes us seem so unworthy to represent Him.

  • I hope the Warrens will simply pay no attention to the hurtful comments. If ever people needed to take to heart “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” it’s in such situations. Our ability to judge cause and effect on this earth is so very limited. It is a dead work inside of US, to go around presuming to judge what has happened to others.

    One thing I will say: comments sections on the web allow a lot of things to be said that people would think better of in other circumstances. Most of us never get to the point where we have NO judgmental impulses inside us. The discipline of not judging is exactly that: a discipline. Like loving our enemies, it takes time and the help of the Holy Spirit to get good at it.

    Only God knows what has happened to Matthew — and that means none of us knows, and all God’s promises are still true. I suspect the Warrens, who were closest to him, have some level of certainty in their hearts. May they be overwhelmend with God’s love, and find peace and strength at this time of sorrow.

  • Frank Viola

    A complete and total misrepresentation of Rick’s views, to boot.

  • Rob Reardon

    I wish I could say that those ugly comments surprised me. Unfortunately, we are far too quick to kick each other while we are hurting. Oh, for the church to take seriously Paul’s admonition to comfort others with the comfort we’ve received from God – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

  • Over at CNS News today, I tried to talk down an individual who thought that the tragedy might be the result of “how Rick praised the Muslim “Jesus”, who is “Issa”, (not same as Jesus Christ) at o’bama’s first inauguration? Rick is not a real Christian and THAT probably confused his kid to the point of suicide!”

    I should know better than to read twitter or news site comments when someone passes away. It’s hard NOT to be angry when I see things like that.

  • Frank Viola

    Thanks for the comment, Ivan. Just so you know, a person doesn’t have to believe in a conscious hell to be self-righteous and judgmental. Unfortunately, this attitude is prevalent among all kinds of doctrinal camps.

  • Frank, your post is right on at so many levels. It does not matter what we think of another Christian when it comes to a tragedy such as this. When any member of the body hurts we all hurt. Also our behavior towards other Christians has lost us the right to be heard by the watching world. Father forgive us.

  • It is tragic to lose a child but in such sad circumstances must make it even harder to bear. My heart goes out to this family and like you I am sickened by the ugly responses from those who profess to be Christians. I pray that Our Lord will uphold Rick and his family in His loving arms and bring them through this terrible grief they must be feeling. God bless them and thank you Frank for the gifts you bring to the Body of Christ I have been greatly inspired and encouraged by your books.

  • Maureen Kersley

    It is tragic that you lose a child in such terrible circumstances but then to read the ugly posts from such so called Christians must add an unbearable burden to the pain the family must be feeling. My heart goes out to them in prayer that our God of such consolation will comfort them and be all to them that is contained in His great and precious promises. Thank you Frank for your response and bless you for all your gifts that you bring to the Body of Christ. I have been greatly inspired and encouraged by your books.

  • Susan Lavoie

    Jesus Christ was moved with compassion toward those in need, then how could anyone who claims to follow Him be devoid of compassion toward Rick and his family during their time of grief and pain?
    Isn’t that called oxy”moron”ic behavior? May the LORD wake people up to His compassion and righteousness, before they have to suffer an unexplained loss and be surrounded by Job’s comforters.

  • Catherine Collie

    Thank you Frank for these thoughts. It is truly awful when someone loses a child to suicide. Our church went through this last year as a family in our congregation lost their child to suicide. It is shocking and numbing at the same time. I thank God for the wisdom of our leaders who had us grieve together and pray together.
    The family of God truly needs one another and we are called to weep with those who weep. So may the Body of Christ lift up the Warren family during this time of pain and grief. May they find the support through this time.

  • These cruel, insensitive and judgmental comments are the fruit of a deeply entrenched church-fostered doctrine, i.e., eternal conscious torture — hell. Human beings will always act out and speak out what they believe to be true. It’s virtually impossible to empathize with those who are hurting when one’s own spirit is filled with an expectation of God’s anger and eternal punishment upon those who fail to live up to the standards of the Law. They have yet to learn that since Christ came we’re no longer under law but under grace.

  • Warrens

    Only Father, Son & Spirit can sooth the pain, we know – our oldest is with Jesus too. Your situation was used by Father in our hearts and mind.

    My first thought was how tragic that he would end his life – then came the soothing touch – He didn’t end his life he simply chose to depart his tent

    It has been over twenty years that our Jeremy departed his tent and yet it seems jest last week. The hurt demishes but the missing stays.

    We will continue to speak to OUR Father on your behalf –

    Terr & Carol – Fellow Pilgrims along “THE WAY”

  • A THOUSAND Amens!

  • Double V

    May God have mercy on us, the North American Christians! We are blessed, if we do what Jesus taught us, to love and serve one another. But if we don’t…what will a parent do to a disobedient children??

  • Steve K.

    Thanks for sharing this thought to the masses. Hopefully, more will see the love poured out for Rick and his family by the Church rather than the judgement and hate, though regrettably, I fear the press will be weighted far more towards the hate. Love conquers all.

  • It grieves me (pricks my heart) when I hear people make cruel thoughtless comments against others. Especially, when those comments come from the mouth of a person who has stated they are a follower of Jesus Christ. I will not contemplate about the fate of others who say these venomous words, I’ll let the Lord handle it, and I will rest in Him.