A Pastor’s Suicide
I have noticed in social media the sudden appearance of posts about pastors who commit suicide. These reports jolt me and unsettle me as I am sure they do others. This all came very close to home a month ago. A pastoral colleague, a friend, and all around good guy who was a husband and father, took his life. This was in an area of West Michigan near my former church. From what I understand, it was relentless and severe pain that surgery did not correct that prompted his decision. When a mutual friend told me about the suicide, I was shocked and then sickened. This was a person I had prayed with, laughed with, talked shop and theology with.
One thing I did not do was judge his decision or probe for morbid details. Each person we meet is a universe of being and we know so little of the far reaches of their souls or the black holes of their hurt and pain.
I recall a time in my own life in the midst of pastoring my former church when I felt suicidal. I wrote about it in the last chapter of my book Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ. Feeling trapped in life permeated with pain, whether physical, emotional, relational, or vocational, generates a deep yearning for “a way out.” Life can pile up like concrete slabs on our being and we begin to contemplate anything and everything to get free. I will never judge someone who chooses suicide because, as the old saw goes, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I remember when I was younger I would bloviate how suicide was selfish and beneath a Christian. I still hear clueless people say that kind of thing.“Indeed, Paul’s suffering was so severe that he saw no way out but death,” writes Scott J. Hafemann in the NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (64). A popular trend in the church is to sanitize suffering, making it a virtue or a requirement for healthy spirituality. You cannot find that in Paul’s writings. Human suffering in life is a given, a result of the Fall, and has no redeeming aspects in and of itself. God scoops up our suffering and works all things together for good. God does that, not us. I take some comfort in Paul’s honesty that he, too, along with his colleagues, “despaired even of life.” Some among us sink deeply into despair. In the deep recesses of their soul, some decide to end it all. Life is so much bigger than us. We are finite creatures with obvious limitations. Ain’t none of us super heroes.
What do we do when a Christian friend commits suicide? Grieve, don’t judge. Admit we know so very little of the person’s story. Affirm life even in the face of death, even self-death. Find some dirt and pick it up and rub it in your hands. Dust to dust. Deflate our egos and cast ourselves once again as frail human beings on the all-sufficient One, Jesus, our Savior. What is your life? A vapor. Pray that it will be a passing fragrance of Christ.