My friend took his life two weeks ago.
When I read the news, I felt as if I was standing on a shifting fault line. My stomach ignited and sent its flaming fingers up my chest and grabbed hold of my throat, choking each attempted breath. These reactions racked my body as I tried to come to grips with this newly found truth I wish I could un-know. But that was the easy part. This blazing physical disturbance gave way to a slower but hotter mental burn that consisted of 1,000 questions that shot off like branches from one central question: Why?
Why is my friend dead?
Let me make clear that in this post I am not seeking to give answers. Tragedy often makes us claw desperately at answers that we hope will return us to some sense of stability. It is uncomfortable to ask a question in our grief and stay in a state of asking. So when we are scrambling for answers that will restore us to a world that makes sense again we often devour the first plausible explanation or the one that we think most fits with our previous understanding and theology. We take hold of whatever path we believe will lead us out of the unstable confusion and then begin to run with it.
The problem with this is that if you try to run before you regain your footing you are either going to fall with more drastic consequences or you will run in the wrong direction. We have to steady the ground, make sure we are asking the right questions, and examine the answers that are most consistent with God’s authoritative revelation before we begin to run. This process, especially in the particularly tragic, does not happen in hours or days. Probably not even weeks. I am still in the stage of making sure I am asking the right questions and evaluating the issues at hand.
All of my questions about why seem to center on this main question:
Was my friend’s suicide a sinful decision or the result of an improperly functioning brain?
It is undeniable that sin and its effects led to this suicide. But in what way? Was it culpable sin in my friend’s heart that should have been repented of or was it the noetic effects of the fall from which he suffered passively? Was this the culmination of sinful choices or was his depression a condition little different than cancer that was attacking him?
Or if we cannot assign such binary causation and it is rather a mixture, is one dominant? Are we biologically vulnerable to depression but we are nevertheless able to combat it through obedience to biblical commands? Or are some people captive to their fallen minds and no amount of obedience without medicinal intervention can overcome it? Should the indignation be aimed at him for his refusal to adopt the mind of Christ or should it, like Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, be aimed at the grief that comes from inevitable death and suffering in a fallen world?
What adds to the perplexity of this question is the finality of suicide. We are unable to discern his definite frame of mind at the moment his thought moved to action. Was it a settled state of mind that was hardened and finally acted upon or was it a temporary lapse into selfishness that did not characterize his heart? Had he survived, would he have immediately repented and denounced the thoughts?
Did my friend take his life because of sin or biology? Is he culpable or a victim? This is the question I find myself wrestling with as I try to process this tragedy. The waves of question marks continue to pour over my head.
A Rock in the Confusion
But we are not left to these waves unheld by a gracious, sovereign hand. While these questions rage and answers remain unclear there is a rock we can use to steady ourselves: God himself. God always does what is right. No one who belongs to God will be finally lost. We can cling to the character of God. Running to the character of God is always, always the right course. Clinging to God often involves maintaining our questions. I may know who God is even if I don’t understand how he works.