Four years ago Rick Warren’s son, Matthew ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot. Rick Warren is author of one of the bestselling books of all time, The Purpose Driven Life, with more than twenty-million copies sold world-wide. Rick and his wife, Kay, have been open about their grief and the long struggle with their son’s mental illness that led up to his suicide. Warren’s church described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many. Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”
Virtually every family has been touched, directly or indirectly, by suicide and its painful aftermath. According to the World Health Organization, almost one million people die of suicide world-wide each year, a rate of 16 per 100,000, up 60% over the last 45 years. It is among the top three causes of death for those ages 15-44 and the leading cause of death for those ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die by suicide each year than by AIDS, birth defects, heart disease, cancer and influenza combined. Placed in historic context, we may well be experiencing a global suicide epidemic.
Researches have dubbed Montana, Alaska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Colorado the suicide belt because of their high rates of suicide. Suicide’s social stigma coupled with fear, embarrassment, grief and spiritual misunderstanding may contribute to our inability to address helpful solutions. But, increasingly, churches are seeking ways to help people who wrestle with this deadly emotional illness.
Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, lost his 32-year-old daughter to suicide in 2009. His book, Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, was published in 2013. He writes, “Did you ever wonder where God was when you sat up at night asking questions that had no solvable answers? Did you ever doubt His love and goodness? Did you feel abandoned by Him? Deserted? Alone?
“I understand if you did. I understand if you still do. Suicide is not a situation that lends itself to casual conversations with God. It hurts. And more than that, it seems as though He could have prevented it all if He'd wanted to. At those times when the loss seems the most impossible to bear, at times when you can't believe what your child is doing or has done to themselves, it can feel like God is nowhere this side of heaven to offer all that comfort His Word so confidently promises.
“But I can tell you by the testimony of Scripture, He is strong enough to weather our hot accusations against Him, patient enough to withstand our desire to seek distance from Him (though such a thing is, of course, theologically impossible), and compassionate enough to feel emotion at the deep, hollow anguish that can often stand between us and our tottering faith.”
Whenever we feel despair, we can trust that there is yet hope and a future. The Psalmist writes, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. ... Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night.” (Psalm 42).