September is National Suicide Prevention Month. World Suicide Prevention Day is always on September 10. Its purpose is to remember those who have been affected by suicide, to raise awareness of the problem, and to focus efforts on prevention. This is more than a worthy effort; it is much needed. Most people have been touched in some way by the suicide of an acquaintance, co-worker, friend, or family member. Today I want to focus a few thoughts on those left behind, on those who desperately need some sort of solace to their deep lament.
The following is a funeral message I gave a few years ago, remembering the life of a young woman who took her life. In Betty’s case (I have changed her name) she had chronic health issues and endured multiple agonizing surgeries. When faced with the prospect of yet another surgery, she had enough. She left behind a loving and supportive family who, as you might imagine, was wracked with incredible grief. Here were, in part, my words to them:
“If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…. Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death, or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 38-39, CEB)
We are here today because of love – of love for Betty, and of God’s love for her and God’s love for all of us. It is because of love that we hurt so deeply. Death separates us, and because of death there is the feeling that a part of you is amputated. But the good news of the Christian scriptures is that death cannot separate us from God’s love.
Our confidence and assurance of faith and our ultimate destiny lies not in our actions, but in God’s purposes and actions in Christ. Nothing means nothing – not one thing can separate us from God’s love. The grace of God trumps everything, and because of Christ’s redemption through his cross, Betty belongs to God.
The nature of the Christian life is not a perfectly straight line of upward progression at all times, but is much more a three steps forward, two steps backward journey of faith and development. Those of you who knew Betty can attest to her wonderful times of sensitivity and growth, but also times of dark depression and difficulty with life and relationships. The truth about all of us is that in our strengths, there is also weakness. Betty was artistic, poetic, sensitive, fun-loving and compassionate. Yet, along with the wonderful expressions of deep and profound thought and faith, was also the hurting and haunting of depression and despondency, of introspection and struggle.
Yet, when all is said and done, life is really not about us, our strengths and weaknesses, our highs and lows, our confidence or doubt – life is about the power, the person, and the work of Jesus Christ, who in his death and resurrection, has taken care of all our sins – past, present, and future. God’s holy love has been forever satisfied in the cross of Christ. The declaration of the Apostle John in his first epistle, chapter 4 and verse 10 is true: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Betty’s sins are covered, not based in any work or doing of her own, but by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
The tragedy of Betty’s death is something we cannot explain or fully understand. Broken hearts are not healed by explanations – they are healed by the love and grace of God. Jesus Christ died and rose again so that you and I might receive God’s forgiveness, and experience God’s love – a love that seeks after us, saves us, keeps us no matter the circumstances, and unites us together. And I am confident that this love and grace from God is exactly what Betty wants you to know today.