To a friend whose brother took his own life
This letter was written to a friend. Names have been changed to safeguard identity.
It is hard to believe that you have lived at the retirement home for nearly two years. When I look back upon the timing of your move just before COVID turned things upside down, I can see the hand of the Lord working for your well-being. Nevertheless, these past two years have been without our weekly dinner and Bible study that had been such a blessing. I am thankful that we can visit in-person and look forward to when masks will not be necessary.
One topic is ever present in our visits – Bill. How could he not be ever in mind for you and your family? The death of a loved one is always painful, leaving a void that cannot be filled. That pain is exponentially greater in the case of Bill because his death came at his own hands.
For one, that can prompt a lot of self-scrutiny. Why didn’t I see this coming? If I had been more diligent in reaching out to him then this may not have happened. Bill is my little brother and I have always looked out for him; why didn’t I get it right this time? These are haunting questions that are driven by your love for Bill. Yet don’t let your love for him delude you. His actions were his own, not yours. You do not bear responsibility for what he has done. Yes, you miss him and mourn him, but do not take responsibility for his sin.
And that is just the thing – Bill sinned when he took his life. Part of our desire to take responsibility in such circumstances is a defense mechanism. We want to minimize what he did for various reasons. We do it in a vain attempt to minimize our anger. Bill not only sinned against God; he sinned against you. Acknowledge that he sinned against you by taking his life. Don’t minimize his sin. When sin is visited upon us – especially when it is visited upon us by those we love – anger is natural. But it is not where Christ leaves you. We don’t excuse sin; we don’t minimize sin. We forgive sin for the sake of Christ and so anger is taken from us. Forgive Bill. His sin visited upon you is washed away by Christ. Through forgiveness, Christ delivers you from anger into peace.
And what of Bill’s sin against Christ? Is suicide forgivable? There are some who view suicide as unforgivable because there is no opportunity for repentance. A chief trouble with that view is that it is focused on the person which is where there is always doubt. I can think of countless ways in which I could die while sinning and not have opportunity to repent. But confidence is not bound up in what I can do or what I fail to do. Confidence is bound up in Christ. Bill was baptized into Christ. And with that baptism comes the promises of God.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8)
“No one can snatch them from My hand.” (John 10)
Even suicide is powerless before Christ.
You likely have read Luther’s own reflections on suicide in his table talk. “I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil.” And God’s grace in Christ is greater than the devil. “The gates of hell shall not overcome My Church” (Matthew 16).
Entrust Bill to Christ. Entrust yourself to Christ. In His hands are grace and peace.
Yours in Christ,
Jon February 7, 2022
This post is very helpful for a number of reasons. One that I appreciate in this letter is the distinction of “sin visited upon” those who are left grappling with the meaning of a suicide. This is not language we use often in our circles, not because it is wrong or problematic, but rather we consider sin in terms of omission and commission, what I’ve done or left undone. But there are plenty of suicides where they aren’t a sin because of what we have done or haven’t done, although that is certainly possibly. Maybe something worth exploring for pastors and lay people alike.
Thank you for writing this. Peace in Christ.