Robin Williams. Brilliant artist. Masterful comedian. Compassionate humanitarian. A man who lost hope.
For reasons we may not fully comprehend, Robin Williams was a man who was troubled to the point of ending his own life. It is not a subject I take lightly so I want to be careful not to sensationalize what has gripped the attention of the world. I also don’t want to minimize how deeply this has impacted survivors of this unfortunate tragedy.
Despite all the soul searching, I honestly cannot say I understand suicide. Nor do I pretend to. I’m not saying I don’t know what events that often lead to the thoughts of suicide. Most people can give typical reasons for why a person loses hope and eventually surrenders their life. The reasons can range from depression, alcohol and drug abuse, loneliness, bad relationships, failed marriages, loss of a job, and so on. For Mr. Williams, the apparent reason may have been due to Parkinson’s disease. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle that is the “one thing” that pushes a person over the edge.
It’s in times like this that people search for answers. Anything to explain how something like this can happen. For a man like Robin Williams whose life was so exposed to the world it seems unfathomable that there were no red flags that could have prevented this. It’s true that Williams had issues with alcohol and drug abuse. And then there was Parkinson’s. However he dealt with these demons, he never let on to those who really knew him how close he was to the edge. At least not that we’re aware of.
This is also a time when Christians often try to offer words of encouragement. Pastors, leaders, and Christian counselors typically point people to Scripture and offer theological advice. Words, though, seem so inadequate. Sometimes they can come across as cold and distant. I am certain that is not the intention of any Christian. It’s only that Christians understand a truth that is relevant to these discussions and that is Jesus is the Answer.
As a Christian, I understand that suicide is not the answer. Let me say this again because it’s worth repeating. Suicide is not the answer. I don’t say this to belittle anyone who has had thoughts toward this end. I say it because I myself have had periods of depression and thoughts of suicide. I struggle with these thoughts because of various reasons, but primarily because I feel inadequate. I’ve always felt this way I suppose, but I suppress the thoughts the majority of the time.
For example, I can remember the times I struggled growing up. I was an awkward child. I had a very difficult time making friends. With the friends I did have I typically found myself getting into trouble. My classmates teased and harassed me relentlessly. Teachers weren’t very much help back then either. I suspect many of them looked the other way. I wasn’t particularly bright as a child. I sometimes spoke clumsily and would trip over my own words. I wasn’t graceful physically either. I can’t tell you how many times I fell, broke a tooth, broke my glasses, ripped my jeans, or cut and bruised myself. Looking back, it’s amazing I survived my childhood.
It was because I was so awkward that I found myself lonely and depressed. It didn’t help that I got into trouble so much that my family didn’t know what to do with me. One relative wanted to send me to Boy’s Town. For those that don’t know what that is, it’s a place for at-risk children. I thought of it as juvenile detention. My family’s response was to move us out of town into a rental house several miles out in the country in an apparent move to separate me from the bad elements. It might have accomplished that to a degree but it might have aggravated the loneliness.
I tend to believe my adult life has been affected in some part by those events in my life. I longed for a relationship with the opposite sex but I had no clear understanding of what that looked like. It was through pornography that I thought would help me to understand sex, which in turn I believed would help me toward the desired result: to end the loneliness. Pornography, though, only made matters worse. Four marriages later and I’m still struggling with the idea of loneliness.
It was from divorce that I seriously thought about suicide. That was only one aspect of it though. Divorce brought about rejection, loneliness, inadequacy, and a myriad of other problems. I stopped eating, had trouble sleeping, lost 40 pounds within 2 weeks, and started smoking. I guess I began a cycle of destructive behavior.
At some point, God used one of my former wives to get my attention. She told me that she had recently been saved. I understood what that meant because my mom was a Christian and I went to church with her where the gospel message was preached. At one point I thought I had become a Christian because I said the “sinner’s prayer.” But unfortunately, I continued to live a life of sin. There was no transformation that took place. It wasn’t until my ex-wife told me that she gave her life to Jesus that I began to think about what I really needed. I inquired of a church nearby and began attending. It wasn’t immediate but eventually I cried out to God and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I’m not sure when it happened but over a period of time, perhaps months, I began seeing a change in my life and my attitude. I really did want Jesus as my Lord and I was asking Him to change my life. And He was.
Since becoming a Christian I still have had thoughts about ending my life. Sometimes I think along the lines of this not being my home. I’d much rather move on to heaven. But I have also realized that this is not a choice that God would be okay with. If I have asked Jesus to be my Lord, and I have, then I have to also realize He’s in control of my life and circumstances. The Bible says as much in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” God created me and gave me life. He also gets to decide when my time comes.
In writing this post, I’m not trying to give the impression that I know more than Christian Scholars and Theologians. In fact, I think there are several posts and articles written by others on this subject that are more noteworthy. This blog found at Bible Gateway gives a scripturally based response to depression. It’s worth noting that God doesn’t condemn anyone for his/her feelings, even depression. Can certain attitudes and behaviors, like anxiety, be wrong in God’s eyes? Sure. We may be self-absorbed or focused only on selfish wants and desires. But true feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression seems different. Certainly this is a multifaceted subject. There’s no one right answer because we’re all unique and we all have problems that are specific to our situations. One thing that I do see as a source of hope is God. He is the constant that we can rely on and He can be the anchor for our lives and our souls. One of the greatest needs in the life of someone who is contemplating his/her end is relationship. Human relationships may help in a temporal way. However, when God offers Himself to us we have access to a relationship that is much deeper, significant, and eternal.
In the same way, at Patheos there’s an article that backs up this idea of a relationship with God being the answer to man’s greatest need. Or as the author puts it, the Ultimate Christian Gift. The author emphasizes on what a relationship with God brings, and that’s unconditional love.
I agree with these writers that a relationship with God is a key element in combating these deep emotional issues. I say this in regards to those who are able to rationally think about the choices they are making. For the most part, that’s me. Though I can be an emotional wreck and believe that suicide would be a quick way out, I am also still able to rationally think about the choices before me. And I do. I think about God and what He would think about the choice I am about to make. Since God is my Creator, would He be okay with me circumventing His authority over my life by taking it myself?
The question, then, is what about those that do take their own life? Have they made the ultimate error and committed the unforgiveable sin? This is a complex issue and I’m probably not qualified to answer this. But in my limited understanding about God and Scripture, there’s a time when we become accountable for our choices and lives. For example, a baby is born into this world with a sin nature. If a baby dies without being able to accept Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior, does that mean the baby doesn’t go to heaven? There is a debate on this but I tend to follow John MacArthur’s logic on this issue. You’ll have to read it yourself to understand.
Now take this same argument and apply it to mental and emotional disabilities. My point being is that it’s possible that those who are not able to consciously make proper choices may not be held to the same level of accountability as someone with a sound mind and body. Let’s say a Christian develops Alzheimer’s. Obviously, this is a debilitating disease that leaves little doubt as to the ability of rational reason or thought. If this Christian somehow commits suicide, is he/she then in sin and unable to reconcile with God? Or should we not say this was a Christian at all if someone takes their own life because of Alzheimer’s?
Again, I point to the fact that this is a complex issue. We’re not always talking about people making rational decisions. Often, there are those that are going through deeply emotional and psychological issues. It would be naïve to think that these issues pertained only to nonbelievers. For certain, pain and sorrow and even illness are a part of life for the Christian as well.
People are sometimes diagnosed as clinically depressed. It’s a more severe form of depression. People are also diagnosed as having a wide range of mental and emotional disorders. With that being said, I’m not as certain to say that when a person is sick that he/she has the full mental capacity and clarity of choice. It’s possible this person could commit suicide. Believers and non-believers suffer alike, go through pain, and sometimes are not aware of the choices they are making. Can we say that one person was more fully aware of choice than another if there’s suicide? Maybe not. Does that somehow point to an obscure fact that this couldn’t have been a Christian? I don’t think so. In my estimation, only God is able to determine that.
What is clear to me is that suicide is a problem the church and the community must deal with together. Anyone who is fully aware of his/her choice, it needs to be crystal clear that suicide is not the answer. For a person struggling with this on a conscious level needs to realize that there is a God who loves him/her. For the Christian, the relationship with God and knowing His Holy Spirit resides in us ought to give us hope and strength. Relationship is such a strong, emotional anchor that grounds us to reality. How much more impactful is a relationship with the Creator of the universe?
For the unbeliever, hope may be fleeting. Where can one go? You may be able to muster the strength to make it through the drudgery of life. However, a greater bet is to place your security in the One who holds the balance of your life, body and soul, in His hands. What a great tragedy it is for anyone to go through life without knowing how much God loves and the extent to what He will go through for us. And for someone to end their life without that hope and the knowledge of that truth is what is truly tragic.