Mystery of Suicide

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I woke up this morning to hear the news that Kenny McKinley, former University of South Carolina, star football receiver had apparently taken his own life. Friends, former teammates, coaches, and fans are shocked. He was here at the USC-Georgia game two weeks ago. According to everyone, he seemed fine. Of course, he has been injury-plagued over the last two years with the Denver Broncos. There was no suicide note, no explanation. Other than his injury there was no thought that something like this would happen.

I have never experienced suicide in my own family, but as a pastor I have dealt with quite a few. Every time I was shocked. One was especially difficult. It was an older man who was beloved in the community. His wife had some very tough health issues and had to be moved to an assisted living community. Apparently, he couldn’t take it and took his own life. I have preached the funeral of a murder suicide, too, and there have been other tragic events in the churches that I served where someone took thier own life.

It is always hard for me as a pastor to know what to say in this situation. And I have often wondered why I didn’t pick up on some kind of signal that this might happen. I have felt the sting of the prophet Jeremiah’s words when he warns that we should not say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Yet, the presence of the Incarnate Christ who came to know our pain as the Man of Sorrows gives us hope, whether we can say the right words or not.

I try to think of God’s mercy like this: If human courts will acquit someone of murder because of insanity, then God’s mercy surely must prove more complete than that. I have known people so full of despair that they couldn’t see past their own hand much less their problems. In that moment of sheer pain and darkness they have done the unthinkable. I pray in God’s mercy that they are just as acquitted as we humans would absolve the temporarily insane.

It’s a mystery, and no easy answer is forthcoming. I’m reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29 again and again, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” What this means to me is that there are some things we can’t know or perceive and we must leave those unfathomable mysteries to God. Let’s stick to what we can know and about which we can do something.

I’m certainly not advocating suicide as an option to life’s dilemmas. Its pain and unresolved issues for families last generations. There is NOTHING beneficial that can come from doing such a thing, but I think God’s word to me this morning is to cut people who have committed suicide some slack, and open my eyes to the unseen hurts around me. A simple “Hey, How are you?” isn’t enough to delve into the human heart. If there’s anything at all to take from this it is to live more intentionally in community where we rub shoulders and look into one another’s faces and hearts. Facebook is a good thing but it cannot replace real community, face-to-face.

The Church is the best place for us to have deep relationships with one another. Small groups, Sunday School classes, mission projects, and other significant church activities put us side by side in an intimate setting where we can get to know the unseen pain of others. In our economically dark and terror-filled world, we need Jesus and He is most easily seen in one another. I hurt for the McKinley family and for any family that has faced such a tragedy. May they find peace among us, and help through us.

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