The police ruled it a murder-suicide. Not like a “usual” one, though, where an agitated party murders a loved one, then turns the gun on themselves. Often sparked by an assumption of infidelity.
No, the perpetrator in this case felt aggrieved over something (does it really matter what?), so he went out and found a complete stranger to murder. Then, as the song says, “He turned his own cold hand.”
Unless you were the preacher at the funeral for the perpetrator of this heinous act. “He was a loving father,” said the preacher and “He’s in a better place now.” In case that were too ambiguous, the preacher went on to specify that the “better place” was heaven, in the arms of his (the perp’s) Lord.
It was just a few weeks after another troubled person in our town had taken her own life. A teenager with no known conflicts, no note left behind to explain things, decided death was better than life and brought about her own end one afternoon while everyone was out of the house.
At that funeral, too, the preacher—a different preacher from the other funeral—assured the audience that the dead girl was “in a better place.” You know what? Maybe she was. The Bible speaks of an unforgivable sin, but it’s not suicide. It’s the blasphemy (or rejection) of the Holy Spirit. Now, suicide might well be a sign of such a rejection. I tend to think that, most often, it is. That, for whatever reason or factors, a person has decided that their life is not worth living and—by inference—God has abandoned them.
I don’t believe God has abandoned them, but once a person gets to that point in their thought processes, turning the ship around is not an easy task. I also don’t think that suicide is an absolute guarantee that the person has rejected the overtures of God through his Holy Spirit. Maybe they just forgot for a time, or acted in haste. (Which, if that’s unforgivable then everything I have ever done because I momentarily forgot or got cocky is going to be held against me, too.) Maybe it’s the result of a chemical imbalance. That doesn’t make suicide right—and it certainly isn’t “right” for anyone left behind—and, more than anything, this is in the purview of God. But since he didn’t say, “Suicide is the unforgivable sin” I’m sure not going to say it is.
On the other hand, I have a hard time with declaring someone who has decided their gift from God wasn’t worth keeping as automatically sitting in his mansion. (Again, it’s not up to me, [praise God!] but) I think about the auditorium of high school kids at that second-mentioned funeral who came away with the idea that, if life sucks, just end it and let God take you to heaven. If that were the way it worked, why didn’t God tell us all to off ourselves as soon as we came up out of the baptismal waters?
Now, I have great sympathy for those preachers. They were asked to preside over a funeral—which is an event for the living; specifically, the family—and bring comfort at a time when comfort seems impossible. The family is already sitting there wondering, “What signs did I miss? Is there something I could have done?” Still, to tell everyone that everything’s fine, now, doesn’t seem like the path of honesty, either.
Not too long after these two events, a car filled with teenagers caught our attention. An inexperienced driver, with a car full of hung-over, under-aged drinkers, plunged to the death of everyone inside. Horrible, horrible, thing. Lives lost, other lives shattered. But once again, we were told they were all in a better place. In this case, because they had all attended church while children. No one in the car had been in church in some time, there was no visible fruit of living for God in their lives, but because they once attended Sunday School without actively setting fire to the sacraments, they’re in heaven.
We don’t want to think bad of the dead, and there’s probably no way I can honestly end this blog without coming out harsh to modern sensibilities … but what if all or some of the people from the above-mentioned incidences are not in a better place? There’s nothing we can do about it now—for their sakes, anyway—but what about ours? I firmly believe in grace as an undeserved and unearnable gift, but what if how we live after having received grace—what if the fruit we produce, as Jesus put it—really does matter? What if life—even a hard life—is a gift from God that shouldn’t be thrown away?