"What happens to people who kill themselves?"
"Do Christians automatically go to hell if they take their own life?"
"Is suicide the unpardonable sin?"
"Suicide is caused by depression, a disease, so people aren't responsible, correct?"
"Aren't sensitive subjects like this best left to medical-health professionals?"
"The term 'suicide' isn't in the Bible, so who are we to judge?"
For years I spoke on college campuses using the theme, "What Lies Beyond?" Interest in the subject then as today remains consistently high. Movies and books on the afterlife, paranormal and the unseen realm pique the interest of millions of all ages.
The movie Heaven Is for Real, based on a book of the same title, was a blockbuster in spite of controversial assurance given a mother in the film regarding her deceased son.
The fall TV season opens with ABC's Forever, about a doctor who is immortal. Another is Intruders, about a secret society devoted to finding immortality.
The popular Mentalist series concluded an episode with a psychic conveying comforting words from his murdered wife and daughter.
And, of course, there has been an almost nonstop stream of understandable, well-intentioned tributes and comments springing from the tragic death of Robin Williams.
"By now, no doubt, Robin Williams is making them chuckle at the pearly gates," is how USA Today began its front-page story on Williams' final hours.
"Where is he now?" is the uncomfortable question many of us ask (or silently ponder so as not to appear judgmental or insensitive). We wonder the same thing concerning Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Many of us asked this question after the unexpected death of someone close to us, especially if it was an apparent suicide.
When Williams killed himself, celebrities, reporters, politicians and even preachers tried to comfort mourners with comments like the following: "He finally found peace;" "He's up there making God and angels laugh; "He's gone to a better place;" and, The Academy of Motion Pictures tweeted a sentimental photo of Aladdin hugging Genie with the caption "Genie, you're free!"
Regarding this last comment, Dr. Bill Schmitz, president of the American Association of Suicidology, commented, "Suicide should never be presented by media as a means to resolve or escape one's problems. Contrary to the Academy of Motion Pictures Twitter post, the Genie is not free; the Genie's pain has now been dispersed to a very large audience." How true.
Williams once said, "There is still a lot to learn, and there is always great stuff out there. Even mistakes can be wonderful."
So let's embark on this journey but know that our worldview must be thoroughly biblical. In other words, as Christians our responsibility is to discover the truth as we view all of life through the lens of sacred Scripture.
Williams tragically hanged himself with a belt around his neck. The Bible directs Christians to put on "the full armor of God" starting with the "belt of truth" (Eph. 6:10-13). What brought him death can symbolize life if we embrace the truth.
Personally, I believe when there is an untimely death, it's wise to withhold comments for a season to allow people time to reflect and grieve. Job's friends were silent for seven days before they spoke. Eccl. 3 tells us there is a "time to weep... mourn...keep silence, and a time to speak." Premature comments may prove hurtful and do more harm than good.
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