Recently, an online friend told me about a pastor who committed suicide. How tragic for his family, his church, his friends, his community.
In the Providence of God, I came across a funeral sermon of another pastor who had taken his own life, preached by Brian Chapell.
He said, in part, that others would question why God would let this happen.
"But if your God is so good, why did he let this happen? I do not know. But this I do know, our tendency in time of trial and misery is to look at earthly circumstances to judge the character of God. Our God will not be so confined. Always he is dealing on an eternal plane. Even the evil of this untimely, unjustifiable death God can use to remind us all of our need for eternal justification that can only be found in him. If we have been forced to consider our spiritual poverty and need of divine redemption by these events, then even this evil can be used for good by a divine hand. And should you doubt that our circumstances warrant such trust in God, then recognize that his Word does not point to our circumstances to define his character but to his cross. There where my Savior hung in suffering to provide for our eternal pardon, our God proves that he is good. And he demonstrates by that same cross that we can always trust that his hand will turn to good even the evil for which our hands are responsible."
Brian made the point that this man was poor in spirit. He may have been, yet his actions were not humble; they were not actions that demonstrated a submission to the will and Sovereignty of God. At the end, he did not embody a person with poverty of spirit when he took his own life.
The Bayly Brothers asked, "what is poverty of spirit?" They wrote,
According to Thomas Watson:
"Poor in spirit then signifies those who are brought to the sense of their sins and seeing no goodness in themselves despair in themselves and sue wholly to the mercy of God in Christ...Poverty of spirit is a kind of self-annihilation. Such an expression I find in Calvin. 'The poor in spirit (says he) are they who see nothing in themselves but fly to mercy for sanctuary.' Such an one was the publican: 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'
"He that is poor in spirit is weaned from himself. 'My soul is even a weaned child.' (Psalm 131:2) It is hard for a man to be weaned from himself. The vine catches hold of everything that is near, to stay itself upon. There is some bough or other a man would be catching hold of to rest upon. How hard it is to be brought quite off himself! The poor in spirit are divorced from themselves; they see they must go to hell without Christ....
"The poor in spirit is content to take Christ upon His own terms. The proud sinner will article and indent with Christ. He will have Christ and his pleasure, Christ and his covetousness. But he that is poor in spirit sees himself lost without Christ, and he is willing to have Him upon His own terms, a Prince as well as a Saviour: 'Jesus my Lord' (Philippians 3:8). A castle that has long been besieged and is ready to be taken will deliver up on any terms to save their lives. He whose heart has been a garrison for the devil, and has held out long in opposition against Christ, when once God has brought him to poverty of spirit, and he sees himself damned without Christ, let God propound what articles He will, he will readily subscribe to them. 'Lord what wilt thou have me to do?' (Acts 9:6)." (Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes)
According to Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
"That, then, is what is meant by being 'poor in spirit.' It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face-to-face with God. That is to be 'poor in spirit.' Let me put it as strongly as I can, and I will do so on the basis of the teaching of the Bible. It means this, that if we are truly Christian we shall not rely upon our natural birth. We shall not rely upon the fact that we belong to certain families; we shall not boast that we belong to certain nations or nationalities. We shall not build upon our natural temperament. We shall not believe in and rely upon our natural position in life, or any powers that may have been given to us. We shall not rely upon money or any wealth we may have. The thing about which we shall boast will not be the education we have received, or the particular school or college to which we may have been. No, all that is what Paul came to regard as 'dung', and a hindrance to this greater thing because it tended to master and control him. We shall not rely upon any gifts like that of natural 'personality', or intelligence or general or special ability. We shall not rely upon our own morality and conduct and good behaviour. We shall not bank to the slightest extent on the life we have lived or are trying to live. No; we shall regard all that as Paul regarded it. That is 'poverty of spirit.' (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)
The Bayly Brothers further expounded,
The truth of suicide is that it betokens a lack of this poverty which Christ commends to us. It is self-reliant. It is proud. It is not the spiritual self-annihilation that Watson describes. It is the epitome of self. Yet God is gracious; He does save sinners and there is hope even for the suicide in Christ.
What do I think?
I rest in the fact that I do not know the heart of man; God does.
I rest in the fact that God is a Righteous Judge.
Suicide says, "I am in control of my own life." Nope, you're not. God is the only One in control.
Suicide says, "I can't go on." Yes, you can. I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.
Suicide says, "My life is so miserable, you'd be better off without me." No, we wouldn't. Whoever you are, you have family and friends, a circle of influence, a reputation. The lives you touch will be affected forever. The ones left behind are never better off - there'll always be those memories.
How do I know? My uncle committed suicide when my mom, his sister, was 17. It was never spoken of in our family. It was a great shame, a great grief, a constant sorrow. Even though mom never spoke of suicide, we knew that Uncle Fred's death was more than a "hunting accident". How could this super-intelligent man accidentally shoot himself? It made no sense.
It was after our nephew shot himself that the truth about my uncle emerged. I phoned to tell of the tragedy on my husband's side of the family, and my dad told me bluntly, "Don't tell your mother!" I immediately put two and two together, but it was years later that my grandmother confirmed the truth.
The pain of suicide permeated our family. Time does heal all wounds...but not completely. I don't think we'll ever completely be free of the stigma and pain of it all - until Jesus stretches out His hand, and wipes away all of our tears. What a glorious day that will be!