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Category Archives: Suffering

Resources for Those with Questions Regarding Suicide

Here are some items intended to help those who have questions regarding suicide. These are openly Christian with a commitment to the authority of the Bible and the life changing hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s Sovereign Grace in the Midst of Tragedy

Beginning to Think Biblically About Suicide

Continuing to Think Biblically About Suicide

Blog Posts, Online Articles, & Journal Articles from The Christian Counselling & Education Foundation (CCEF)

Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good (Resources for Changing Lives)

Grief: Finding Hope Again (VantagePoint Books)

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening (Resources for Changing Lives)

7 QUESTIONS ABOUT SUICIDE AND CHRISTIANS

MENTAL ILLNESS & SUICIDE: THE CHURCH AWAKES

THE PURITANS AND MENTAL ILLNESS

THE PURITANS ON MEDICATION FOR MENTAL ILLNESS

 

Beginning to Think Biblically About Suicide

Thinking about a subject no one wants to think about is hard. In this case, hard is a monumental understatement.

I’m referring to the subject of suicide. This is a subject that has come very close to my family. Six years ago my wife’s 21 year old brother took his own life. We had only lived in New Zealand (having moved here from the States) for about nine months. Nothing in our life really compares to this and it has never grown faint in our minds.

In the past couple of weeks I have spent time with two teens whose close friend took his own life recently.

For the last 25 years there has been a government imposed censorship on the media reporting suicides. Though this is under review, at this time the media is still not allowed to report a cause of death in the event of a suicide.

The best that I can gather, New Zealand would rank 38th in the world, just behind the UK for the number of suicides per 100,000 people at just over 11/year as of 2010. (The Ministry of Health in New Zealand provides helpful data.)

This year the New Zealand government has committed a large amount of funding for suicide prevention, especially among youth.

How do we think about suicide as Christians?

Let me suggest that this is a subject which generates more questions than answers and leaves a number of questions unanswered. In my opinion we are thinking about one of the most difficult subjects imaginable.

Yet, I am convinced that God’s Word is sufficient to answer the questions that must be answered and God is good enough to be trusted with our unanswered questions.

Is it possible for a true believer in Christ (someone who has confessed their sins and trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation) to commit suicide?

There have been those in Church History who have said, “no.” The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that a person who commits suicide forfeits any hope of redemption. They do not go to purgatory, they go directly to hell. They cannot have a church funeral or burial.

However, we must be careful to not say more than God has revealed in His Word.

Suicide is not the “unforgiveable” sin (Mark 3:28,29).

A Christian is not someone who doesn’t sin or who doesn’t struggle with questions, doubts, or even despair. A Christian is one who has confessed their sins and trusted in Christ alone for forgiveness, yet they still struggle. I see no Biblical warrant for concluding that a genuine Christian could not struggle to the point of suicide.

But, here’s the painful reality. Those left behind are left with incredible uncertainty. Only rarely would there be a suicide case where those left behind would have reason for certainty regarding the salvation of the one who took their own life. Most often, those left behind will have many, many unanswered questions. Most of those questions will circle around the deceased person’s eternal destiny.

Is it possible for a person who commits suicide, who clearly was not a believer in Christ, to call out to Christ for forgiveness in the process?

I’m thinking here of suicide scenarios where death does not occur instantaneously.

Is this possible? Of course. All things are possible with the Lord.

Yet, for those left behind. There is no way of knowing.

Like any other “deathbed” conversion, we must be careful not to overstate what we can know with certainty. We cannot rest in hopeful thoughts like, “maybe he/she cried out to the Lord in their last moments, let’s just hope they did.”

So what do we do with our unanswered questions?

Firstly, we ask them and I mean ask them out loud. We talk through our questions with those we trust will take us to God’s Word and help us think through our questions, our struggles biblically. It is very important to ask and not keep all our questions bottled up inside.

Secondly we leave the questions that cannot be answered with God, trusting in His goodness and sovereign care.

We may lack certainly regarding the eternal destiny of the deceased. But we can have absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of God. He is always good and He does all things well.

The clear truth of the Gospel brings hope. The Gospel isn’t a way to make your life better .The Gospel isn’t about what good things you can do for others or to change our world. The Gospel is about what God has done, which we could never do. He has provided a way for sinners to be forgiven by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins, so that all those who trust Him find forgiveness and hope.

We must proclaim the Gospel so that the Christians in our churches who experience great tragedy will have a foundation of hope in the torrent of unanswered questions.

We must proclaim the Gospel so that the non-Christians in our lives are pointed away from themselves and to Jesus Christ Who is the only source of true, eternal hope.

 

The Most Tragic Death the World Has Ever Known – Mark 15

I have the privilege of preaching the Good Friday Service at Howick Baptist Church this Friday at 9:30am. Would be good to see you there.

The Most Tragic Death the World has Ever Known

Mark 15

Vs. 1-5:

Jesus’ silence attests his innocence, as sacrificial lamb. (Augustine)

Out of his human silence, woundedness and death come divine speech, healing and life. (Gregory of Nzianzen)

Jesus, who is, indeed, King of the Jews in a deeply spiritual sense, has refused to lead a political uprising. Yet now, condemned for blasphemy by the Jews because of his spiritual claims, he is accused by them also before Pilate by being precisely what he had disappointed the crowds for failing to be – a political insurgent! (Moule, Gospel of Mark, p. 124)

Vs. 6-15:

While the guilty were receiving pardon, the pardoner was being pronounced guilty. (Augustine)

The civic justice that failed in fair judgment in the presence of the final judge will be corrected on the last day. (Augustine)

The incarnate Lord did not remain aloof from sin but identified himself with sinners, taking their sins upon himself. (Augustine)

Jerusalem repaid him with evil for the immensity of his grace. (Ephrem the Syrian)

The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across Jesus’ shoulders, back, and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles…Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. (C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus. The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine 22, no. 3 [March 1965]: 185)

Vs. 16-20:

The giver of the cloak of righteousness that hides our sin was himself stripped of his earthly clothing. He face is covered with spittle who cured with spittle the eyes of the blind. (Cyprian)

Even their mockery obliquely served to reveal the revealer, to crown the humbled Lord of glory. (Cyirl of Jerusalem)

A conclusive revearsal was being consummated in human history through his mocking crowning. The judge was judged; the Word was silent. (Cyprian)

Vs. 21-32:

No death is more shameful than the public horror of crucifixion. (Eusebius)

Prophecy was being fulfilled even by his tormentors. He who had turned water into sweet wine is offered vinegar and gull. (Cyril of Jerusalem)

The incomparably innocent one tasted the extreme bitterness of the degrading death of a criminal, spurning supposed comforts. (Augustine)

Crucifixion: The cruellest and most hideous punishment possible. (Cicero, Inverrem5.64.165)

The ultimate sentence came not at the trail but at the cross. There the final judge was placed with one criminal on his right and one on his left, as if to anticipate final judgment. He did not cease being the Son of God on the cross. He who was able not to die unless he willed it did die because he willed it. (Augustine)

The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with Myrrh, a mild analgesic mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the patibulum on the ground and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement. The patibulum is then lifted in place at the top of the stipes and the titulus reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each leaving the knees moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain–the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.

At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood steam and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.

Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber: Then another agony begins. A crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.

It is now almost over–the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level—the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues—the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. (C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus. The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine 22, no. 3 [March 1965]: 185)

Vs. 25

An early copyist has confused the Greek letters that represent three and six. (Wessel, p. 780)

Vs. 27

“robbers” – probably “insurrectionists” from the same insurrection as Barabbas. (Wessel, p. 780)

Vs. 29-32

The jest was the harder to endure since it appealed to a consciousness of power held back only by the self-restraint of sacrificial will.

But in a profound sense, if Jesus was to fulfil his messianic mission, he could not save himself. He death has necessary for man’s redemption. (Wessel, p. 781)

Vs. 33-41

With his last words all that had been prophesied of him was brought to completion. He breathed his last not under necessity, but voluntarily. His freedom to die demonstrated his power, not his weakness. (Augustine)

The loud cry of Jesus is unusual because victims of crucifixion usually had no strength left, especially when near death. But Jesus’ death was no ordinary one, nor was his shout the last gasp of a dying man. It was a shout of victory that anticipated the triumph of the Resurrection. (Wessel, p. 783)

In view of Mark’s opening words – “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus, the Son of God” (1:1) – the confession of the centurion at the climax of Jesus’ passion takes on added significance. Whether or not the centurion realised the full import of his words, they were for Mark a profoundly true statement of the identity of the Man on the cross. (Wessel, p. 783)

 

Providence/Sovereignty of God

Near 1:30pm today (22 February 2011) Christchurch was struck by a devastating 6.3 earthquake less than 5km deep. This quake has proven to be significantly more damaging than the September quake. There are a number of collapsed buildings, many who are injured and an unknown number of fatalities…

We need to pray!

How do we understand this from a Biblical Worldview?

Providence/Sovereignty of God

Providence => “Although providence is not a biblical term, both the OT and NT ser forth an understanding of God’s gracious outworking of the divine purpose in Christ within the created order in human history. The world and humanity are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who directs history and creation toward an ultimate goal. Providence therefore refers to God’s superintending activity over human actions and human history, brining creation to its divinely determined goal.”[1]

Sovereignty => “The biblical concept of God’s kingly, supreme rule and legal authority over the entire universe. God’s sovereignty is expressed, exercised and displayed in the divine plan for and outworking of salvation history.”[2]

Two presuppositions (Referred to as Compatibilism):

  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized, or mitigated.
  1. Human beings are morally responsible creatures – they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.[3]
  1. Scriptural Evidence
  1. Genesis 50:19,20

–          Genesis 50:19-20 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

  1. Leviticus 20:7,8

–          Leviticus 20:7-8 7 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.  8 Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

  1. 1 Kings 11:11-13, 29-39; 12:1-15

–          “God’s sovereign action did not mitigate Rehoboam’s insensitive stupidity; Rehoboam’s stupidity did not bring about events that were either unforeseen or unplanned by God himself.”[4]

  1. Acts 4:23-31

–          “Christians who may deny compatibilism on front after front become compatibilists (knowingly or otherwise) when they think about the cross. There is no alternative, except to deny the faith…We have learned to live with irony and paradox, because we have come to see that, for the cross to make any sense at all, we simply must affirm that God was sovereign, that human beings were rebellious and morally responsible, that God’s love and justice were displayed, and that Christ died voluntarily. If we forsake any one of those truths, the significance of the cross is destroyed and we are lost.”[5]

  1. Philippians 2:12,13

–          Philippians 2:12-13 12 ¶ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

  1. Ruth

–          Elimelech sinned by taking his family to Moab – he is responsible. (Ch. 1)

–          God in His sovereignty didn’t just allow this to happen, but planned this as part of His desired purposes for Naomi, Ruth and mankind (ex. The line of Christ).

–          The tragedies in Naomi and Ruth’s life were designed by God who is always good for their good and His glory.

  1. i.      “God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside of the bounds of his sovereignty, yet the evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to secondary agents, to secondary causes. On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents.”[6]
  2. ii.      “When the Bible speaks of God’s permission of evil, there is still no escape from his sovereignty. A sovereign and omniscient God who know that, if he permits such and such an evil to occur it will surely occur, and then goes ahead and grants permission, is surely decreeing the evil. But the language of permission is retained because it is part of the biblical pattern of insisting that god stands behind good and evil [differently] {see quote above}.[7]

–          Did Naomi and/or Ruth take upon themselves actions which deny faith in God? (Ch. 3) No:

  1. i.      We have already established that their actions were not sin.
  2. ii.      What we see in Naomi and Ruth is faith which leads to works. Because of their faith they acted according to God’s revealed will.
  1. God’s Designs in Dark Providences[8]
  1. Sufferings are to try us. (1 Peter 1:3-7)
  2. Sufferings are to expose our sins. (Psalm 73:22 – John Newton’s Hymn These Inward Trials)
  3. Sufferings are to build character. (Romans 5:1-5)
  4. Sufferings bring us to know God better. (John 17:3; Philippians 3:10)
  5. Sufferings produce fruit in our lives and prepare us for usefulness. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
  6. Sufferings lead us to make God our all and to prepare us for glory. (Psalm 73)
  1. Our Comfort in Dark Providences[9]
  1. There is always a purpose of love behind dark providences.
  2. There is much that remains a mystery and for which there is no immediate answer.
  3. The only ultimate solution is to cultivate a nearness to God.
  4. We can be assured that the outcome will be ‘big with mercy.’
  1. A God we can trust!
  1. God’s sovereignty functions to assure us that things are not getting out of control! (Romans 8:28)
  2. We repeatedly learn from Scripture that the scale of time during which God works out his purposes for us is far greater that would incessant focus on the present.
  3. If God is the God of the Bible, then for him there are no surprises, no insuperable problems.
  4. In Matthew 6 Jesus argues for the sovereignty of God from the lesser to the greater.

–          The modern, frequently unvoiced view of God is that he is in charge of the big things, the major turning points; it is less clear that is in charge of anything beyond that. (Matthew 6) Jesus argues for the sovereignty of God from the lesser to the greater.

  1. God is a personal God who responds to His children.

–          Philipians 4:6-7 => The degree of our peace of mind is tied to our prayer life. That is not because prayer is psychologically soothing, but because we address a prayer-answering God, a personal God, a responding God, a sovereign God whom we can trust with the outcomes of life’s confusion.[10]


[1] Stanley J. Grenz, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999. pg. 97.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999. pg. 109.

[3] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 179.

[4] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 184.

[5] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 188, 213.

[6] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 189.

[7] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 199.

[8] Adapted from John J. Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence.

[9] Adapted from John J. Murray, Behind a Frowning Providence.

[10] D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006. pg. 217.

Further Reading:

Why I Do Not Say, “God Did Not Cause the Calamity, but He Can Use It for Good” by John Piper

Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed by John Piper

Further reading:

Monergism (Sovereignty of God) – http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Sovereignty-of-God/

What is Providence? by Derek Thomas

What is a Christian Worldview? by Philip Graham Ryken

How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson

The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? by R. C. Sproul

Trusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges

Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer

Knowing God by J. I. Packer

Behind a Frowning Providence by John J. Murray

The Sovereignty of God in Providence by John G. Reisinger

More Advanced Reading

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension by D.A. Carson

Providence & Prayer: How Does God Work in the World by Terrance Tiessen

 

Rising from the Valley of Death – Steven Curtis Chapman

Steven Curtis Chapman opens up about losing his daughter, their family’s arduous journey, and a new album of songs chronicling the path of pain and hope.

Rising from the Valley of Death

 
 
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