The Evil of Suicide – Part 2

(This is Part 2 of the previous article, The Evil of Suffering).

Author: Michael W. Dewar, Sr.
May 10th, 2020

This article addresses the question, “Will a believer in Jesus Christ go to hell for committing suicide?” Perhaps you are asking, who is a believer? By believer I mean a person who has repented of his or her sins and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, baptized, or not yet baptized in water. Bear in mind that this definition excludes a wide cross-section of religious people who are members of churches but are not truly registered in the Book of Life in heaven. Book of life registration is reserved for truly born again people (John 3: 1-8; Rev.20:11-15). This article, therefore, must be read in the context of this narrow definition of a believer.

A Mental Health Issue

Most suicides are committed by reason of mental health breakdown. I know something about mental health because I did two years internship at two different psychiatric centers working toward the Licensed Master Social Work (LMSW) degree. I also served many mental health patients during my 28 years in healthcare. So, I am looking at suicide not only from a biblical, theological point of view but also from a mental health frame of reference. Mental health is a serious health challenge for the church. *

There is what is called temporary insanity; courts recognize it as a legitimate defense for a person who commits a crime totally contrary to his or her character, providing two psychiatrists sign off on it. Sanity is like the pendulum of a clock; it swings from sanity to insanity and back. We are considered sane because the pendulum does not stay on the insanity side too long; it swings back.

 But let us say, you got angry, out of control, throwing things and you remain that way for three or four days. You are likely to end up in the psych ward of a hospital on meds and perhaps in a straitjacket. What happen? Your pendulum did not swing back. If you hurt yourself or someone else during this time of breakdown, temporary insanity could be used as a defense. Our judicial system is built upon the Judea-Christian system of justice which is often restrained by mercy.

With that said, let us look at God’s judicial system. The God of the Bible presents Himself as the God of Justice and mercy (Exod.34:5-7). God’s justice is restrained by mercy and He wants human justice to be restrained by mercy (Micah 6:8). The Good Samaritan story teaches the priority of showing mercy to others (Luke 10: 25-37). Now, take the sin or crime of suicide; it is self-murder or a type of manslaughter of the self. Murder in the Bible is based upon premeditation. For this reason, Cities of Refuge were established as a safe space for the accidental manslayer to flee until the matter was investigated to see if it was truly accidental (Num. 35:10-28). The same is true with our system of justice today; if you kill someone by accident or without premeditation, it is considered manslaughter. The punishment, if any, is not severe as murder.

A Question of Motives

Now, if a child of God takes his or her own life—the first question to consider is, what drives the person to commit that sin against God and crime against self? Was it done to cover up another sin or crime? (e.g. in the movies, the crooked executive goes to his office and blows his brains out as the FBI closes in on him). If it is a cover up, chances are the person was not saved in the first place. A true believer would seek to repent rather than using sin to cover up sin. That is the Judas Problem. Was he really saved in the first place, or Just using suicide as a shamefaced cover up for the act of betrayal that did not achieve his purpose?  Judas killed himself as a cover up for his sin of betrayal. His demise was well planned and executed with premeditation. He is lost; Jesus confirms it (John 17:12; Acts 1:16-20).

Had Judas stayed around like Peter who denied Jesus, Jesus would have forgiven Judas as he forgave Peter and restore him to ministry as He restored Peter (John 21:1-19).  Why do I say this?  That is the way Jesus is, He does not keep grudges! He forgave those who crucified Him, so there is no reason to believe He would not have forgiven Judas (Luke 23:33-34).

But if the stress of life drives the person over the edge; that must be a mental health condition. In this case, the believer is not lost; he or she has an advocate (an attorney) who represents and argues his or her case in the courts of heaven at the mercy seat (I John 2:1-3). Jesus Christ is also the believer’s High Priest and the atoning sacrifice for his sin (Heb.4:14-16). The believer is not lost in this case; he is covered. Jesus said of His people, “I give them eternal life and they will never perish…” (John 10:27-28). If you insist that the person is lost, then you make human courts more just than God’s mercy seat.

A Word of Caution

Do not try this at home or anywhere else chances are you could end up in a hot place. If you are a believer or unbeliever and feel overwhelmed with stress or a sense of hopelessness, call somebody: a friend, a family member a pastor or priest.  If you are in the continental United States, call this number anytime of the day or night for help: 1-800-273-8255.

If you belong to a church, be sensitive to those who are under stress or have mental health problems. Be a good listener, no preaching, no lecturing, no telling them to get over it. Make yourself available, you may just save a life. Be particularly tender with children and the elderly who live alone.

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*Mental health is a serious health challenge that most churches and pastors are not equipped to handle. I speak on this in two publications: Dwelling Place Spiritual Cleansing and Church and Family Conflict. To purchase your copy, click here.

The Evil of Suffering-Part 1

This is a two-part article, Part 2 addresses suicide

May 9th, 2020
Author: Michael Dewar

Perhaps, you heard of the New York doctor who committed suicide after working heroically treating COVID-19 patients. As one who spent 28 years providing services to patients in a healthcare, hospital setting, I know firsthand the stress and pressure these excellent professionals go through. COVID-19 multiplies that stress 100 times over. I did not know this doctor personally but help me celebrate her heroic life and send condolence to her family. May the good Lord comfort them!

I now turn to discuss the subject of suffering but let me remind you again, I am not discussing the doctor; I cannot because I did not know her personally or the details surrounding her death. This could have happened to just about anyone. I only want to use this as a springboard to ask the lead question for this article. What could lead an accomplished healthcare professional or anyone else to take his or her life after rendering heroic service to save the lives of fellow human beings?

A thousand things could have converged in a person’s life to push him or her off a self-destructive cliff. There are also many things that could flash in a person’s mind at the last moment to pull him or her back from taking that fatal leap. Perhaps, the memory of a loving spouse, a young child, an elderly parent, religious faith. I want to focus on that last one, religious faith, but in the context of the evil of suffering. I will change “religious” to “Christian” because it is the faith of which I have more academic and experiential knowledge.

Suffering as Evil

In a previous article (on Face Book) I addressed the difference between sin and evil; you may want to look at that. Suffering is a subcategory of theodicy (the problem of evil). Suffering is irrational; the Christian faith has no reasonable explanation for it. In fact, it is our Achilles heel, our point of vulnerability. When a critic raises the question, why an all-powerful God who is good and benevolent allows suffering, especially of young children? Then asserts, it is either your God is not good and powerful as you say He is! At this point we begin to stutter because we have no rational explanation. Yet, deep within we know God is indeed all-powerful and good.

The book of Job in the Old Testament is the classical book on human suffering. Job was righteous man, a family man, a rich man that loved God (Job 1:1-3). Unbeknownst to Job, there was a discussion taking place in the heavens about him between God and Satan. At the end of that discussion, Satan is given permission to inflict suffering on Job, short of taking his life. As a result, Job lost his wealth, his family and his health. His suffering was long, excruciating and repulsive. At the end God shows up, talks with Job but gives him no explanation for his suffering. God gives him back a family, twice as much wealth and his prestigious standing in the community but no logical explanation for his suffering.

The Apparent Absence of God

Like Job, most people feel as if they have been left in the dark without an explanation for their suffering or why a good God should allow it. What are the lessons to learn here? I will reference three:

1) In our suffering it will appear as if God is absent, but He is not. He is right there. He may be silent, but He is surely not absent. This is where a strong well-informed faith is needed to pull you back from jumping off the cliff. The story of Job tells us that God was always present with Job in his suffering, but Job had no evidence of it. Yet Job did not abandon his faith in God. Job confidently declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him…” (Job 13:15). That is faith at work in suffering. Lesson? Do not cast away your faith when life gets dark and tough.

2) The cross of Jesus Christ is another example that God is neither oblivious nor absent in our suffering. We Christians say that Jesus is God in the flesh or in human form. If that be so, what is God doing on a cross? He is there dying at the hands of his enemies for his enemies. Lesson? Through Christ, God has entered the human experience; He can be “touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb.4:14-16).

3) Jesus in His suffering felt abandoned by His Father; He felt the absence of His Father. That is why He cried out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt.27:46). It is natural to feel a sense of abandonment when God is silent in our suffering. But God is right there; He will break His silence at the right time. Lesson? We need strong faith to carry us through the dark days of life, less we fall off the cliff.

Summary
To us human suffering is evil and irrational; we have no logical or satisfactory explanation for it. We are finite and cannot comprehend why a good and omnipotent God allows it in His creation. But we can be confident of this one thing: God through the death of His Son on the cross entered the experience of suffering with us, and we can trust Him to bring us out of it. If we live or die, we win! Because neither life nor death can separate us from God’s love (Rom.8:31-39).  

The final three chapters of the Bible demonstrate that good triumphs over evil and there will be no more suffering, dying or death (Rev.21:1-4). So, feed you faith in the good times, so when the evil times come your way there is no need to jump off the cliff (Ecc.12:1-7). My work, The Book of Life & The Books of Wrath, is a good read on these end-time matters now unfolding on earth.

Coronavirus Government Order: A Church & State Issue

 Author: Michael Dewar

Coronavirus Government Order: A Question of Church and State

This short article addresses the question, can the ministers of the secular State order churches to be closed, and if so, should churches follow those orders? Be sure to read the full article before you comment.

The question is advanced in the unique context of the COVID-19 pandemic “Social Distancing” government order that affect religious gatherings. As a Pastor and former healthcare professional, I feel compelled to briefly address the issue because some pastors have chosen not to close their churches as I have. My compliance response is out of an abundance of caution with respect to my congregation and the safety of the general public. But would I close my church indefinitely? The answer is no.

The lead question touches strongly on “governmental powers,” “religious liberty” and “civil rights” to some degree, all three are protected under the constitution of the United States. The question also has strong bearing on the “mission of the Church” in the world. I will directly address the main three.

Religious Liberty

The Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”  The Founders clearly had religious liberty in mind. They did not want the leaders of the secular State to wield power over matters of “faith and practice” as it was in England, where the King or Queen was both headed of the State and the church.

The Church came into being under the Roman Empire and suffered greatly under it until the time of Constantine. Emperor Constantine ended State sponsored persecution of Christians and made Christianity the religion of the State. With the subsequent fall of secular Rome, the Church became the State, but it was no less brutal in the wielding of the sword than Caesars’ Rome. Under medieval Papal Rome, the Church gave us the Inquisitions and the Crusades. The Church then controlled all of life.

When the church in England separated from Papal Rome to establish the Anglican Church, the King or Queen was retained as the head of the church. That gave the head of the secular State control over all of live, so people could not freely practice their religious faith according to the Word of God and the dictates of their own conscience. Therefore, to defy the church was to defy the state, that’s treason.

Ultimately, those wanting religious liberty had to flee England. It is in this context that the new nation (United States of America) was founded, and religious liberty became enshrined in its founding documents. It is against this background that the separation of Church and State concept evolved.

The point of contention now is this—in the light of this constitutional separation of these two institutions (Church and State), can one legally order the other not to exercise its constitutional rights, and if such rights are abridged or prohibited, should the order be obeyed? And if it is disobeyed, can the military or police be legally directed to enforce such order against the church without irreparable damage to our constitutional system of government?

Civil Rights

One Reverend, who is a civil rights activist argues that the order to close churches is not a violation of civil rights because closing is voluntary. Others say, if the closing is forced, the statement is clearly inaccurate. Religious liberty is a fundamental civil right under the constitution as we have already seen. Worship in churches or anywhere else is the exercise of that liberty. Some pastors may choose not to close and receive a public backlash or even push back from law enforcement, but is such push back constitutional? As selfish as not closing church, synagogue of mosque may appear, such enforcement push back is a violation of both religious liberty and civil rights.

The forced closing of any place of worship would also violate the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Others may disagree with this view, and that is expected because this is a hot and touchy issue right now. But less say for the moment that the forced closing of churches violates “religious liberty and civil rights.” What then shall we do short of police dragging off Pastors, Rabbis and Imams to jail?

Religious Cooperation

The common ground that the Founders sought was cooperation between Church and State; that cooperation can be secured today but with much more difficulty. You may say, why is it that difficult?

 During the framer’s time, church leaders were educated, greatly respected, reasonable men who were equal in statue to the framers. That is not the case today. Any Dick, Tom, Harry or Susie can start a church and make himself or herself founder, pastor and bishop with no external accountability. Many independent churches just do their own thing and their parishioners follow the leaders as cult members do.

 Just as every person nowadays is a philosopher, the same is true for theologians. There are so many theologies today, each claiming legitimacy, it is hard to keep track of them or to forge agreement between religious groups. On what basis then should cooperation be secured? I will suggest five:

First, all local churches need to recognize that the Secular State is an institution of God as the Church is an institution of God (Matt.16:16-19; Rom.13:1-7). The concept of nation is an idea that was born in the heart of God (Acts 17:23-28). What is a nation? It is a people group that lives by certain rules within a given geography. God said to Abraham, I will make of you a great nation and through you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:1-5). God set the borders of nations (Jos.1:1-4; Acts 17:26). God loves all people groups or nations and provides for their redemption (John 3:16).

Second, the minister of the secular State is the minister of God and is given the sword to enforce the laws (Rom.13:1-7). Every pastor who knows his or her Bible should know that the ministers of the secular State are the ministers of God and do not carry the sword in vain. In other words, God has empowered the state to enforce the laws. The State, however, must exercise great restraint dealing with God’s other ministers (i.e. ministers of the church). This is where ministers of both Church and State are called upon to be reasonable people cooperating for the common good.

Third, genuine worshipers of the God of the Bible make good citizens and Jesus is our best example (I Tim. 2:1-4). Jesus was born in a nation under Roman occupation (Luke 2:1-7). At birth, King Herod massacred the children of Bethlehem in his attempt to kill Jesus (Matt.2:1-18). Jesus witnessed the oppression of His own people by the State, but He did not lead a Barabbas type revolution to overthrow the Roman government. Jesus never violated the civil law; He paid taxes to Caesars’ government and encouraged others to do the same (Luke 20: 21-26).

 Jesus also perfectly kept God’s Law as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. But was framed by His own people and handed over to the Romans to be executed. The apostle Paul wrote most of the New Testament including the Epistle to the Romans and died by execution in a Roman prison. Yet, Paul encouraged Christians to obey the civil authorities and pray for those are in authority (Roman 13:1-8; I Timothy 2:1-4). The point is, all true Christians are law abiding citizens of the secular State.

Fourth, Jesus new commandment is to love God and love neighbor as yourself (John 13: 34-35). Love for God and neighbor was required under the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:3-10; Deut. 6:4-5). But the neighbor part of it was not fully enforced because of the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” clause. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus abolished the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” clause and broaden the meaning of neighbor to include all your fellow humans (Matt.5:38-48).

Jesus summarized the 613 precepts of the Mosaic Law into two: love for God and love neighbor (Mark 12:28-31). Read more on this point in my book, Bless and Curse Not . Jesus told His followers that His new commandment is love (John 13:34-35). Love does no harm to his neighbor; it is the greatest spiritual gift (1Cor.13). For pastors to expose their congregations and the public to harm by not closing their churches, temporarily, could be a selfish act rather than love.

Fifth, when is it right in the sight of God and justified not to obey the law of the State? There is only one exception implied in the New Testament, and it was not directed to civil authorities. But it can be made applicable to them; read it in Acts 4:1-23. Note, the charge given to the apostles was not given by civil authorities but religious authorities. Further note the apostles’ response (vv.18-21). They told the authorities, “we rather obey God than men” (vv.18-21). These words must be read in context.

 We do know—if the civil authorities did say the same thing to the apostles, they would have given them the same response of refusal. How do I know that? They were later forbidden to preach or worship by the secular state and they refused. This refusal precipitated waves after waves State sponsored persecution ending in the martyrdom for thousands of Christians. Many were burnt at stakes and thrown to the lions. They refused to quit preaching the gospel or substitute the worship of the God of the Bible with the worship of Caesar or emperor worship. Jews did the same throughout their history from Egypt to Babylon, Rome and Nazi Germany and suffered the consequences (see Daniel 3-4).     

If a Federal or State official should enact a law or issues permanent executive order that you cannot worship at all in private or in public or be seen with any religious literature such as a scroll or Bible—that would be a violation of the law of God and your constitutional rights. In this case, you obey God rather than man and let the chips fall where they may (Acts 4:18-21). Any legal confrontation between Church and State over religious liberty—the state will not win, if it does, we cease to have a democracy. But temporary closing is not unreasonable; the church should give its cooperation.   

What then Is the Remedy?

The answer is cooperation. Both institutions (Church and State) must reach a compromise for the common good of all. What that compromise may look like? The State may consider the recognizing the Church as an essential business or institution, that can continue to function under certain mutually agreed upon guidelines that will not only keep their members safe but the general public as well.

Since, there will be a few congregations and pastors that will not cooperate, a council of religious and state officials should be established to negotiate compliance with these rough congregations and pastors without extreme interference of law enforcement.

I am quite aware that there are many issues that are not discussed in this short article, but I hope it is enough to provide some useful insights to persuade my clergy colleagues to consider the temporary closing of their places of worship for the common good of the larger society. I also hope that it provides insight how both institutions can commence a platform for cooperation should the Coronavirus or some other virus return with a vengeance. The way of cooperation with avoid a bloody confrontation that will forever destroy or stain our democracy.