Psalm 96:13 (NIV)Late Tuesday night a man who is accused of horrific crimes, with damning evidence, committed suicide in his prison cell. The information is all over the media, there’s little to be gained by rehashing the details. Nor is there much value in revisiting the way this news was received on social media and in comment and message boards across the web, notable a wretched hive of scum and villainy even on slow days.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Yet it was that reaction, very similar in tone coming from many walks of life, that sent me to bed with a thought a night of sleep didn’t shake. It lingered with me throughout the day and as I sit down here to write, ostensibly about my children and my role as a husband and father, I cannot escape me emotion. Quite simply, I cannot come to terms with rejoicing when someone takes their own life.
I’ve struggled all day with the best way to distill my many thoughts on the subject into a digestible package, but it’s maddeningly complex. I have no positive feelings for the accused. The crimes he most likely committed are about as despicable as one could imagine. I would hope any decent person finds it easy to produce sympathy for what the victims endured. But I refuse to see victory in self-inflicted death.
Perhaps if you don’t believe in God, and a especially a God powerful enough to create life, you are able to deem one life as less worthy than any other. But that’s not what’s in my heart. To say the world is better off with a particular person dead is to pass judgment on that person, to brand them beyond redemption. I don’t feel comfortable making that ruling. I was commanded to love my neighbor as I love myself, and while I will admit some people are incredibly difficult to love, like or even tolerate, I cannot in good conscience apply a personal condition to what Jesus most definitely intended as a blanket statement.
It is so easy to read or hear about someone you don’t personally know and brand them an irredeemable monster. But why is there such a rush to strip someone of their humanity? Is that not an insult to that person’s mother or father or sister or brother? Heaven forbid one of my children should do something awful later in their life. Am I supposed to reject them in scorn, or am I supposed to love them in spite of their sins? Am I so perfect that I can decide who is worthy of life?
And what if my sons — or anyone’s children — buys into the lie that suicide is the easy way out? What if they convince themselves the world is better off without them? What if they take their own life before I have a chance to convince them of their worth and value? This is not as preposterous a worry as it may sound — not when I think of the dear friends whose families have been ripped apart by suicide. The questions that type of death raises cannot and will not ever be answered.
When the court of public opinion rises up and deems a person’s life has no value, what message does that send? A person who is considering suicide is already not in a good place mentally. I’ve been told I’m connecting too many dots here, but am I? Can anyone who remembers what life was like as a teenager or college student sit down and calmly admit they never had a moment where emotions and hormones raged such that seemingly nothing in the world made sense?
I am dreading the days when my boys encounter the trials of adolescence because I know how much they will fight my attempts to go on that walk with them. I would love to stay frozen right here when my biggest challenges are a two-year-old who won’t potty train, a pregnant wife just aching to be done and an elementary student who defies the idea of normal. This is just the gateway to the hard stuff, and sometimes I am scared beyond words to think of what the next twenty years might bring.
And, as one insightful friend pointed out this afternoon, what does this entire ordeal say about the nature of mental illness in this society? How precisely did we get to this day in 2013, and what could have been done or said at any time along the way to get help to the people who needed help, to prevent the atrocities in the first place? We would not let someone infected with bacteria roam the streets passing on disease to innocent bystanders, yet we can be so quick to turn away from the mentally ill and later judge them for their actions instead of us for our negligence.
At some point my brain becomes unable to process any further thoughts on the matter. I keep returning to the idea of each human life being precious and realizing just how difficult it can sometimes be to hold that position. If choosing selfless love were easy, we’d all do it and have a heck of a lot less to worry about as a species. But there’s several thousand years of evidence to show people in general are not quite wired to live in that fashion.
Ultimately I have to pull away from the messy big picture and focus on the things I can control and the people I can positively affect through my direct relationships with them. That starts at home with my wife and sons. I cannot let them go a moment without knowing I love them. I refuse to allow them to question their worth to me, to each other or to the God who rules over us all. I want them to prize their own life and that of everyone they encounter, to believe we’re all created equally and to love fully, even when that puts them at odds with society.
And like always, I realize if I want my children to grow up that way, they’re going to need an example to follow. Therein lies my calling — to live my own life in a manner I would be proud to see them emulate and hopefully surpass. Let there be peace on Earth, as we sang at my grandmother’s funeral about thirteen months ago, and let it begin with me.
A prayer for September 4:
Lord, my heart is so heavy today. My mind is racing with thoughts I can’t control, with ideas I don’t fully understand and with so many questions I’ll never have answered. I surrender it all to you, and I ask you to grant me your peace that passes understanding. Help me identify the ability within me to be the husband and father my family deserves. May those around me see the light of your love shine through me, and may my words and meditations, in some small way, advance the cause of fellowship among all of us. Amen.