Posted by: riverchilde | February 7, 2013

Helluva pill to swallow

This post was originally written on September 30, 2012, but I didn’t publish it, for obvious reasons. But stuff in it needs to be said, and I’ve got a blog in the wings that builds off this one. So please don’t freak out on me. The “wanting to follow my son” thoughts are gone, I’m being treated for my depression, and I no longer feel the call of the long sleep. But I do still feel the need for the world to hear what I have to say about suicide and hell.


I had some pain pills tucked away in a drawer, leftovers from a minor surgery, that I made Eric throw away for me. It was a surprisingly difficult decision to make. Which tells you and me something about the furniture of the emotional space I still live in even months after Alex’s decision to take his own life. There’s still that soft bed calling to me, speaking enticingly of how nice it would be to lie down and go to sleep and not wake up. Or better yet, wake up gazing into the face of my beloved son.

And that recognition makes me consider the callousness (dare I say, stupidity) of some pastor-folks (fortunately none of whom counsel me) who still insist that they are compelled to tell suicidal-folks that the act of taking their own lives will damn them to hell. Let me tell you, when someone starts contemplating the attractions of the long sleep, the last thing he or she is worried about is going to hell. Because he or she is already in hell, a hell that is more true and real than anything a preacher can conjure up. And they will take the chance that it’s not true, because all they can think about is finding a way to escape what is true for them right now. Even when they know it will damn them forever. Even when they know exactly how much it will hurt those who love and care for them. Even when they know it is the most selfish thing they could possibly do. Because the pain is so bad, the suffering is so deep, and the need to escape is so strong.

Some people drown it in alcohol, or pad it with drugs, or take risks that scream “I don’t care if I die!” Some just neglect their health or slowly die inside. I’m not a counselor; I don’t know how to keep someone from taking his or her own life. (Clearly. Although starting with good medical/psychiatric care is a brilliant start. God works through doctors and medicine too, you know. And if you don’t, please, please read this:

But let me tell you, pastor-folks, that telling people that they will not go to heaven if they take their own lives isn’t going to deter them one little bit. It’s only going to rip the hearts out of those who they leave behind.  Why in the world would we think it logical to tell people who already feel worthless and cut off from the world that God will abandon them if they kill themselves? So let’s just leave that bit of nonsense out of the conversation, okay? (Particularly when Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount–Chapter 5–pretty much negates that idea. You know, “blessed are the poor in spirit…”?)

Let’s remind people that they are loved, and beloved, no matter what they think of themselves, no matter what it seems others think of them. Remind them that they are precious treasures, even in their brokenness, and that God would never, ever, leave them behind because they can’t  keep up. God’s arms are wide open all the time, ready to embrace and console, support and share your burden. God is big enough to absorb all the anger, pain, fear, shouts, rants, beating fists,  screams, hate, curses and sobs that you care to throw at someone.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are there as three persons/one God for whatever need you have. Need a lap to curl up in and wail? The Father/Mother is there. Need a brother who has been there and knows exactly how much people can hurt one another, and how lonely it can feel? The Son is there. Need someone who can listen and offer a way forward in small nudges and asides? The Spirit is there. Trust that God is there even when you can’t image why anyone, much less God, would be willing to deal with someone like you. That’s just the way God is.

I don’t understand the logic that says “trust God”, and then says that God will abandon you, damn you to eternal agony  for not being able to bear the never-ending agony of being a human being. That’s not the God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, the God who sticks by Abram and Sarai when they don’t “trust God” to protect them in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) or in Gerar (Gen. 20: 11-18), the God who saves Ishmael in the desert of Beer-sheba even though he wasn’t the “promised son” (Gen. 21:11-21), the God who promises to accompany Jacob into a foreign land even after Jacob has to run away from the brother who wants to murder Jacob for stealing his birthright and blessing. (And shouldn’t Jacob have “trusted God” to take care of things?) Over and over again our oldest sacred stories reveal the Judeo-Christian understanding of God as someone who sticks by his chosen folks no matter what kind of mess they make of things.

So don’t let anyone convince you that suicide separates someone eternally from God. That’s not pastoral care; it’s emotional abuse. The apostles screwed up royally time after time. When Jesus was hauled off to be tried for blasphemy and civil unrest, his disciples hid in the bushes, weren’t brave enough to show their faces, left Jesus to die alone on the cross. They certainly didn’t “trust God” to protect them from the Roman death machine. Did God abandon them? No. Three times Peter–“The Rock”–denied even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26: 47-75). Did Jesus condemn him to an eternity of separation from God? No. In fact, knowing that Peter would do that even before Peter did it,  Jesus told Peter that he was going to get a place ready for Peter in his father’s house (John 13:38-14:4). Sounds more like God who gives second chances than one who writes the losers off.

pills-e1307036436630What balances the pain and despair of being a human being? Certainly not the fear of God’s wrath. The only thing I know of that sometimes helps the pain is remembering the sacrificial love of Christ on the cross. And the cross itself reveals that Jesus himself isn’t exactly a poster child for the “trust-God-and-nothing-bad-will-happen-to-you” brand of theology. So let’s stop stop lobbing great balls of hellfire at people who are walking the road to self-destruction and simply cannot “trust God.” ‘Cuz that’s a helluva pill to swallow.



  1. Once again, it is as if you are talking straight to me. I cannot tell you how meaningful these blogs are, Lisa. Thank you so much for your truth and rawness.

  2. […] I’ve written before about resisting this temptation. Recently, I was warming up the car in the garage on a subzero day and forgot to open the garage door. The garage filled with exhaust, reminding me of this very simple way to end one’s life. The week before, I had a health scare that wasn’t very real, but anxiety does weird things to your logic circuits. I remember thinking “I don’t want to die!” On this day, as I opened the garage doors to let out the exhaust, I thought of how I survived Alex’s death due to God’s support, the awareness of the pain my death would cause–and the awareness of how sweet life and love really are–in the aftermath of Alex’s death. I wish that I had known all this and been able to tell it to Alex before he died. A young friend of his said, “Maybe if Alex knew how many people loved him, he wouldn’t have died.”  But that wish completely underestimates the power of that long black box. […]

  3. […] it’s painful, and I refuse to accept some of the theology that commentors ascribe to it. (God does not condemn suicide victims to hell). Consider yourself […]

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