Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bad "Church"

Just recently I heard of a young man who, in the depths of his despair, took his own life. In an attempt to help others make sense of this tragic news a separate person, completely unrelated to the events, made a comment that their church teaches that people who commit suicide go to Hell. And yet by the tone of the delivery of this statement it was obvious the person thought they were being helpful.

Now, my first response is to start a long discussion about the concept of Hell and all of the non-Biblical connections that have popped up over many centuries. Maybe some day we can talk about this more.

More importantly to me, is the fear that there are people in our world, nation, and even communities who believe that there is some sort of Biblical statement about suicide and Hell. Let me be clear in my understanding: THERE IS NOT!! I always wonder how this value can be connected to Scripture. In all my studies and reading of Scripture I have yet to find anyone condemned to any version of Hell for the taking of one's own life.

A weak argument might be made from referencing the 10 Commandments, specifically the commandment about not committing murder. I can see that the taking of one's life could be construed as murder, and therefore might agree that this is a break with God's command and desire for us as human beings. But if we are going to start claiming that violating this commandment is a way to punch your one way ticket to the Underworld, then how do we deal with the other 9 statements held together with this one? Is a violation of any of these statements an eternal death sentence?

Even more important to this discussion is the absence of any statement about the consequences for such a violation. Later in the law there are some explanation about how to treat these individuals within the framework of society, but there is never any eternal damnation statement there either (even more problematic to this is the lack of Hell in Jewish theology...Sheol is not the same as our Christian view of Hell).

On the other side, and from within the Christian framework, we have other statements that seem to offer us a different perspective. Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, states that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is Jesus Christ. In his largely rhetorical statement he mentions that not even death can do this. Does Paul believe that God's ability to love us is greater than the power of death and transcends even this Great Mystery? It would appear so.

Jesus himself makes a statement about the forgiveness of sins. All sins will be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is suicide blasphemy? Would it have been considered so in Jesus' time? Then how could we claim that it is now. So if Paul, the most prolific author of the New Testament and Jesus, the very Son of God would claim that love is greater even than death and that all sins (with one exception) could be forgiven then how can we lay claim that suicide victims go to Hell. Are we qualified to make such a statement in light of another command to judge not, lest we be judged.

And then how would we respond to all of the people in the world who are, as we speak, participating in habits (or refraining from good habits) that would help them live healthier lives. Are they also not in a way taking the same steps, yet on a slower pace?

Too many people whom I have loved dearly have taken their own lives forcefully. In every case these have not been rotten wicked people. They have been wonderful, love sharing, beautiful, talented people who in a state of depression, shock, and fear made one bad decision. But this decision does not invalidate all of the love shared or the fact that they made a formal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Their deaths have brought grief to friends, families, and loved ones. Grief because these men are loved!

For me, this boils down to one simple understanding of faith: Do we believe that God's ability to love us is greater than our ability to sin?

If the answer is yes then we have hope for our lives in the future as well as in the present. This faith can be a transformation of body, mind, and spirit. If we say no, then why are we Christian? The futility would be staggering.

I believe that there are enough bad "churches" or communities of people passing judgment on others and condemning them to all kinds of terrible places. Please do not let yourself become one of them and share incorrect information with others about God's love and our Savior Jesus Christ!

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