Our Top 5 Posts of February
Sat Mar 08, 2014
Resurgence Roundup, 3/7/14
Fri Mar 07, 2014
How to Replant a Church, Part 5: Rally Your Troops
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Bubba Jennings
The 4 Pillars of Pastoral Work
Thu Mar 06, 2014
by Dave Bruskas
10 Ideas For Keeping Lent
Wed Mar 05, 2014
by Winfield Bevins
Do People Who Commit Suicide Go to Heaven?
What do you say if someone genuinely asks you, "Do people who commit suicide go to heaven?" Whatever you do don't answer with this: “Suicide is not the unpardonable sin. If we think that suicide is immune to the cleansing blood of Christ we have misunderstood the extent of redemption.” This might be theologically correct; it is pastorally abysmal.
What Should I Say?
We are allowed minor variations on these, but there are only two correct responses to this question: “Why do you ask?” and “It sounds like things are really hard for you. Please tell me what’s happening.”
From Theological to Personal
Here is the principle: theological questions are often personal questions in disguise; they are about the burdens on a person’s heart. Please do not respond with theological propositions or ethical guidelines. Instead, use these questions as the time to know and shepherd the person.
Theological questions are often personal questions in disguise.
Hmm. This sounds like prudent advice, but it also sounds a bit suspect. It sounds like an artificial and potentially dangerous distinction between theology and ministry. Shepherding is profoundly theological; I am not trying to make a distinction between the two. My concern is the theological choices. Do you choose to respond with a proposition about the unpardonable sin or the morality of suicide? Or does your theology, which in this case compels you to humility and compassion, lead you to ask at least one more question?
Applied and Personal Theology
As shepherds we have to assimilate classroom theology into our lives so it is no longer a series of propositions. Then we will be ready to offer it in way that fits the person in front of us. These two pastoral responses: “Why do you ask?” and “It sounds like things are really hard for you...” reflect applied and personal theology. They will quickly take us to places that go beyond the ethics of suicide.
They might take us to this place: “My friend’s brother just committed suicide. And I have no idea what to say to her.” In this situation pastoral theology might lead us to say, “You obviously love this friend. Tell me a little more about what she is saying and what you think might encourage her.”
Theology guides us in how to love wisely.
As you talk together you might remember that most people who are close to suicide feel guilty. Family and friends feel like they should have known, that they should have done or said something to prevent it. So, you could raise this issue and together consider ways to invite her friend to speak openly about it. If her friend feels guilty you might help her reframe the guilt as, “You know that we are human and don’t know all things. Maybe you are saying that you wish so much that you could have done something but couldn’t. You feel helpless more than guilty. And you feel such grief that your brother was suffering so much.” You would offer these things tentatively and with the invitation to be corrected.
Too often “theology” means “answers” and most people aren’t looking for answers. Instead, theology guides us in how to love wisely, and everyone is looking for that.
Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF: Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation