Thursday, August 12, 2010

Suicide and Faith (Part II)

Part II because you have to read the post below to get this one fully.

My argument is that suicide is in a realm of its own when it comes to the survival of the religious faith of those left behind. I would not presume to suggest comparisons in other ways to other losses, particularly where children are concerned.

The challenge emerges out of what suicide is ~ a decision (not, I would say, a choice) against life, against one's OWN gift of life. If you are are Jewish or Christian, your Scriptures are replete with the exhortation to "Choose life!" If you have spent any time at all with someone who is dying, or whose illness or injury makes dying a very real possibility, you know that the impulse to choose life ~ this life, the earthly one ~ is difficult indeed to counteract. Most people, regardless of their beliefs about whatever comes next, will undergo tremendous suffering for the purpose of hanging onto this life. Their reasons are varied, but underneath them all lies a fundamental conviction that life is of value, and a deep, deep desire to continue to participate in it.

Not so for the person who dies by suicide. At least not in that last irreversible moment.

Many years after my mother and brother died, probably when I was in my twenties, my surviving brother told me that our grandmother, our father's mother, had once told him that after that car accident she was finished with God. She wanted nothing whatever to do with a God who would let such a thing happen. "But the Holocaust?" I said ~ by which I meant: the world is full of suffering and death, much of it on a vast scale. And yet the Jewish people are among God's biggest champions. "I dunno," shrugged my brother. "That's what she said."

My grandmother's response has not been mine. Although, like my brother, I grew up in a family in which the general theological stance was Too Much Senseless Suffering = No God, I came out in a different place. And I have been extraordinarily graced by God in many ways in the past two years. I have, after all, had an entire Presbyterian seminary at my disposal, and I have had the friendship and help of Catholic priests who are able to hear anything and everything with complete aplomb, and I have had the companionship of friends of every religious persuasion and non-persuasion.

But the question remains.

What about my child?

Like any halfway decent parent, I would without a glance backward trade every gift I have been given for him to enjoy them instead of me.

It is all one of the greatest of conundrums, and one of the greatest challenges to a parent's faith.

8 comments:

karen gerstenberger said...

Your sermon is going to be wonderful. Perhaps you just wrote part of it here.

Everything you say makes sense, in a senseless situation. Anything other than total honesty makes a mockery of the painful experiences that we must walk through.
My heart breaks when I read what you say here, about Josh, about your work at the time, about the nature of his passing - really, everything you described.
Like you, the major comfort I have is the deep-rooted faith that the ground of all being is LOVE - that we arise from it, live in it (whether we are aware of it or not) and return to it. That's how I see Josh, Katie, Joey, Sara - all of our precious ones.
I wish I could be sitting in the sanctuary as you preach. Sending love to you.

karen gerstenberger said...

P.S. Have you read "Job and the Mystery of Suffering" by Richard Rohr in any of your studies? I tried reading it before Katie got sick, and couldn't make sense of it - but I'll bet it would be a totally different book to me, now.

Nancy said...

Prayers continue.

Purple said...

"extraordinarily graced by God"...perhaps it is in that grace that "What about my son" will be answered.

Anne Lamont: "I do not understand the mystery of grace-only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."

Magdalene6127 said...

Any sermon you preach, Robin, comes from a place of deeply authentic witness. There is no risk that you will mouth platitudes or say anything that has not been tested in the searing heat of the fire.

I agree. The suicide of one's child must be the greatest challenge to faith. Your honesty here (in the blogosphere) over the past two years has changed me, and has changed my preaching forever. I would trade that change for you to have Josh back in a heartbeat (and pray that I might learn what I have learned, but not at a parent's expense).

Magdalene6127 said...

Any sermon you preach, Robin, comes from a place of deeply authentic witness. There is no risk that you will mouth platitudes or say anything that has not been tested in the searing heat of the fire.

I agree. The suicide of one's child must be the greatest challenge to faith. Your honesty here (in the blogosphere) over the past two years has changed me, and has changed my preaching forever. I would trade that change for you to have Josh back in a heartbeat (and pray that I might learn what I have learned, but not at a parent's expense).

Karen said...

With Joey's death my faith was shaken, but not altogether shattered. And now I am integrating new truth into it and my world view and understanding of God are changing to accomodate my new experience. I couldn't pray for a while, but I am slowly tiptoeing back to Him; yet at the same time that I resist, I know He is my only hope and resting place. Suffering and God don't mesh together well, hence your grandmother's (and so many others')response, but this broken world requires that we link the two. God seems to force us to somehow hold the two together in our hands, like two repelling magnets, and simply live with the tension of it. The hope that helps me keep going is that someday when the suffering is gone, God will still be there and I will understand what I can't see now. For some reason, I am okay with that. As for Josh and Joey and Katie and Sara, they are there, and I think they probably pray for us, their mamas, to be able to walk this journey with faith.

Sarah S-D said...

(o)