Another day, another suicide.
But this one was different. What mental image do you have of a suicide? Someone terminally ill and suffering terribly? A loser, depressed, addled, and confused by drugs? A desperate and violent criminal about to be apprehended? Terrorist bombers in their lethal vests? This one, in Menasha, Wisconsin, was Pastor Bill Lenz, founder and senior pastor of one of the state’s megachurches, Christ the Rock.
This isn’t supposed to happen. Here was a man who had given encouragement and comfort to legions of other people. This was a man who headed up a ministry that drew two thousand worshipers a weekend, success most of us pastors can only dream about. This was a family man with a devoted wife, 3 sons, and 11 grandchildren. This was a man with a deep familiarity with Scripture, not only its wisdom but also its power. This was a man who was receiving personal counseling and medical care. And still he couldn’t stand his life anymore and ended it. All of us here at Time of Grace offer our heartfelt condolences to the members and staff of the church, and we join with all of you in praying for healing for a devastated family and for the church leadership.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) website, each year more than 44,000 Americans end their lives. Sadly, the suicide rate in our country has climbed 24% in the last 15 years. It is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. Cheap Trick sang about it. Blue Öyster Cult romanticized it (“like Romeo and Juliet . . . don’t fear the Reaper”). Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted others in pursuing it. Suicide websites provide “helpful” information on various ways to do it. Shakespeare wrote it into his plays. Some very significant people chose it as their exit path from lives they thought they couldn’t stand anymore: Marilyn Monroe, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Cleopatra, Aaron Hernandez, Kurt Cobain, Mark Rothko, Robin Williams.
You may assume that there are people all around you, including among your friends and relatives, who are seriously troubled and depressed and who hate their lives so much that they have thought about killing themselves. Their outward smiles may conceal a bottomless inward sadness.
People today may be drawn to two completely different interpretations of what to make of suicide. On the one hand are those who think that a person’s life completely belongs to the individual. People may live as they please and die when they choose, in a manner they choose. On the other extreme are those religious people who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin since there is no opportunity for repentance, and thus suicide is a ticket straight to hell. The Bible’s teachings are more nuanced. It teaches that murder of another human being, including of oneself, is indeed a sin. But we should not extrapolate a universal doctrine from the sad example of Judas Iscariot. People who are still believers commit sins that come from weakness of faith, not necessarily an absence of faith.
What does this mean for you? Here is my counsel to you as fellow members of God’s rescue teams:
Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of several books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.
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