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Yesterday I heard the tragic news that Rick Warren’s youngest son, Matthew, committed suicide. Matthew was only twenty-seven years old. How does the family go on in the face of such heartbreak? The news gave me flashbacks.

elitch_gardens_denver_4I was sixteen when I first met my charming, handsome cousin. We rode the ferris wheel at Elitch Gardens in Denver that summer. By fall he had moved to Alaska trying to find a meaningful life in the midst of his ongoing, severe depression. Some say he was an alcoholic, but I think he was self-medicating for the depression which ran in his family.

As a child he became a Christian under the influence of his grandmother. Years later we read in his diary of how she led him to believe in Christ. Later he would write that he had doubts. During the next long, dark winter he spent in Alaska a minister befriended him, and they spent many hours talking. My cousin had a job there. Things were looking up, or so we thought.

Early that Spring the phone rang at our house. My mom answered. She suddenly gasped in horror and began sobbing, “I am so sorry, so sorry.” Then silence and more sobbing. It was her sister calling to say that my cousin had killed himself. We wondered why he waited until Spring when everything was coming to life. But, in the end, it didn’t matter what season it was. This wonderful young man was gone far too soon.

Time went by. Our lives went on, but maybe not for his mom. She had to wonder every day and every night, where was her dear son? Was he a believer when he died? Was it enough to believe at age ten, but not at age twenty-seven?

Then one night she heard a voice. The voice said to her, “Your son is all right.” I don’t know the exact words. I don’t know who spoke them. Was it Jesus? An angel? Her own mind? I only know that she needed to know her son was all right.

Her sister, my mom, had a similar experience once. She and my dad were getting divorced. Mom was sick in bed and devastated. That night she heard a voice speak to her, encouraging her. I don’t recall what the voice said, but Mom told me something I will never forget. She said, “The voice did not give me some new revelation from God. The voice spoke a verse from the Bible. I don’t tell anyone about it much, because it isn’t important that I heard the verse out loud. It was God’s way of encouraging me, when I desperately needed encouragement to go on.”

Suicide is not the end, nor is it the unpardonable sin. How many of us have sung, “This is my father’s world. I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, his hand the wonders wrought.” Did you know the author of that wonderful hymn, Maltbie Babcock, committed suicide? He was very sick and could not stand his suffering any longer.

Listen for God. God may speak to you either through Scripture or even with a voice. He spoke to my mom and my aunt. I remember a morning when I felt the joyous presence of a friend who died. I was sitting in my office and felt my friend’s spirit pass through the room. He was full of joy and peace. Later that day I got a call that he had died that morning. Somehow I already knew that.

This is not the inspired Word of God. I wouldn’t start a new religion based on these experiences. But, still, God may speak. He may speak though pastors and counselors and friends. He may speak through your heart talking to you. Mostly he speaks through his Word, so keep reading and listening for God to speak.

Here is a hauntingly beautiful hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” written by Charles Wesley while he was being hunted down for teaching God’s word. It is sung by a young man, Aled Jones, about the age of Matthew Warren. May God speak to you through this hymn.

1. Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

2. Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah! leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head
with the shadow of thy wing.

3. Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
more than all in thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am;
thou art full of truth and grace.

4. Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound,
make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
freely let me take of thee;
spring thou up within my heart;
rise to all eternity.

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10 thoughts on “Jesus Wept

  1. Paula, this is a beautiful and comforting reflection. As someone who has lost a close friend to suicide and is very aware of the realities of depression and its devastating effects, I take a lot of comfort in it. Thanks so much for sharing it! Keep going……..

    Billy

    • Billy, it means so much to me that you shared this. Yes, I will keep going. Can’t sing, never could dance, can write and pray.

  2. As someone who has suffered extreme depression for years due to Lyme disease, my heart really goes out to this young man’s family.

    I am confused by the following:”Was he a believer when he died? Was it enough to believe at age ten, but not at age twenty-seven?” What does it matter whether he was a believer when he died?

    –Anthony

  3. Hi Anthony, Your question is so difficult for me to answer. Convinced as I am that Jesus is the way, the reason for our existence, it is certainly difficult when loved ones are not in the “boat” with him while they ride the storms of life and death.” Many of us also believe there is a hell, since Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. But what I have come to see, as I age, is that we cannot really know what faith is, nor can we know what a person was thinking at death. There was one man who came to Jesus asking for a miracle. Jesus asked him if he believed. The man said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” The miracle happened. I believe there is a heaven, and that I will be there some day in God’s time. Maybe I will ride the ferris wheel with my cousin.

    • I just can’t imagine that someone who emphasized love above all else would send someone to eternal hell because he/she had doubts or didn’t believe in specific theological details, even if that person led an exemplary life.

      Frankly, after having done more intensive research, I’m convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, and that this does not matter, because the ethical teachings are what it’s all about. But that’s a different discussion…

      • Paula, I don’t understand your question. I wrote: “I just can’t imagine that someone who emphasized love above all else would send someone to eternal hell because he/she had doubts or didn’t believe in specific theological details, even if that person led an exemplary life.”

        What does Hitler have to do with this? You certainly don’t think he led an exemplary life.

        –Anthony

      • Hi Anthony, I know I get too simplistic sometimes, especially with such a complex issue. Here’s the thing, Christianity doesn’t teach that God sends people to hell. People have a choice. It is hard to understand or even want to understand that there might be such a thing as eternal suffering. My sarcastic comment was that we don’t want to believe there is such a place, yet most of us would not want an evil person such as Hitler to go to a place of paradise forever. I know I am copping out on this, but there are many things we just don’t know. Some Christians like to think they just read the Bible and then they have all the answers. Personally, I am willing to say over and over, I do not know. God does. I think I wrote about working at a camp for mentally handicapped. There was so much these kids could never grasp. But, if God is real, then God is so far beyond even Einstein that we are all around a -5 billion IQ in comparison. Still I do try to understand what I can…

  4. For those of you who don’t know me, it might be helpful to give some background. I am a Buddhist or could be described as Hindu in the same sense as Ramana Maharshi. Buddhists do not worship Gotama Buddha as a deity/god. I am technically an atheist, as are all Buddhists, because I do not believe in a creator god. But I do believe there is meaning to our existence, and that our ethical behavior is very important, etc.

    Paula and I have emailed about the New Testament. These matters are very important to me. Not because I want to put anyone down, etc. But because I want to find truth. So I have studied Christianity and Buddhism extensively, and also have some familiarity with Hinduism (the advanced form — not the fundamentalist form, with all it’s gods and deity worship).

    When Paula and I were emailing, I thought Bart D. Ehrman’s arguments in Did Jesus Exist? [answer: yes] were convincing. But since then, I’ve done more research, and now find Ehrman’s arguments quite unconvincing, based on the research of Richard Carrier (Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus) and James Doherty. Doherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle, was especially insightful, although I found the personal subplot quite distasteful.

    Love,
    Anthony

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