I grew up watching reruns of Happy Days and its spin-off, Mork and Mindy. Mork from Ork was a suspender wearing, nanu-nanu-ing, drinks-his-beverage-through-his-finger alien that a five-year-old me found hilarious. Little did I know then that the actor portraying him would become a favorite. From family friendly films like Disney’s Aladdin and Jumanji to roles in some of my favorite movies (Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Good Morning Vietnam, Patch Adams, and even the long on philosophy, short on entertainment, Bicentennial Man), Robin Williams touched the human heart with both humor and poignancy like few others could. Thus, like many others across the nation, news of his apparent suicide both saddened and troubled me.
But what saddened me more were many of the “Christian” responses across the internet. Instead of grief and compassion, I found judgement and ridicule. Some were quick to point out that suicide is a sin. Others went so far as to compare Robin Williams with Judas Iscariot in how we should respond to suicide. And, yes, one well known blogger called it a “selfish choice” that saddles loved ones with grief and unanswered questions.
Now I want to be clear, suicide is a choice. Not everyone who struggles with depression commits suicide. Nor does everyone who contemplates suicide goes through with it. We live in a culture that wants to absolve anyone from the guilt of their personal choices, and that is something we need to talk about. Suicide is most definitely a choice, but…
…our response to suicide is also a choice. We can choose to mourn with those who mourn, or we can saddle them with even more grief by calling their dearly departed selfish and self-serving. We can weep with those who weep, or we can have a theological debate over whether or not suicide is forgivable. We can be proactive and point loved ones towards qualified Christian Counselors (i.e. they have a degree in counseling, not just preaching/ministry/Biblical Studies) to seek help and guidance, or we can sit back and wait for the next suicide to hit closer to home and point our fingers at the victim.
How we respond to tragedies like suicide says as much about our Savior as what we believe theologically. Yes, Jesus had deep theological discussions, but He also wept at the tomb of Lazarus. There is a time and a place for serious discussion on suicide. But there is also something to be said for having compassion on those who feel they have lost all hope and are on the brink of despairing unto death. I don’t know what Robin Williams was feeling or thinking when he made his fatal choice, but I do know my heart breaks that any human would think or feel that way. Suicide is a choice, and I choose to respond to it with tears and heartache, because we were made for much greater things.
And so was Robin Williams.
Dave you are right about a compassionate response. In addition, what many people simply don’t understand about a deep depression which leads to suicide is that the person who takes her or his life many times actually believe they are doing others a favor by their actions. They actually think others will be better off if they take their life. So words of condemnation have no place here. Seems like someone once said we ought to be “Slow to speak and quick to listen” or something like that.