This sermon is Chapter 10 of A Minister's Treasury of Funeral and Memorial Messages by Jim Henry, Senior pastor of the First Baptist Church Orlando.

This sermon is one of twenty-three full length funeral messages available in this new "must have" handbook for all pastors, ministers, or anyone called on to minister in funeral and memorial services.

Scriptures: Psalm 104


God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

William Cowper

This hymn is one of many that were written by a man who had a record of long struggles with the drive to take his own life. William Cowper first attempted suicide when he was a young English lawyer. During a fit of madness, he tried to penetrate his heart with a penknife, but the point was broken. He then resorted to hanging himself with a garter, but it slipped off the nail.

After eighteen months in a "lunatic asylum" (as it was known in those days), he was released and became a friend of John Newton, the famous evangelical minister. Newton suggested they jointly publish a hymnbook.

"Amazing Grace" became Newton's most famous contribution. And "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" became Cowper's best-known hymn. Cowper's majestic hymn was written after he went through the horror of another mental breakdown. At that time, he felt God demanded that he kill himself, like Judas, in order to hasten his final doom in hell. But he then rose out of the valley of the dark shadow to enjoy decades as the most popular poet of his eighteenth-century era. Even so, he ended his life in a mental institution, where he wrote his famous poem of despair, "The Castaway." [1]

In this hour of darkness and uncertainty, we look to the Scriptures to give us a measure of reassurance: "'With everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer . . . 'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (Isa. 54:8, 10).

I. Unexplainable?

In our grief and distress, we must acknowledge that suicide is unexplainable. To choose death over life goes against the tide of life that flows from the heart of our Creator God. Everything God touches brings life. We know that it is his will that we live.

Someone has written, "If there is God in it, it doesn't matter ever so little how we feel about it: it is an unbelievably precious and incalculable and endless thing." [2] But the nagging question of why? dogs our minds. If the question were answered and we knew the reason, the riddle would still be unanswered.

The family of the suicide victim carries a special grief. One mother whose teenage son took his life compared it to carrying a book bag loaded with boulders. The book bag may be filled with regret one day, feelings of failure the next, and guilt the next. But no matter what's in it, the book bag always weighs her down. Family, we offer our prayers, love, and support as you begin to reshape your lives.

Guy Delaney framed it for us this way: "What questions can we ask and what answers can we expect? Some questions we hesitate to ask for fear of the answers we may get, and some answers we give are worse than no answers. Any one of us might give the answer that was given to a Frenchman who, at the turn of the century, went to a physician and said, 'Doctor, you've got to help me. I can't go on with life. Please help me end it all.' And the doctor said, 'Now, now, my friend, you mustn't talk that way. You must laugh and smile and enjoy life. Make friends. Mix with people. Why not go to the circus tonight and see the great clown Debereau. He will make you laugh and forget your troubles.' The man looked into the face of the physician with his sad eyes and said in a painful whisper, 'But doctor, I am Debereau.'" [3]

II. Unusual?

As we struggle with our questions, our inadequacies, we may be overcome with the sense that maybe we failed at some point. We may be overcome with anger and guilt. We must sadly admit that, although we do not know all the circumstances surrounding this death; unfortunately suicide is not unusual.

We say not unusual because of biblical, historical, and contemporary records. There are seven recorded instances of suicide in the Bible. Every year approximately two million people attempt suicide, and fifty thousand are successful. Every minute someone tries to self-destruct. Five thousand youth succeed. [4] The highest suicide rate is among the elderly. Suicides occur most frequently in the spring and holiday seasons, on Thursday, among Protestants. Three or four times as many men as women take their lives in this country. [5]

In the face of this, how must we respond? We, the living, have responsibilities to the fellow citizens of our community of life.

One thing we can do is not to be judgmental.

We do not know what causes a person to resort to taking his own life. It can be burdens about which we had no knowledge or overwhelming tension, anxiety, failures, unresolved guilt, loneliness, or the relentless attack of our ancient adversary, Satan, whom the Bible calls our accuser. It can be a chemical imbalance that, for a period of time, causes reason to be replaced, mental control to be lost, and judgment and the stronger sense of pursuing life to be snapped.

We must be compassionate and understanding.

We should be sensitive to the cries for help that surface in our families, friends, and colleagues. If someone mentions suicide to us, we should take it seriously. We should express genuine interest in their problems, listen carefully to such phrases as "I'm thinking about checking out" or "I'm just tired of living." Don't argue, act quickly to get them to professional Christian counsel, and pray for them and with them.

These simple things can be the difference between life and death. We should humbly remember as one has written: "We are all so much more fragile than we know - because what we feel and do can hardly be understood apart from our past and present life circumstances . . . we must all bear in mind, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I.'" [6]

III. Unforgivable?

What about the question of suicide's being the unforgivable sin? The church had little to say about it in the early centuries, but Augustine, in the fourth century, asserted that suicide was a sin. By a.d. 563, the church prohibited funerals for any suicide, regardless of the circumstances, and by 1284 refused suicide victims burial in a consecrated cemetery. [7] Theologian Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, wrote that it was the worst sin of all because you could not repent.

What say we?

Is suicide a sin? Yes.

God gives life. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Unpardonable or unforgivable? No.

A person can destroy the body, but not the spirit. The Bible is clear that we go either to heaven or hell based solely on our relationship to Jesus Christ. "Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:4–5, 8). We believe, as Scripture so firmly assures us, that all who have trusted Jesus Christ can never be separated from his eternal love.

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in the Scripture ... None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing - nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable - absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us (Rom. 8:35–39 The Message).

IV. Unshakable?

In the midst of our questions and grief over this distressing and complex heartache, we turn our hearts to the supreme truth: We have a Savior who, in troubling times, is unshakable! Walter Winchell was a famous radio news commentator during World War II. Once, after a particularly dark week during which the port of Singapore fell, he closed his broadcast with this sentence: "Singapore has fallen, but the Rock of Ages stands." [8]

This is the time - when we walk through this windstorm of life - that we find our footing in the shifting sands of emotional feelings and mental anguish by looking to Jesus who promised, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives" (John 14:27).

We stand on God's Word in times like this, for his Word . . .

  1. Teaches us the greatest truth,

  2. Offers the greatest good,

  3. Meets the greatest need,

  4. Holds out the greatest hope. [9]