He was a towering man adorned with stylish wardrobe and a wide smile. He laughed easily as he carried himself with a light-hearted playfulness. This pastor was a student in the 8 week philosophy class I taught for non-traditional students, mostly pastors looking to sharpen their ministry. I remember he had a lot of important questions. I was eager to engage his questions because there was a thoughtfulness about his curiosity. After four weeks of four hour classes I felt connected to him. But, on week five his chair was empty. That was the night I found out he had committed suicide the day before.
On week four a presence of a man filled not only a chair, but the entire room with his beaming smile. On week five, there was an absence so strong that it created a different, darker presence. Now I was the one who had a lot of really important questions.
Did he know that he could reach out to me? Did he try to reach out to anyone? Did anyone reach out to him? Were there signs that I missed that could have saved him? Could I have done something differently in the class that would have invited him to share his struggle? What will his church think? Where was God in all this? Where was He in relation to God?
I don’t have answers to these questions. That’s a hard thing for me to admit. Part of what draws my heart and mind to philosophy is a desire to answer important questions with substance and precision. But questions like these don’t have answers we can find.
Why doesn’t God answer these questions? This is a question that I do want to try to answer.
Suicide is a fatal symptom of a deeper sickness and dis-ease present in this fallen world. This sickness reveals itself in all sorts of ways such as addiction, abuse, and alienation. Whatever way it manifests, the results are unanswerable questions in all of us. These unanswerable questions are a gift from God. They have the ability to produce the antibodies necessary to cure the sickness in the body of Christ. Let me give some examples.
Because of my experience, I have shared the story with every class I have ever taught since. I beg the students to reach out to me, a fellow student, a suicide-prevention hotline, or anyone for help before doing the irreversible. My prayer is that God would use my plea to save other people from acting on the darkness.
Because of my experience with my student, I have had many conversations with friends and pastors about this story. This story provided a safe place to share our own story of darkness. And, in talking about it, the light of Christ can shine into the dark. I cannot overstate the importance of this. I have been saddened to find that suicide among pastors in particular, is a dark trend today.
Another thing this story has taught me is that most of us are very good at hiding our hurts, masking our darkness, and silencing our struggles. This man had no hint of anything heavy on his soul or dark in his spirit. I am continuing to learn the very important lesson of being quick to share my darkness because I am prone to hiding. I am not great about opening up even to today, but at least I know that it is one of the prescriptions God has given to heal the darkness in me and others. As I share, it not only shines Christ’s light into that dark place for me, but it gives others permission to more honestly share their darkness as well. And in that place we both find healing.
Would you be willing to share your darkness with someone else? The most likely path to find Christ’s light is to share with others. I am reminded Paul’s admonition to “bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ.” He doesn’t say bear someone else’s burden for them. His vision for living the law of Christ is a co-sharing where we can both be open and bear for one another. Paul says this on the heels of encouraging us all to gently restore each other from our brokenness, but only while keeping watch on our own souls. We are all prone to darkness and hiding. Therefore we are all in need of each other. We are not built to bear our burdens alone.
Maybe you are in a dark place today. You may be looking at your own soul and asking some important questions. Where is God? Where am I in relation to God? What would people in my church (or my friends or family) think? Can I reach out to anyone? Will anyone reach out to me? Can I invite anyone into my struggle? The temptation might be to go further into the darkness because you cannot find the answers. But, those questions are inviting you out of the darkness and into Christ’s light. Would you find someone with whom you can share? A friend. A family member. A hotline. An ER doctor. Anyone who will listen with an empathetic ear.
And know that not all questions are unanswerable. In the midst of the darkness, know that Christ is near. After all, the LORD is near the broken hearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Even when the LORD feels painfully absent, He is near. You may not feel Him, but He promises never to leave you nor forsake you; even if you are in a dark place. There is always hope in Christ if you would invite Him and others into your darkness.
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.
Lamentations 3:19-24 (the Message)