Meanderings of a Minister

How Should A Christian Respond to the Suicide of Famous Figures?
August 14, 2014, 4:13 pm
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This last week Robin Williams, the famous actor and comedian, died of an apparent suicide.  He was 63 years old.  With the death of Robin Williams, the internet chatter about the star of family films, raunchy comedy, and iconic television increased exponentially.  Regardless of whether or not you appreciated his “entertainment”, many people are thinking about how a man that is successful, according to the standard of this world, can be unhappy enough to take his own life.  Late night television suggests that Robin Williams has gone to heaven to entertain God.  Even well-meaning Christians are trying to make themselves feel better by insisting he might have repented of his sins at the last moment before death, even though he was an avowed atheist.  So…how should a Christian respond to the suicide of a famous figure?

First, we need to think about the living.  Before we can think about his death, we must have compassion on those he left behind.  Whenever a person commits suicide, they do not consider the pain and suffering they are leaving behind for others.  Robin Williams was a husband, father, friend, and brother.  While his brother died back in 2007, the rest of the roles of his life left behind grieving people left to ask questions, deal with guilt, try to manage the press, and dal with their own feelings on the matter.  We should pray for his wife, children, and friends he left as he apparently hanged himself in his apartment.

Next, we need to think about how a person ends up in Heaven.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  He did not equivocate.  There is only one way to heaven.  It is “not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  It is not our works that get us into heaven.  It is not enough Mass, Church Services, prayers, stations of the cross, Bible Studies, mission trips, or even good intentions that get us into heaven.  It is whether or not we have repented of our sins, placed our faith in Jesus, and are picking up our cross daily as we live out that professed faith.  It is about faith that produces works.  Robin Williams was once a member of the Episcopal Church because, “it is just like Catholicism, but with half the guilt”.  Whether or not he was once a member of a church has no bearing on whether or not he went to Heaven.  Conversely, the fact that he took his own life is also no true indicator of whether or not he went to Heaven.

For years, the Catholic Church, and others, would not allow a person that had committed suicide to be buried on church grounds.  Since being buried on holy ground is an important part of grace in the Catholic Church, this was seen as a denial of the person from heaven.  The latest Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the church has since reversed that policy and a person that committed suicide can be buried on Church grounds and the act itself does not automatically assign the person to hell, but might give them a deeper debt in purgatory.  But, what does the Bible say?

According to the Bible, salvation not of works. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  A person does not do enough good to get into Heaven.  (Isaiah 64:6)  Additionally, a single act of desperation cannot forfeit a genuine faith.  (John 10:28)  Job wanted to die.  Jeremiah wished he had never been born.  Elijah wanted God to take his life.  None of these figures from the Bible were excluded from God’s plans, but were used as an example for the rest of us of how desperate life can get.  Robin Williams suffered from depression throughout his life.  There was no amount of money, accolades, crowds, or notoriety that could make up for this.  His desperate act, at a low moment in his life, would not have cost him salvation, if he was saved.

So, where does that leave us?  Rather than using our time and attention trying to turn our sympathy for his family into salvation from God, we would do better to use our time praying for his family and looking around us for the people God has put in our lives that might be suffering from depression and share the love of God with them.  Rather than guess about a celebrity’s ultimate destination, let’s share Jesus with people around us so that they can know where they can find theirs.


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