Bob Schmader Reflections
May 30, 2015
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 broke. 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. 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.”
In this hour of darkness and uncertainty, we look to the Scriptures to give us a measure of reassurance: Isaiah 54, 8 and 10 say: “‘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.”
There are three questions that many people ask in a suicide, and I have decide not to tiptoe around these questions. Three questions that many people struggled with in regards to suicide are:
1.) Is it explainable?
2.) Is it pardonable?
3.) Is it shakable?
First”Is it explainable?” 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.
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. It can be 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.
Our response is to be compassionate and understanding.
Each of us is more fragile than we know. At various points in our life, we may each be faced with a dark night of the soul, where hope seems abandoned. It is in moments like these that we especially need to cling onto God’s promises and rely on his Grace.
Because suicide is so often unexplainable, we who live in the wake of Bob’s death- family and friends, neighbors and church family- should be careful not to be too hard on ourselves or each other. It is easy for us to fall in the vicious cycles of blame and condemnation. We spiral into self-defeating questions such as “if only I had done this… or what if I had noticed that?” However, as difficult as it may be, we must attempt to leave the unexplainable events of Bob’s death to God and cling to the memories of the Bob we remember and loved. I am confident that if Bob were here today, he would want us to remember his 52 years of life, and not his final, darkest hour. (Pause) Collin, Brice, Lydia (and Michelle whenever you eventually hear this) don’t let this or anything else pull your family apart. Let it pull you together. You are a family. And families need each other.
Secondly, is suicide unforgiveable? 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. I am sad to say that the church, for most part, has often continued to hold this course. However, this position is not really borne out in scripture.
In John 10:10 Jesus says: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Life is one of God’s most precious gifts.
Is suicide a sin? Yes, I believe it is.
But is suicide unpardonable or unforgivable? No.
In Matthew 10;28 Jesus says that: 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 with Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:4-5 and 8 says: “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.” None of Jesus saving work is accomplished on our own merits. Jesus did it all. Therefore it should not surprise us if God’s saving work extends beyond our earthly limitations. In fact, for who commit suicide as well as those who die of natural causes, we all stand equally in need of God’s grace. As our Protestant and Anabaptist Father’s well understood, our salvation is a gift: Solio Gratia: By Grace Alone.
We believe, as Scripture so firmly assures us, that all who have trusted Jesus Christ can never be separated from his eternal love. Romans 8:33-39 in The Message says:
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.
If nothing can separate us from God love, even in death, then it stands to reason that those who commit suicide are not outside the realm of God’s forgiveness and pardon as well. We must trust in the mercy and justice of our loving heavenly Father.
Thirdly, is it unshakeable? In the midst of our own shock and despair over Bob’s death, God and his word is unshakable. What I mean by ‘unshakable’ is not that God is unmoved by Bob’s death. As Greg Bowman so rightly put it in our service of lament, I believe that God was the first to shed tears for Bob. I believe this wholeheartedly. However, what mean by unshakeable, is that Bob’s suicide does not change or shift God’s love for Bob one fraction of a millimeter. In the midst of our turmoil and chaos, God’s unfailing promises and faithfulness remain sure and steadfast.
In the midst of our questions and 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.”
This is the time – when we walk through this windstorms of life – that we find our footing by looking to Jesus. Jesus promised in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
We stand on God’s unshakeable Word in times like this, because we know that God stands behind His promises: Jeremiah 29:11-12 says: 11’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘ plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12’Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.…
At this point and time, we may not want to think about the future. One day at a time is hard enough. We are emotional wrecks. Just making it through the day without breaking down is hard enough. But when we call upon him and come and pray to him, he promises “I will listen to you…” What a promise. “I will listen to you.” God has not abandoned us. Jesus in his death and resurrection broke the power of sin and death, and blew away the boundaries that separated us from our loving Heavenly Father once and for all time. This gives us abundant hope. We can face the future with hope, though people will abandon us, though our emotions will betray us, though our dreams will fail us, God’s promises remain sure and unshakable. We can rest on His amazing grace. Knowing that He has us safely in his arms. And that He is not going anywhere. (Slow way down). Is suicide explainable? (Pause) Yes. (Pause) Is suicide pardonable? (Pause) Yes. (Pause) Are God’s promises unshakeable? (Pause) Absolutely, Yes! –with a million exclaimation marks! (Pause) We rest on God’s Amazing Grace.
In the words of John Newton: Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come, Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
If you would, please turn with me in the Green Hymnal to page 202. Please join with me in singing together the remarkable promise contained in these words. Hymn number 202. Amazing Grace.