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Vol. 80 - No. 5
May 2009

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Ask the Pastor and a Brief Communion Meditation

Ask the Pastor: 

Question: A loved one committed suicide. Do they find forgiveness in Godís kingdom?

I started writing this answer on the day that the vice-president of FreddieMac committed suicide. He left behind a wife and a five-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago, I also heard about a pastor in our Lutheran ChurchĖMissouri Synod who took his own lifeĖleaving behind not only a devastated family, but a devastated congregation and community. Hearing such reports underscores for me what a terrible tragedy suicide is. If ever we are tempted to such an action, letís not forget how utterly horrific it is for those left behind.

The Bible never directly deals with suicide and forgiveness (although certainly the commandment "You shall not kill" forbids self-murder). The common belief that people who commit suicide canít go to heaven is based not directly on Scripture, but on a logical deduction that goes something like this: in order to enter heaven, we must repent of our sins; suicide is the one sin we canít repent of; therefore, the suicide canít enter heaven. That train of thought, however, seems to handcuff God and deny Him the chance to show mercy. Itís a "logical" train of thoughtĖbut Godís mercy certainly can triumph over human logic. Every person is precious to God. Jesus Christ shed His blood for each person, and for all sins. God "wants all men to be saved" (I Timothy 2:4). We can certainly cherish the hope that our loving, compassionate God will open His arms to someone who, in a moment of weakness and despair, took their own life.

Ending oneís life is an irrational act. We human beings have a strong survival instinct; when people override that instinct and take their own lives, we can assume they arenít in their right minds. Certainly God will take that into account in determining their final destiny.

The Agenda (service book) for The Lutheran Hymnal includes a prayer for the burial of a suicide. Itís a little too long to quote in full, but here it part of it: "Merciful God and Father, how unsearchable are thy judgements and thy ways past finding out. We are troubled, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; cast down, but not destroyed. Thou, O Lord, knowest our frame; Thou rememberest that are but dust...With deep humility we bow before Thee in this hour in which our hearts are burdened with sorrow and grief. We yield ourselves to thy fatherly guidance with childlike confidence.." Even in 1941, then, our churchís official liturgy dealt with suicide in a compassionate and merciful way. And this reflects the character of our GodĖthe God whose mercy we see in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of everyone.

The film "Luther", released a few years ago, has a scene in which Martin Luther personally buries a suicide who was denied a Christian funeral by the church. The scene never actually happenedĖbut it does capture what Luther said about suicide: "I donít have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves, but are overcome by the power of the Devil." Luther, however, indicated that he was a little uncomfortable teaching this publicly, since it might actually encourage people to commit suicide. I share that discomfort, so I would add this to anyone who is tempted to suicide: Do not presume on the mercy of God. Do not put the Lord your God to the test! But even as we vigorously reject the temptation to suicide for ourselves, we also commend to Godís mercy those who have, in an irrational moment, surrendered to that temptation. We are confident that His mercy is bigger even than human desperation and despair.

A Brief Communion Meditation

A recent Time magazine article profiled "embedded food", a new fad. "Embedded food" is food whose makers fill it with good wishes for the consumer. For instance, at a plant that manufactures protein powder, the employees gather around each shipment and talk about the good things they want the protein to accomplish in the lives of those who use it. A chocolate manufacturer exposes his product to an electromagnetic recording of the brain waves of meditating Tibetan monks. A bottled water company assures purchasers that special music has been played over the water to infuse it with vibrations that lead to joy and health.

As I read the story, it occurred to meĖChristianity has been doing this sort of thing for 2,000 years. We speak special words over bread and wine...and that bread and wine become "embedded" with the most wondrous thing of all...the body and blood of Christ. Our special food vibrates, not with the meditations of monks, but with the very presence of God Himself, who offered Himself on the holy cross for us. Our "embedded food" carries, not just good wishes, but the assurance of Godís forgiveness and Godís peace.

It certainly is nice to know that makers of bottled water and nutritional supplements and chocolate want to send us good wishes in their products. But donít forget the original "embedded food"Ėwhich was invented when Someone took bread into His holy hands and said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

God loves you and so do I!

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