For a recent paper I was asked to answer the question “Where was God When…”, I chose to take this opportunity to address something that has been pulling at my heart for over a year, and that is Where is God when someone commits suicide…
** note: I have kept the name of the young girl referred to in this piece anonymous to respect her privacy.**
Where Was God?
Just over a year ago a girl who followed my blog committed suicide. She was only thirteen.
In the beginning I blamed myself. I think that subconsciously I found this to be the ‘safer’ option. See, if I could blame myself – if only I had known, if only I had reached out to her, if only my writing were more impactful – then I could avoid the alternative: blaming God.
And by avoiding blaming God, I would then never have to attempt answering the question I never wanted to face: Where was God when she chose to take her life?
Here’s the thing – God never promised us that we would not suffer; but he did promise that He would never leave us. In Joshua 1:5 He said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – That is His promise to us. And so the answer to the question is this: He was there. He was right there with her.
And this is the part that gets most difficult to understand. If God was there, then how could He let it happen?
I am going to broaden my discussion now beyond this one girl and to anyone who has taken their own life; God never left them, and He was there when it happened. And though He could have stopped it (He is God, after all) He chose not to. And the question then is Why?
Well free choice comes into play here. We have a choice. God promised never to give us more than we can handle; but at the same time we have a choice regarding how we respond to the situations we are faced with.
However, I want to be careful because I never want to come across as saying that people who take their own lives do so at ‘their own fault’. This topic is much too sensitive for me to make such statements. And so I will simply leave it at God honouring our free choice.
And I will say this – that there are certain factors – such as mental illness or chemical influence – that can inhibit one’s ability to fully realize what he or she is doing. In court, when someone acts in a way that they cannot perceive any real ‘reason’ behind, the defence is ‘temporary insanity’ – and I do believe this can apply in these situations as well (setting aside any negative connotations that may go with the term ‘insanity’, of course).
* Now this piece must make a transition. See, after writing the above section I was unable to consider it complete. Claiming God’s respect for our free choice or suggesting ‘temporary insanity’ – though fair things to consider – weren’t enough for me; these ‘answers’ seemed insufficient. I needed something more. I needed to know where God’s love came into play. And so I went on the hunt to find answers, and this is what I found…
When talking about suffering and God’s place amidst it all, it seems we always turn to Job. Job questions God. And we see God’s response:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
In essence, God is telling Job to man up. But it goes beyond that – God is reminding Job that Job is not the one who created the Earth and that without omniscience, Job really has no right to question God’s actions.
But in this story I still did not find an answer to my question. If [Bella] had asked God “Why?” would He really have responded “man up”? “Don’t question me”?
I find that doubtful…
And I couldn’t shake the fact that Job didn’t kill himself. Could Job’s story, therefore, still be relevant when discussing those who have taken their own lives? How can you relate the story of Job – who in the end survived his afflictions – to that of a young girl who was faced with trials beyond what she thought she could cope with and who saw taking her own life as the only way out? How could the two stories possibly compare?
And then I realized something: they are related because God’s answer is the same.
God’s answer to Job was not to ‘man up’, nor was it to stop questioning Him. God’s answer was Jesus.
God sent Jesus to bring freedom to Job. To me. To [Bella]. To all of us.
And this is where free choice comes in to play again. We have a choice – will we accept this gift of grace, or won’t we? God will not force us.
God is Love. Agape love. And Agape love is defined by mercy, grace, and forgiveness. That is what God showed in sending Jesus and that is what Jesus came to offer to us.
Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness.
God doesn’t abandon us. He is there with us the whole time, extending His love as a gift. Sadly, sometimes we don’t see it. And other times we see it, but we reject it.
I do not know which was the case for [Bella]. I do not know if she knew of God’s love or if she was unaware. I do not know if she reached out to God or not. I do not know if she questioned Him.
What I do know is this: God loved her. And Jesus was God’s way of showing this love.
And He did not abandon her.
And even though her suffering surpassed what she could perceive as bearable, and thus she chose to take her own life, that does not mean that God was not with her. God was there. The whole time He was there.
He never left her side.
And when it was done, when she passed on to the next life, Jesus was waiting there with open arms. He showed her His scars, He embraced her, and He extended to her the same gift that He offered her while she was still here on earth: mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Only this time she took it.
And she is free.
** I would like to extend my thanks to Professor Calvin Townsend for mentoring me through this paper and for guiding me in my journey to answer these difficult questions, and for helping me land in a place of hope.