This has been a hard week for a lot of people.
About 2 Fridays ago, megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide at 27. Last Friday, author Brennan Manning passed away at 78. Monday, Boston happened. Tuesday, Virginia Tech was commemorated (perhaps especially at Virginia universities like mine). Although there’s lots that I could read and lots that I could write about any of these things, I don’t know these people or situations well personally, so I don’t want to be so bold as to write much about them.
However, I do know I can pray for people directly involved.
I do know I can pay attention to how news of tragedy is affecting those indirectly involved or not involved — myself and others. (If news of tragedy elicits suicidal ideation, this recent article can help: “6 Ways You Can Respond to Suicidal Ideation” from Mental Health Grace Alliance)
I do know that today is “Word-of-God Wednesday” on my blog, and whatever happens the “the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God remains forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
In Rick Warren’s letter to his congregation, informing them of Matthew’s passing, he expressed deep admiration for his son’s perseverance — and rightly so. In so doing, he said something I find intriguing:
“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach [to treating mental illness] had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’ But he kept going for another decade.”
What on earth can we say to this line of thinking? What did Pastor Warren say? I have no idea. More importantly, what does the Bible say? I have some idea.
The Bible tells us that we should choose life:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:18-20
According to this passage, we should choose life because:
- choosing life will help our children — or potential children or potential legacies in general
- choosing life allows us to continue growing toward loving God, listening to His voice, and holding fast to Him
- “the Lord is your life”; He made us to begin with (Psalm 139:14)
- “the Lord will give you many years”; He is making our futures (Jeremiah 29:11)
What’s more, the Bible tells us that we should choose life as opposed to choosing death because the kingdom of heaven has come, can come, and is coming again to earth. As is sometimes said around Easter time: “Christ has come. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Because of this, we have hope that the Immanuel (a.k.a. “God with us”) who was with us still is with us and again will be with us. In the meantime, we can connect with God through the Bible, prayer, and through the “deposit” of himself that Christ left us in the form of the Holy Spirit.
One way to summarize this is the way that Christ teaches his followers to pray in the “Lord’s Prayer”: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
This suggests that we aren’t supposed to desire to get to heaven temporally sooner. Personally, I don’t think it suggests that we’re supposed to desire heaven to get here temporally sooner. I think the Lord’s Prayer calls us to pray for — and act on — bringing the kingdom of God to earth by loving God and others right here, right now.
This song, “Coming My Way” by The City Harmonic, featured in a video about Brennan Manning, has helped me understand and reflect on this concept:
As this song suggests: Christ is coming toward us in this life. We don’t need to wait till death or usher in death to come to him.
He’s here. He has a mission for us. He has a kingdom for us. And that’s something to live for.