By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A person who commits suicide may have lost all hope for living, but does that mean they’ve lost their faith in God?
Pastor and author Peter Preus dove deep into this question April 23, in front of a packed audience at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie.
“People, unfortunately, think ‘real’ Christians don’t hold up banks, they don’t murder, they don’t have one-night stands, they don’t commit suicide,” Preus said.
This is a misunderstanding of saving faith, he explained. Faith doesn’t save because it obeys. It saves because despite its weaknesses and shortcomings it receives Christ’s forgiveness.
“Faith is clinging holding on,” Preus said.
Preus is well-acquainted with mental illness, as his first wife, Jean, committed suicide in 1994. At that time, their six children were ages 1 to 12.
Preus described Jean as someone who was “very easy to make friends with.” She had been a happy person, but gradually became sad more and more often. She also suffered from delusions, such as thinking that members of the family were being replaced by aliens.
Preus said he was able to talk her out of the delusions, but Jean’s thoughts were then replaced by intense worry.
“I could not talk her out of that, because there was an element of believability,” he said.
Jean developed “constricted thinking,” in which she would dwell on one negative thing, drowning out everything else.
Preus illustrated this by telling a hiking trip in which the family had encountered a huge swarm of mosquitoes.
“I had never in my life seen so many mosquitoes we were literally being eaten alive,” he recalled.
But as he looked at Jean, he noticed that “she was absolutely oblivious to the mosquitoes.”
A person who is considering suicide may feel that their pain is intolerable, and that there is no other way out.
Preus described it like a person who is in a burning building who chooses to jump out of a window. The person might feel they are in a “lose-lose” situation.
People who become depressed may think “My life will never get better” or “My condition will never get better.”
Faith vs. hope
Losing hope is not the same as losing faith, however.
Preus defined “natural hope” as the ability to anticipate. Faith, in contrast, is a gift from God that a person can either cling to or reject.
A person who is depressed may have doubts about God, but that doesn’t mean the person is rejecting their faith.
“He has a hold on us that’s a stronger hold than we have on him,” Preus said.
He added that although suicide is not God’s intent for a person’s life, “Christ died for every sin even the sin of suicide. . . . Forgiveness isn’t determined by the gravity of the crime.”
If someone is suffering from depression, it can help to share a simple message of hope.
“They might welcome the possibility that God has something in mind for them,” Preus said.
If the person seems unable to listen and is caught in a spiral of negative thinking, professional help may be needed. In Jean’s case, for instance, both counseling and hospitalization were used.
Preus said it’s common for a suicide survivor to experience guilt. He personally remembers thinking that “if only” he had learned more about depression, or had gotten Jean more or better counseling, or had done things differently in some way, the outcome might have changed.
In the end, what helped him the most was “remembering the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
To listen to an interview Preus did for Lutherans For Life, follow the link at www.herald-journal.com.