Guest post by Dan Oosthuizen
I used to think that God was there to give me things. Good health. A job. Harmony in my marriage. Getting a table at a nice restaurant on a Friday night!
The Bible does teach us that God is concerned with our material welfare, in the sense that He will provide us with what we need in order to do His work. So, I think that I was following a Biblical pattern when, having been unemployed for 18 months and then recruited by the civil service, I praised God with thanksgiving. Seneca and I organised a party at our house, and invited friends who had walked alongside us through that journey. We wanted to give thanks to God, and to do so by celebrating the blessing He had given us. That was a really enjoyable evening, and I think everybody felt the sense of joy and gratitude. One week later, at 7 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, September 5th 2015, I got a phone call that felt like a sledgehammer to the ribcage:
My sister, Mari, had hanged herself.
I remember not being able to move for a while, just sitting up in bed in numbed, motionless shock. As the minutes, hours, and days progressed, I ricocheted along a rollercoaster of emotions. After shock came disbelief. After disbelief came denial. After denial came sadness. After sadness came anger. And the anger stayed.
For weeks, I was consumed with anger. At my new job, focusing became a problem, and I was angry at things that displeased me there. I came home, and I was angry at my son for not sleeping. I was angry at my wife for not possessing a magic wand to make everything better. I was apoplectic with Mari. “How could you possibly do that to Mum?” I said, several times, out loud. “I know you were suffering, but was this really the way to deal with it? By scarring those of us you’ve left behind? By doing it in such a way that Mum was the one who found you?” But Mari was gone, and there’s only a limited degree of control I or anyone else has over all the other things. So, I turned my anger towards the one who was supposed to be in control:
“What kind of a God are You? You say You’re all-powerful and all-loving, and then You let something like this happen? What’s wrong with You?” I had other questions and thoughts too blasphemous to put down on paper. I remember, one Sunday afternoon, being so consumed with anger, that I picked up a stack of Bibles in my study, and hurled them full-force against the wall. Seneca came in to check on me, and I unleashed a torrent of abuse regarding exactly what I thought of God and His supposed sovereignty over all things. I don’t remember what Seneca said, but I was cut to the depths of my heart, and totally convicted of my own folly. I collapsed on the floor, weeping, and begged God’s forgiveness.
My experience with bereavement is that time is one of the things that helps you come to terms with loss. It did slowly get better, but I still had questions. Chiefly, what had happened to Mari? I grew up, like most people in Ireland, exposed to the idea that suicide completely cuts you off from God. On that Saturday morning, that idea hadn’t moved on from my mind. Most people, meaning well, urged me to latch onto the idea that Mari was with God, though they could offer no convincing reason why. I was caught in No Man’s Land, trapped between two trenches of steel-teethed barbed wire, bullets flying at me, and the artillery of my past dropping poisonous gas shells dangerously close by.
This is where I landed: not on what God would do for me, but on who God is by nature. A verse that helped me a lot in those dark seasons was Psalm 34: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”
You see, God’s nature is to be close to those who are suffering. Mari suffered more than most. I don’t know what conversations she had with God in her final moments, if any. But I do know that it is God’s natural tendency to be close to those who are suffering. My hope is that, as her hope finally gave out, she called out to Him, and that He drew near to her. Whatever happened, God is merciful, God is loving, and God is just. I put my faith in the fact of God’s nature, not on some outcome I desire, and that regardless of circumstance, because God is good, everything He does is good. My failure to see through the evil and hurt and pain of this world is my problem, not His.
I also know this: Mari was no better or worse than any other sinner. Yes, she took a life — her own. She was made in the image of God, and she chose to destroy that image. But that didn’t place her outside the possibility of mercy and forgiveness. The same goes for everyone. Read the Bible with your eyes open. The people God used for His purposes were deeply flawed. Ever killed someone? Jesus took a psychopathically zealous racist murderer and turned him into the greatest missionary in the history of the church. Ever had sex with someone to whom you weren’t married? God looked at a lustful, covetous hypocrite who got another man’s wife pregnant and murdered her husband, and promised that the seed of his offspring would give rise to the Messiah. Dear reader, the offer of forgiveness is extended to people who have done far worse things than you. Or Mari. While there was still breath in her lungs, Jesus was still standing there, arms wide open, waiting to receive her if she would call out to him. If she did, then his promise stands; he answered. If you call, he answers. If you ask forgiveness, you’re forgiven. If you repent and believe, you’re held in his hand. The door to mercy is never locked.
Life isn’t perfect now. I still struggle with the loss of Mari. But I have an anchor, a fixed point, a rock that is immoveable. If ever there was a moment I was going to walk away from the Lord, it was that Saturday morning. But I latch onto the rock-solid chain that keeps me fused to His gracious promise of eternal life. Like his servant, Charles Spurgeon, once said: “I have learned to kiss the wave that crashes me against the Rock of Ages.”
Dan lives in Midleton and attends Midleton Baptist Church where he is involved in preaching and teaching. If you have been affected by suicide in any way, and would like to reach out to someone, you are welcome to contact him using the details below.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Mobile: (087) 775 9924