Conducting a Funeral when Suicide Is the Cause of Death
Paul TautgesPaul Tautges serves as senior pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, having previously pastored for 22 years in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Paul has authored eight books including Counseling One Another, Brass Heavens, and Comfort the Grieving, and contributed chapters to two volumes produced by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He is also the consulting editor of the LifeLine Mini-Book series from Shepherd Press. Paul is a Fellow with ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors). He and his wife, Karen, are the parents of ten children (three married), and have two grandchildren. Paul enjoys writing as a means of cultivating discipleship among believers and, therefore, blogs regularly at Counseling One Another.
- 2013 May 14
“Nothing jars the mind and emotions like news of a suicide,” writes Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Practical Shepherding. For this week's series on suicide, Brian has graciously given me permission to reprint a portion from his very practical book, Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton). Brian continues,
I remember the shocking news I received when returning home for a visit during my sophomore year in college. My mother told me that the father of one of my close friends had committed suicide. I asked my dad, ‘Why did he do it?’ His reply has stuck with me, ‘Why does anyone take his own life?’ My dad let me know that we could dredge up ideas but ultimately, no one knows. In such settings, does the gospel minister have anything to say?
- Realize that no one knows what is going on in the psyche of a person who takes his/her life. So be careful of making quick judgments. Sometime emotional illnesses or physiological conditions contribute to the snap decision to take one’s life. John Newton, the famous Anglican minister and author of “Amazing Grace,” spent years ministering to William Cowper, one of the 18th century’s most beloved hymnists, as he struggled with depression, melancholy, and attempted suicide. [Gaius Davies, Genius, Grief and Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering and Success]
- As family members ask why, it is okay to probe with them the rationale of their loved one’s decision, though I would be careful of trying to dig too deeply at that emotionally charged point. The minister’s goal is to help the family deal with the sense of guilt that will inevitably fall upon them. What they are looking for in probing for a rationale is what part they had that led to the suicide. Here, we must assure the family that the decision to take one’s life rested with the deceased alone. Point to this as a time to learn how to improve one’s life and service to others. Above all, point to the peace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The funeral service is an opportunity to demonstrate biblically how the gospel is an anchor for us in the worst storms of life. The service is really about how the gospel applies in such settings.
Above all, point to Christ. That is the most valuable counsel. There are many times that ministering God's grace and truth to fellow sinners and saints---in this fallen world---means we must choose to focus on what we know is biblically true, while at the same time leave with God that which may always remain unknown to us---the answer to "Why?" Suicide is one of the most horrific manifestations of the pain and sorrow that sin has brought into our world. When we do not possess the knowledge to be perfectly sure of all that may have contributed to a person murdering himself let us be sure of one thing: The only source of true and lasting hope is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who willingly entered our world so that "through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Let us look to Him, ourselves, and let us faithfully point others to Him as the demonstration of God's love and only hope of our redemption.