Originally published at: https://warhornmedia.com/2018/12/19/funerals-and-suicide-in-defense-of-fr-lacuesta/
Note that this post is not titled “the Hullibarger funeral.” Funerals don’t belong to the grieving family. Like all corporate worship services presided over by the officers of Christ’s Church, funerals belong to the Church. Funerals testify to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and call all men to faith and repentance. Every Christian worship service…
Originally published at: https://warhornmedia.com/2018/12/19/funerals-and-suicide-in-defense-of-fr-lacuesta/
Obviously not the point of the article, but what do we do with the fact that he’s a Catholic? It reads as if he preaches the gospel here but that’s in spite of what he professes to believe. Can a man stand as a Catholic priest (doing which denies the gospel) and simultaneously, truly proclaim the gospel?
Yes, a Roman Catholic priest can preach the Gospel, and many do. Even John Gerstner admitted to me that he once prayed together with a Roman Catholic priest. We’ve all (or at least I have) known Roman Catholics who are Christians despite the heresies of their communion of faith. Would we tell them they should leave? Yes. Would we participate with them in their idolatrous mass? No. Would we recognize the truth of their preaching where it is in conflict with their dogma? Yes. Honestly, I have long been saying that most Protestantism is worse than Roman Catholicism today because (it at least used to be) that Roman Catholics knew they were sinners and needed Jesus, and feared God. Meanwhile, most Protestants (especially Reformed ones) have no fear of God and are fiercely resistant to admitting any particular sin. My thoughts in response to your good question. Love,
Tim - have you had to take the funeral of a suicide, and if so, how did you handle it? (if I might ask).
Dear Ross, good to hear from you. On your question, most pastors doing funerals for a suicide today are presiding over the death and burial of an older man or woman who starved themselves to death, aided by their family, nurses, and doing-harm physician. No one talks about these deaths as suicides or self-murders, but that’s what they are. By God’s grace, I’ve worked hard to keep from presiding over any of these, so far. (By work, I mean preaching, teaching, and individually exhorting the elderly, families, spouses, and medical professionals not to starve the feeble and elderly to death.)
That said, I’ve also not had to bury any violent suicide, and this is God’s kindness. One dear brother murdered himself right after I left the church and it was so very sad, but I was in a different call and miles away, so my successor had that painful work.
One other thing, many years back a young man in our home church was likely a suicide and Dad (Joseph Tate Bayly, IV) did the funeral. Here was his sermon. I hope it’s helpful. Love,
Remarks at the Memorial Service for [John Doe] – 1978
This afternoon we are a group of sorrowing people, because we have lost a part of us.
[Father] and [Mother] have lost a beloved son; [sister], [brother] , [sister] and [brother] a dear younger brother; others a nephew, little children an uncle; [friend number one] and [friend number two], a close friend and member of their trio; students from [such and such] University, a friend; former [youth group members]—who have come back from so many distant places—a brother. All of us who are in Christ have lost a part of our body.
We have all lost, and we all share in the [Doe] family’s grief. When one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. But we do not sorrow for [John Doe]: he has entered into the presence of Christ, where there is no more death or sorrow or sadness or weeping or pain.
I want to say several things that are not easy for me to say, and that may be difficult for you to hear. But as I have sought the Lord’s leading, I feel a burden to say them. You will have to judge as to whether I am correct in sensing this as a burden from the Lord or not.
- Many of us probably have a feeling of guilt over [John Doe’s] death. [John Doe] occasionally attended the Sunday school class I teach. Why was I blind to his needs? Why didn’t I try to get together with him outside of class? —If you have any feeling of this sort, you have plenty of company.
Of course, some of this may be false guilt. But I find it difficult to discern the difference between true and false guilt.
Therefore I believe we must ask the Lord for forgiveness, and then believe that we are forgiven—however we may have failed [John Doe] in his need. God loves to forgive His children.
I also suggest that the appropriate response to forgiveness is to make a fresh commitment to our Christian brothers and sisters, and also to those who are not yet in the family, to become involved in their lives and needs, to be sensitive and accepting and understanding.
- The next burden I feel is to consider the unanswered questions about [John Doe’s] death.
Many of us doubtless have a problem, perhaps feelings of frustration, at the possibility that God may not have called [John Doe] home, but [John Doe] may have decided to go himself. Or things may have worked together in such a way that he went home without making a conscious decision to go. We just don’t know.
None of us likes to live with the unexplained, with a mystery. We want it all laid out before us in black and white. But God frequently tests our faith by leaving us without answers. And as I get older, I perceive more and more clearly that the faith that means the most to God is faith that is exercised in the dark.
A poem by Cornelius Vanderbreggen has meant a lot to me at times when I am confronted by unanswered questions. The poem arose out of Genesis 12, where it says that the Canaanites were still in the land when Abram built an altar to the Lord and worshipped Him.
Not when I see the answer coming, blessed Lord: That is not faith in Thee, to joy in sight; But when the very promised good seems farther off Than e’er before, and all is night. Not when I feel that I can do the thing desired: That is not faith in Thee, to trust in self; But when in poverty I stand, stripped bare of all That once I trust in as wealth. Not when the Canaanite is slain and done away: That is not faith, to be without a foe; But when I conquered am by him, down in the dust, And deep humiliation know. To trust Thee then, when all is dark without And dark within, the foe still in the land My poor, weak, helpless, battered, sin-tossed soul Too stunned to pray, gripped in His hand! To trust Thee then, to think upon Thy Word, And then to say, “My Saviour cares for me, And He will surely help, for He has promised to!” That, Lord, is faith—faith just in Thee!
- This question may be in the minds of some of you this afternoon: “If [John Doe] did consciously terminate his life, why are they talking as if he’s in Heaven?”
This may be the most important question you will ever ask.
The answer is that none of us goes to Heaven because of how good we are; we all go because we have experienced God’s saving grace.
St. Paul, in that great chapter on the certainty of life after death (I Corinthians 15) explains this wonderful news for sinners: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; … For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Jesus said He did not come to call righteous people, but sinners. Healthy people don’t need a physician, He said. And He said that He came to seek and to save people who were lost.
We make a decision in this life that is eternal when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. At that moment God receives us, never to cast us away.
According to the Bible it is a sin for a person with a conscious act of will to take his own life. But the Bible also says, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin”—including the sin of suicide.
And we are told that Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to the Father by Him.”
Will you come?
At the graveside this morning, [John Doe’s] uncle (Reverend [David Doe]) gave us that verse from Hebrews that tells us that Jesus was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. I immediately thought of Satan’s temptation of Jesus to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple—an act of potential suicide that Jesus perceived as tempting God. At the time Jesus was only eleven years older than [John Doe].
A year ago I was speaking to a group of a hundred or so students at an evangelical seminary. The question of suicide arose, and I asked how many of the young men (and some young women) had ever entertained a thought of suicide. Most of the students raised their hands.
So it is not unusual for people, especially teens and young adults today, to think of suicide. So I Corinthians 10:13 is true: “No temptation has taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tempted above you ability to withstand the temptation, but will make a way of escape so you may be able to bear it.”
It is up to us to find God’s way of escape from the temptation to suicide which is so common to young men and women today. God is faithful.
—I immediately add that we are not sure that [John Doe] made this conscious decision to take his life.
I hope that whatever the explanation of [John Doe’s] death, we will all experience a fresh rejection of Satan and all his ways. Satan, Jesus said, was a murderer from the beginning.
I hate Satan. Death, any death, is such a visible sign of his deception and power.
Martin Luther once threw an inkwell at Satan. After each of our own three sons had died, I wanted to spit in Satan’s face. But only Jesus is able to deal with Satan. And He will, if we only trust Him.
Thank God, Satan is a defeated enemy, even though his power on earth still is great, to use Luther’s words.
We live in a world that is increasingly evil, increasingly dominated by Satan. There’s only one way to survive in such a world: by obeying Christ, by obeying the commands of the Bible.
Therefore I close by expressing my greatest burden: that we will all, every one of us, make a fresh commitment to life this afternoon, and to live that life for Jesus Christ.
I earnestly appeal to you to commit your whole life to Him afresh. Get rid of the parts that come from Satan and the darkness, live in the light of Christ.
Don’t let Satan tell you that there’s no hope, that you’re too far from God. One step of faith will bring you back to Him today.
And if we are freshly committed to God, we’ll be freshly committed to His people—to show love to the suffering, needy ones in the Christian community.
Last night at the funeral home, if you were there, you recall that poignant picture of the silent cello standing beside the casket that contained the body in which [John Doe] lived for 19 years.
The music on earth may be silenced, but I believe there is more music in Heaven because [John Doe] is there. And he is there because of his faith in Jesus Christ, dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
I am so thankful for you taking the time to post your dad’s funeral sermon. Much wisdom in his words. I, too, by God’s grace, have not had to officiate a violent suicide. Given the course of culture, I fully expect to at some point.
Your comment about the death of the elderly particularly resonates with me, and is a conversation I’ve been having more and more with the leaders in our church. Ministering to families who are taking the medical advice of “we just don’t want your loved one to be in pain”, all-the-while increasing the bodily-function suppressing morphine-drip, is one that requires much wisdom from above. As one (very) gently enters in to such conversations, you know you are immediately up against the thought of “Of course I don’t want my loved one to suffer.” Expect the need for such conversations to grow as the insurance industry more and more controls how long the hospital may grant you the bed.
Yes, dear brother. Very difficult. We have a longtime hospitalist in our congregation and he never stopped dealing with this. A huge number of deaths of elderly in Western world are now not by natural causes, but by suppression of vital functions and/or starvation/dehydration. That pastors don’t regularly preach and teach against it is criminal. Very very hard to deal with, but easier if the church’s prophetic voice were heard. Death is meant to be inconvenient. An enemy. We are desperate to control it. May God bless your work. Love,
Kipp, if you weren’t able to attend the 2015 Clearnote pastors conference titled The Last Enemy, I’d recommend the audio recordings, available here.
Thank you for pointing me to those! I will certainly give them a listen as the Lord allows.