Pastor Ronald Traub offers comfort to others who have also experienced the pain of losing loved ones to suicide.
By Ronald I. Traub, senior pastor of First Assembly of God in Sioux Falls
Jeremiah 8:22 (NKJV): “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there?” The prophet asked this question knowing that there was indeed a physician – even the Great Healer himself – who would apply the healing balm of His presence to our hurting souls. First Thessalonians 4 reminds us of the resurrection of the believers and concludes with this instruction: “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (v. 18, NIV). It is my desire that you, as a reader, will find comfort in my words and story.
I grew up in a pastor’s home and at a very young age I felt a call to the ministry. I went to Bible college right out of high school and met the girl who would become my wife. After Bible College, we went into full-time ministry. Two beautiful children were born to us and joyful times were a part of our home as we had the privilege of raising them. After 35 years in the ministry, we had a great church, two wonderful children married to born-again spouses, and four beautiful grandchildren. Our son was an ordained minister with a master’s degree in counseling and was the dean of men at a Christian college. Our daughter worked in our church. Life was perfect. At times, when dealing with troubled families, I almost felt guilty.
Then … the phone rang. It was our daughter-in-law. Our son had just hung himself. In an instant, our perfect life was forever changed. Life will never be the same as it was before that phone call. Not a day has gone by in the last six years that we have not thought about Ron – many times crying out in pain to God; many times, asking thousands of questions and receiving few answers.
We have learned much over the last six years and are learning more each day. God did not do this. God had no purpose in this. This was not God’s will. He was not teaching us something or bringing discipline to us. This was not God’s plan for Ron or for us. Do not say to others when they are hurting, “God must have some purpose in this for you.” He had no purpose. He did not do this.
When depression comes on a believer, it is a lie from hell. Satan is a liar and the father of all lies, and he deceives a believer into thinking there is no hope, no peace, no way out. The believer listens to the lie and takes his eyes off the Lord who offers peach and joy and his all-sufficient grace. When suicide happens, the believer has believed the ultimate lie, that there is no hope.
So hear me again. God did not do this. He had no purpose in it. It was not meant to test us, to strengthen us, to discipline us, or to use us for God’s glory so that someone might get saved. God’s Son died for all people to get saved, my son did not have to die for people to be saved.
Having said that, let me assure you that God does desire now to get purpose for my life in this. He desire to take what hell meant as evil toward me and turn it for good in my life. If I let him use this, he will get glory for himself in my life and because of this. Certainly he could have intervened and stopped it. He could have healed and raised up my son from the coma of death. He could have sent someone to stop him or rescue him. Someone told us that Ron placed his life in God’s hands and He kept him.
If today you are in deep grief because of the loss of a loved one, God wants you to run to Him, experience His grace and His touch with the balm of Gilead and the hope of eternity he brings to the soul. If you do, God will grow you better and you will not grow bitter. Running to God includes finding a safe Christian community which will help you share the burdens. We are not meant to bear the burdens alone. The truth will se us free if we acknowledge the pain we are feeling to those we can trust.
Suicide often comes because a person is in a deep depression. Depression is an illness. An organ of the body is sick. In this case, the organ that is sick is the brain. This is a mental illness. When depression causes suicide, the illness is fatal. This is so sad because suicide is always preventable. However, we have placed a stigma on mental illness. This is especially true in the church. We think that if we are believers we should always be joyful and at peace because we have our minds stayed on Jesus. People suffering from depression often do not feel free to ask of prayer. It is okay to ask for prayer if the organ that is sick is the heart, but not if it is the brain. If it is the brain, we must suffer silently without the benefit of support from our church.
If a believer dies of depression because of suicide (never say a person committed suicide –like he committed some crime or unpardonable sin), we speak in shaming terms. We wonder if those left behind are feeling some sort of guilt or shame. We never have these thoughts if some young athlete dies playing basketball due to some detectable heart disease. We say he died because he had a bad heart. The suicide victim died because he had a sick brain. Our son was sick and his sickness took his life.
Scripture does not teach that suicide is a mortal sin – with no forgiveness. This is not a moral failure or sin, but a faith failure. Like Peter who was walking on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and saw the wind and waves and began to sink, Ron’s faith failed. My son was walking with Jesus, but he got his eyes on his difficulties, which seemed overwhelming. He lost sight of Jesus and His outstretched hand and he died. His sickness took from him the ability to think and choose. He did not choose to die. In that moment, his sickened brain gave him no choice but to die.
Remember that Satan has no power of life or death. This is God’s domain. Satan certainly cannot take a soul out of the hand of a loving God. God’s Word tells us that nothing can separate us from the Lord – not life, not death. One noted Christian counselor told us shortly after Ron’s death,” Ron’s life was not shortened.”
I sat up and asked what he meant. “Ron was only 30 years old”, I said.
He said, “Ron has eternal life and you cannot shorten eternal life.” Jesus told us that if we believed in Him, even if we die, we would live again. What a wonderful hope we have in Jesus.
Having said all of this, I want to say with certainty that suicide is never God’s plan, nor is He pleased with it. It is a falling short of the plan of God for that person at the time and for his life. His faith failed. God was there desiring to rescue him, if only like Peter, as he was beginning to sink. He had cried out to Jesus, “save me!” Jesus waited to reach out His hand and pick him up. Often, by that time, the person has already gone beyond the means of rescue. There were people Ron could have talked to. There was medicine available to control the depression. If only in society and the church we would not make this illness so evil, as if anyone suffering from this illness somehow sinned. If I have high blood pressure, no one in the church cites me for a lack of faith. If I have depression and take drugs for it, there are all kinds of people ready to tell me that as a Christian I should not because these are controlling my mind; just trust the Holy Spirit, they say.
How do we recover when a loved one dies and his or her death seems so senseless and tragic? We must run to God who is our comfort and our Comforter. We must not hide our sorrow from our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but allow them to comfort us. We have made it this far because our church family, from around the world, held us in their arms. We were comforted every time someone said, “I am praying for you.” For months we literally ran to the mailbox each day to get our fix of comfort from the cards that kept coming. Those cards brought peace and healing to our hearts.
When you attempt to comfort someone who is grieving, do not try to make some sense out of the pain for them. Do not try to understand what they are feeling. Do not try to analyze. Do not tell them that God had some purpose. You don’t have to have the right words. Just let them know you care. Sometimes just a hug is enough. Let them know you are praying. At the same time, don’t be afraid to talk to them about their loved one. I want so much to talk about my son. I love him and was always proud of him. I love to hear how he touched lives. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about him because they think it will bring us pain. Of course it brings us pain, but to ignore him is even worse. There is a poem titled The Elephant in the Room. It speaks about an elephant in a room. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone is aware it is there.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?” and “I am fine” . . .
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else—
Except the elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say his name.
Oh, please say, “Ronnie” again.
Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about his death,
Perhaps we can talk about his life.
Can I say, “Ronnie,” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me alone…in a room…
With an elephant.
I am on a crusade to help people with depression or any mental illness to understand that their illness is not a shameful thing, not a sin. There is hope. There is help. People struggling with depression need to be able to say, “I am sick and I need prayer and I need help”. If you are suffering and you need a doctor, get one. If you need medicine, take some. There is no condemnation to all who are in Christ Jesus.
If your loved one died of this illness by suicide, you need not feel shame or guilt. If she was a believer, she is with Christ. Please feel free to talk to us about your loved one. Please let Christ heal your wounded soul and restore your joy and peace.
Our family is growing in the grace of God. Our daughter-in-law has married a wonderful man who loves her and our two granddaughters. They are in the ministry reaching a lost world with the hope of Jesus. Our daughter and her family serve the Lord. My wife and I are receiving the grace of God each day and we long to see our son when we see Jesus on that eternal day.
Daily I am aware that the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. The Lord did not refuse Ron, but received him when Ron placed his life in God’s hands. He took him. We rejoice in the name of the Lord.
There is a balm for the wounded, sorrowful soul and there is a resurrection that brings hope. Be comforted with this hope." --Ron Traub