Where is God in all this?
One of the more frequently asked questions from people who are experiencing the loss of a loved one from suicide is where is God in all of this. How can God allow this to happen? Why didn’t God save this loved one from the brink of suicide? Sometimes survivors of a suicide lash out at God in anger and frustration because God abandoned the survivor, as well as God abandoned this loved one in their moment of despair and hopelessness. That is a very normal reaction. Unfortunately I do not have an answer to those questions. Those questions are very normal and very common.
My understanding of God can be summed up in one word: MYSTERY. When I was first ordained to the priesthood, I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of God and who God was in relationship to me and the world. It was a very simple faith and one that was satisfactory for me at the time. As I grew older and experienced some of the vicissitudes of life my faith in God changed and grew more complex and more profound. I had studied theology for four years and felt that I was well equipped to be able to answer most of the questions that were posed to me. I was very naïve and I had a lot to learn. With age and some of the experiences that I had in those early years after ordination my faith began to change and grow deeper and more profound. The most valuable and richest experience that I have had in my life is the work that I have done with survivors of a completed suicide. I have wrestled with issues of faith and questioned the wisdom of God as I have journeyed with survivors over these past thirty-four years. My faith has grown and matured as I have delved into the mystery of the Godhead.
I remember years ago being part of a funeral for a five year old child. Before we went to the Church I said a few prayers at the funeral home and I shared with the people gathered there before the casket was closed the questions that we all had and that was why would God allow such a young child to die at such a young age. I shared with the group of people that I did not know why God allows such tragic events to happen in our world. I left it at that. We proceeded to the church for the Mass of resurrection. Another priest was giving the homily and he began by asking the same question of why would God allow such a thing to occur. I thought to myself that we had asked the same question a short time ago. I was intrigued as to where he was going to go with this topic. He very confidently explained that it was the will of God that this was going to happen. He had that very simple explanation and he was very satisfied that he had explained the mystery of this untimely death. I remember that I just shook my head in disbelief. I didn’t then and I don’t now believe that these tragic events that engulf our world and our individual lives are the will of God. In one sense I envied that priest that he could say such a thing and think that he was consoling the congregation and then move on. On the other hand I am glad that I struggle with these issues and seek answers to these very profound questions. My faith has been transformed and deepened as I have struggled with the issues of faith. My love of God has grown to a very deep and profound level and the mystery of God has grown in the same way. I can’t understand God and I have learned to accept the fact that God defies understanding. God has become so mysterious to me and no explanation is possible because God can’t be explained or captured by our limited minds.
On another occasion I was part of a funeral of a very young child who had died as the result of an automobile accident. The priest giving the homily began by saying “For those people who do not believe in God, no explanation for this untimely death is possible. For those people who do believe in God, no explanation is necessary”. He went on with the homily. Those words have stayed with me over these years as I have struggled and questioned the wisdom of God. To believe in God means to be willing to engage in uncertainty and doubt and question the wisdom of God. Faith in God means to be willing to struggle with issues that impact our lives. Sometimes people lose faith in God because a loved one has taken their life. That can be a normal reaction. Sometimes the hiatus of non-belief is temporary and sometimes it is permanent.
One of the tasks for survivors of suicide is to wrestle with mystery. The question of why did this loved one take their life is a most common question. Few survivors get an adequate answer to that question. There might have been signs of depression or other signs that things were not going well for this loved one but nothing was so bad that ending one’s life was the answer. It is usually not on the radar screen of survivors that this loved one might take their life. Survivors hope that things will turn around and that this loved one will be alright. When the suicide occurs the survivors are in a state of shock and disbelief. The question of why is rarely ever adequately answered to the satisfaction of survivors. Eventually survivors are led to believe that they will never have an answer that will satisfy them. Survivors learn to live with that uncertainty. Faith in God also rarely brings comfort during the grief journey. It adds a dimension to one’s life but it does not answer the question or bring peace of mind. One has to delve into the mystery of God and live with uncertainty and doubt and plunge into a quest for God and a desire to learn more about this entity we call God.
I’ll never be able to answer the WHY’S that survivors have about the death of a loved one from suicide. That is part of the mystery of life. Any explanation will fall short. Unconditional loving presence can help to soothe the pain that is present in the hearts of survivors. This presence can help bind the wounds that engulf survivors and bring hope to survivors who are devastated by the loss of a loved from suicide. I am fully aware of the limitations of reaching out to survivors. The pain can never be extracted from the souls and hearts of grieving survivors but any type of presence can help to soothe the brokenhearted.
As always I want to assure each and every member of our LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers during my quiet time which takes place regularly in my life. I encourage you to do the same for each other and especially to remember those survivors who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,