Yesterday would have been my dear friend Granger's 31st birthday. 5 1/2 years ago we lost him to what can only be described as a tragic and gut wrenching death as he took his own life in his mom's home one night.
I can remember getting the call from his wife who I had been keeping in touch with for the last few weeks. We had just moved from Charleston to Greenville, and I had been walking my close friend through what was going to end up to be his last battle with depression on earth. I never expected to hear the words over the phone while I sat at my own mom's home, at her kitchen table, in the very same way Granger breathed his last.
"He's gone Sean. He's dead."
Those words ripped me in ways I never had been ripped before. Granger and Kayla had spent the last few years with Lane and I in close friendship. We worked out together, ate more than a few meals each week together; they were volunteers in my student ministry. Granger was known as this happy go lucky guy who would make you smile just as quickly as anyone I knew. And now, in an instant, he was gone. I had planned on calling him with my new phone number in the next couple of days, and now that was a phone call I would never make.
Being in student ministry at the time, literally hundreds of students were impacted by him. With that impact came heart wrenching questions: Why did he do this? Why would God allow this? Did he not love us?
The real question that broke my heart was one born out of bad theology carried through generations: Does this mean Granger isn't in heaven?
I spent more time walking people through that very question than I did on anything else that week, outside of breathing and crying. Im sure if I could go back and rifle through all of my text messages from that week I would find dozens and dozens of questions like that. And now, on what would have been the day after Granger's 31st birthday, I felt like it was a good time to clarify some of those same concerns.
So let's answer it. Does suicide remove you from your membership in Heaven? Will God blot out the names of those who take their own lives?
Absolutely, positively, 100% not. No. Uh-uh. Nope. Not even close.
Here's the reality of what happens: Depression is an absolutely devastating mental illness. In one moment, it can absolutely destroy you. I do not pretend to know any more of it than most people- I've just been on the receiving end of seeing it destroy lives more than I'd like to admit- but I know that when it reaches down into the depths and brings people to a place where in their own minds there is no conceivable way out, Jesus doesn't look at you and blame you for it.
The true reality of the Gospel, not the augmented one that sprouts hyper-religiousness and moralism, is that for every single inequity in the believer's life, Jesus died. Jesus' death on the cross isn't given with a qualifying statement of what its limits are in the life of a believer. Jesus' blood covers each and every struggle you and I will ever have. It covers every moment that Granger contemplated (and never told any of us) taking his own life. It covers every time you look in the mirror and think you aren't good enough. It covers every moment you have where you disqualify yourself from Jesus' love, from having a seat in a church row, or from being worth fighting for. Jesus' blood is so heavy that it covers every single insecurity that would rear its ugly head and bring you death. This isn't what I think, its what He says about Himself in Hebrews 9:27-28: Just as man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment, so also Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.
Romans 8 continues with verse 1 reaffirming that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The chapter concludes with restating as much: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Here is the overwhelming answer to the question: in the same way God doesn't cause tragedy like suicide, He also does not condemn those who end their lives because of it. Granger is in the place that Christ promised Him the moment that Granger renounced himself and lived for Jesus alone, and at the end of this life, so too shall all believers be. Jesus went before us to prepare a place for us that is unlike what we have in this world: devoid of pain, hurt, sin, fear, anxiety, anger and wrath; Full only of peace, love, tranquility, and worship of the Savior who died in our place.
As a caveat, I want to be sure to state that I am not removing the pain of what suicide brings. Granger's death caused much suffering and heartache to hundreds of people. Also in the book of Romans, we are told that our battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the spirit of death, satan the deceiver and liar, and that we have been given victory through Christ in those moments. In Genesis 50, we read that although man means to harm, God turns it to good. In 1 Peter 3 we see that Satan prowls the earth looking for his next meal to devour, but Jesus tells us that we are not to be overcome by the world, for HE has overcome it. Our endeavor is that when struggle and trial strike, we are able to run to Jesus instead to run to our insecurity and fear.
Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporal state. It is never the right answer. It is never without immense pain for those around you. It is a state that is devoid of hope and we have the answer of everlasting hope. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, PLEASE reach out. You can email us at the church. You can call and text. There is even a great helpline to help you walk through your hurt: 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone, and the world would not be better without you.
If you've been affected by suicide, please know you are not alone either. We are here to help. There is no shame in being a victim; being a victim instead offers us an opportunity to be healed. Reach out and let us know because you need to know you are not alone.
After all, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. No height nor depth. No rulers, no angels, no present circumstance or trial to come. Nothing can separate you from His love and care. You are never out of His reach; and Praise Christ that on what should have been Granger's 31st birthday, he isn't too far out of Christ's reach either. In fact, he is staring his Savior right in the face. Amen and Amen.
Rest in Peace my friend. See you one day.
Granger McKewn Drake: July 12, 1987- January 20, 2013