Since the end of November 2013, five pastors have committed self-murder in the United States of America. Each man was considered a godly man by his congregation and each congregation was shocked by their pastor’s choice to put himself on a throne, only God alone has the right to occupy. With all that has transpired in our nation in the last several years, in the way of a growing animosity of the Government and culture against those in Christ, we have missed a growing epidemic against those who minister to the faithful. If we actually knew the numbers of pastors committing self-murder, committing sexual sins that destroy their platform to present Jesus (ministerial suicide), have renounced their faith, or those who leave their post in exhaustion, we would be stunned for sure. We also would know squarely that the devil is executing a seek ‘n’ destroy mission. The night of Jesus betrayal He uttered the following words, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Matthew 26:31). These words were not only fulfilled on that night, but are a potential for any flock when their shepherd falls. It’s time the church realizes the devil is not only aware of this but endeavoring to make it a normal and unchecked reality.
When a pastor commits self-murder the repugnant nature of the act and the confusion it brings leads us down predictable paths of debate. These paths are not only predictable but 1,000,000 miles from where our discussion should be focused. The saints must be aware of our proclivity to miss the real issue in our rush to cement our own theological pretexts, which are more about our own fears than productively and biblically attacking the problem. Over the last few months in Christian media, this has been seen over and over as we make our statements; “They must have never been saved”, “They must have backslidden”, “They are in hell for sure because its murder”, “Regardless of their sin they are in heaven because they accepted the Lord”, “God is merciful and because they must have been mentally ill grace will prevail”, “They must have been possessed”. I could probably go on for quite a while, but we’ll miss the point, for the issue is not their eternal destination, but what led to their untimely demise and the horror, confusion and chaos left in wake of their decision. We ought to be very careful to not place ourselves on the throne of God’s judgment because of our theological pretexts, for the potential exists that we can approve of this sin in others looking for an excuse or cause those struggling to hide in fear of judgment because “Christians should not have such thoughts”. It should be enough to know that self-murder is serious, rebellious and sinful and the souls who choose it are in the hands of a God who never makes mistakes, a God who is a consuming fire and very much against willful sin in those who are “believers”. That may not win the argument on either side, but it does let us move on to what is clearly important; why does this happen and how can we walk together in preventing it?
In discussing self-murder it is important understand it can be justified, by the one choosing it, as a means of avoiding the revelation of sin that will lead to scandal. In the past few years this has happened in a few cases. Sadly the person decides in their carnality or as suggested by Satan or both to not walk in I John 1:9, whereby we continue to live in forgiveness, cleansing and grace by facing our sin with Christ. No matter how one would justify self-murder under these conditions, as a means to sparing their loved ones pain, the decision is about avoiding shame and the consequences of our actions.
A second factor in this sinful choice is to grasp the decreasing amount of hope that leads the life of these ministers. In both Psalms and Proverbs we have an indication that even hope in God when not requited can gnaw at our soul if we are not careful.
Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes it is a tree of life”
Psalm 27:13-14 “I would have fainted lest I believed to see the glory of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say on the LORD.
Hope is a great thing if we realize where our hope truly lies, for when not doing so our hearts are sick (rubbed worn out), our spirits faint and we leave off trusting the Lord. It is important to remember that the OT saints (as well as humans in general) had a little difficulty in understanding the reality of lag time between hope and fulfillment. This is the reason the encouragement in Psalm 27:14, is to wait on the Lord and He will strengthen you. Understanding this is vital to the NT saint as well, for when hope is low it affects our faith in God, as faith is the substance of things hope for and the evidence not seen. Pushing this a bit further will reveal the difficulty in those who lead the flock of God. In those who lose hope, it happens because they have their hope in the wrong place. What is the hope of the Christian life? We find the answer in Titus 2:11-14…
Titus 2:11-14 “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a special people, zealous for good works”.
This is a problem for many of the called of the Lord who’s hope is not in hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, but rather in their own warped expectations or those of other men or the devil. We have lived with the unreasonable expectation that if the crowd following you is not growing you are failing or not blessed. We pray according to those false hopes and when they do not arrive or come in ways not meeting our expectation, are heart sickens. We then begin to attempt to manipulate God by more fasting, more praying, more work or more education. In spite of the effort or even increases it is never enough, for our hope is not in Christ forever or even the blessing of fellowship with Christ now by the Spirit, but in our being successful. This is narcissistic and leads to self-destruction. Oh that we would remember this blessed hope and what it means now…
I John 3:1-3 “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope is purified even as He Himself is pure”.
Think of the toxicity of the mind and heart that leads to self-murder, think of the despair that leads to them thinking they are alone and forsaken of God. Think of the rotten voices that declare “It will never change, you have failed and there is no way out or through. Then apply the truth of the scripture above and see that those having taken their own lives have forgotten they are children of the living God, with a hope in the future with Jesus. Without this the only option is darkness, and a sick and fainting heart that is no match for the devil who is the father of lies. How sad this is for we have hope whether in prison, or at the podium, whether in pain or in provision. Our hope is in Christ alone, and those who have come to self-murder have either lost their faith in Christ or followed some warped rational that God will approve of their self-centered ploy; a ploy that brings devastation to the faithful and ammunition to the world long after their self-murder was committed.
Just for a moment I want to speak of those left behind. It is said that in the case of a moral failure where a minister must be removed for sin, it takes at least seven years for the flock to trust another minister. This happens because the flock follows the Word of God commands and visible life a pastor, who is found to be different than what he preached. No matter how trustworthy and faithful the next guy is, the wounded heart and grief in the flock over the past minister is too great to bear. Although wanting to be close with their shepherd, they keep themselves and him at arm’s length as to stave off further hurt. In the first Church I was the pastor following a fallen pastor. The cynicism and lack of trust in normally very good people was difficult to handle and impossible to help them through. The pain and dysfunction in the former minister’s wife and children was excruciating to see. Although adultery is sinful we can understand some of the mechanics of why it happens, but in the case of suicide it defies natural logic and the human self-preservation instinct. It also causes us to ask how could this man who was so “Christian” and concerned with me not quitting on Jesus do the same. In a news report of a pastor who committed suicide this past week, a deacon and close friend of the deceased minister reported that all seemed fine. In fact the night before at their board meeting they were joking and laughing as they always did, only to find out the next morning his friend had lost hope in God, and saw death as the only option. This pastor was a proud father, grandfather and husband, whose family had their hearts ripped out and stomped on by his actions. This minister was the head of a Christian youth program where he had contact with dozens of children from his town. Think of the pain, the confusion, the anger, and the attack this is on their faith. We must fight for hope, we must win this battle, and we must stand against this sin, but how?
I Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober; be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him steadfast in the faith, knowing these same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world”
In the above passage we find three vital keys to overcoming the loss of hope that leads to self-murder or any sin that inflicts pain on others and harms the testimony of Christ.
- Be Sober, and vigilant because the devil”; The New Testament is replete with revelation about the battle we are fighting against unseen powers. In the quintessential passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-18, we read, “we wrestle not with flesh and blood”. The idea conveyed in the Greek is not an athletic wrestling match, but a duel, where one would seek to end the match with their foot on their opponent’s neck. This duel would end with the plucking out of the loser’s eyes. In order to win against hopelessness that leads to destruction we must keep our eyes on Christ and realize the devil is looking to take our spiritual sight. Pray for ministers world over and the saints for the battle is on.
- Resist him steadfast in the faith”; Remember the battle is to convince you God has left you, you’re not called, there is no hope, and all would be better off without you. For the saint of God, these statements must be recognized as lies from the father of lies. We combat lies with truth, yet just claiming a scripture may not work. II Corinthians 10:3-6 speaks about taking the lies captive in the obedience of Christ. This is to resist steadfast in the faith, but verse 6 uses the words, “ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled”. In the first place we need to take the word of God and talk back to the devil. If he wants to lie to convince you that there is no hope, argue his mouth shut with the truth of God, in Christ Jesus. Punish those disobedient thoughts, but remember this does not work if we are disobedient and compromised with the world. Resist with obedience and Truth.
- Knowing the same sufferings are… in your brotherhood”; as intimated earlier, self-murder is narcissistic. Those who come to that place of death can see nothing other than their pain, their failure, their abandonment and their misery. The Word of God tells us to recognize these temptations for what they are and be comforted that we are not the only ones suffering them. Remember no temptation coming upon you is specific to you only but common to all. This can be mitigated by talking with others honestly. Our “own” painful struggles are often like that question you would like to have answered but are afraid to ask. In fear you sheepishly raise your hand and find out later, thirty others wanted to ask the same question. When we hit despair if we will just honestly confide, we will find the devil has been sniffing around others in similar ways. This perspective is lifesaving and faith affirming.
Let me remind you that Jesus was tempted to take His own life in the wilderness temptation, “throw yourself down if you’re the Son of God”. He trusted God His Father but His hope would not be fulfilled until He completed His mission, dying for the sin of all and was raised from the dead. Let us take our cue from our Savior who endured pain even though innocent, and would not quit until paying the last full measure for our salvation. Our hope is in Him. Please pray for those who minister the gospel, and encourage those in Christ around you to hold on to Jesus.