Not many years back, I had some shocking news: a close relative had committed suicide. The first question on everyone's mind was, "Why did she do it?" especially as no one knew whether she had even written a farewell letter (her handbag had been stolen). Behind this, I sensed concern about whether God would take a dim view of her self-destruction, and whether she might even be lost forever. This notion is asserted by some.
Yet to say this would be to say that a person at their wits' end will be rejected by God precisely for being helpless. Jesus said it was just the sort of people who take their own life that he came to find and rescue, and his own life and death, with and for the helpless and despairing, back up his words.
Whatever personal torment has finally driven someone to take their own life, God has not prepared a hell for them to suffer in as a punishment, put simply, for suffering too much already.
It is a slander against God to say that he kicks people when they are down, only accepting those who are naturally tougher, and undamaged; while those who are too frail or too bruised - maybe even bruised by the actions or teachings of those who claim to represent God - are condemned to suffer forever for having weakness and wounds. That smacks of selection of the fittest, the most robust - quite the opposite of Jesus's portrayal of a new society where people at the bottom of the pile are invited to the king's special banquet, and where all wrongs are put right.
This hellfire-for-suicide doctrine conjures up a picture of our Father which can be read in the words of Psalm 109. Here are the relevant excerpts:
had no mercy,
But was cruel to the low and the poor,
Designing the death of the broken-hearted.
He took pleasure in cursing,
He had no delight in blessing,
He put on cursing like a robe
Yet the psalm presents this as a picture, not of God, but of a wicked man. The person who wrote this song knows better than to think such evil of God. For him, God will remain a faithful refuge when all others despise and turn against him, and even when he has come to the end of hope and faith. God not only will not condemn him, but will save him from his accusers. Here is what he says to God:
your mercy is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me ...
Help me, O LORD my God!
Oh, save me according to your mercy,
That they may know that this is your hand -
That you, LORD, have done it!
He knew that God would never abandon him and in another song said, "Even if I make my bed in the grave, you are there."
Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah had a terrific insight into the nature of the promised Saviour of the world: "A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoking wick he shall not quench." (Isaiah 42:3)
In Jesus's time, just like today, religious people didn't want anything to do with those who resorted to desperate acts. They saw only the act, and were quick to identify it as being against their rules: then they would slap on the label Sinner, and expect everyone to shun the person, to avoid the risk that disease or depravity might rub off on them.
Jesus, on the other hand, had no limits on what kind of people he would accept. Instead, he had an eye to finding what was lost, rescuing those who were burdened and in anguish, giving a reason for living to those who had long given up hope, and even giving life back to those who had died. This was no side issue: at the heart of his vision and purpose, as he announced it for the first time, was bringing comfort and healing to the broken-hearted.
Custom separated the 'unclean' and 'sinners' from their families and communities, in effect cutting off their lifeline: from then on they became 'non-persons'. In such a society, those who were excluded were thought by themselves and others as good as dead; so the very deliberate and public acts of Jesus as he touched them, spoke with them, visited their homes and even ate with them (which was a sign of complete acceptance), shouted a declaration to everyone that these were real, living people worth recognition and attention; and gave them the news that they were not forgotten but at last had reason for hope, and a future.
Two millennia have elapsed since then, but the nature of Jesus has not changed and will not change. Passing years have not made him hard-hearted or hostile! He will not angrily turn on those whom, in an earlier age, he would so lovingly and compassionately have lifted from their virtual non-existence.
God never abandons us. The very worst possible experience described in the Bible is represented in Revelation by the 'lake of fire'. Yet even there, 'the Lamb' is with those who are going through that experience. 'The Lamb' is a reference to Jesus as the one who sacrificed himself for the life of the universe. This is no accident, because he is the same Jesus that he has always been - compassionate, healing, taking on himself our sorrows, feeling with us in our pain and distress, bringing freedom as he opens our eyes to the truth of his reality and limitless love.
There is an interesting detail in this scene of the 'lake of fire' which I mention to contradict the idea that Jesus might be there to enjoy watching the sufferings of 'the damned': Jesus brings with him the holy angels, and these are described elsewhere as 'the servants of those who will be the heirs of salvation'. This is one of many hints we have that those in that 'lake of fire' experience are among the heirs of salvation.
And so we see that Jesus is always
there at our darkest times; that he never leaves us to suffer alone, and
never gives up until he has wiped every tear off every face.