Background: This was indeed a tragic death. This young woman had been abused as a child by her natural father. She had diabetes and her body was beginning to deteriorate. She was 25. She had become very depressed and was admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward, and then placed in the suicide prevention unit, where she committed suicide.
Sue's death is an especially tragic one, in several regards. Death came to Sue at an early age of 25. Death came to her needlessly. Death came as her wish, but at a time when she was trying desperately to think clearly about her life, but could not. Some of you mourn the death of Sue Smith as a beloved relative. Others, as a friend. Still others, as a teacher. Sue was, in many ways, an example to follow. In the manner of her death, she must not be our example, but in her life and faith, we can learn much from her, and would do well to imitate her. Sue's death presents us with the opportunity to view death through the perspective and principles of the Word of God. I wish to focus on several areas which concern Sue's death, and on the way God's Word instructs us to view them.
Sue's death needs to be viewed biblically, but it must also be understood in the light of her physical and emotional condition. Sue was a young woman, 25 years old, but life was quickly coming to a close for her, and she knew it. Her body was already beginning to fail. She had suffered much already. Even greater pain and suffering lay ahead, and she knew it. She had bravely chosen to fight her disease, and yet the very means that were determined to help her, seemed to produce the opposite effect. Much of her depression and mental state of mind may well have been attributable to her physical condition, and not to her spiritual condition. Let us remember that her death was but a piece of a larger whole, one that we will never really fathom.
Sue's life and death must be viewed biblically, but it must also be understood in the light of her personal faith in Jesus Christ. She understood, as did Moses--as reflected in the 90th Psalm, which was read this morning--that we live in a fallen world, a world of sin, of suffering, and death. She also knew that the only solution was for Jesus Christ to come to the earth and to reign as its King. Because of her faith in Christ, and because of the promise of the Bible that death ushers the saint into the eternal presence of Christ, death was a temptation, both because of what it would end, and because of what it would begin. It was a temptation which was, for her, too great. It does not justify her death, but it does make it easier to understand.
It is my desire to speak candidly to you this morning, first and foremost because I am obligated to faithfully proclaim the truths of God's Word, without diluting or distorting it. I am also confident that this is what Sue would desire, and it is the desire of her family as well. Sue's life has made an impact on many of your lives, and her death can do likewise.
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that Sue's death poses some unpleasant problems for us, which we must face squarely. I would like to turn your attention now to the Word of God, and to share with you some of its truths which shed both light and hope on the death of Sue Smith. There are several things about the circumstances of Sue's death which could cause us to think or act in a way that is inconsistent with God's Truth, as communicated in His Word, the Bible. I wish to briefly address three of these this morning.
Allowing the circumstances of Sue's death to cause doubts about her eternal destiny.
I was told of a day--14 years ago--when Sue, independently chose to place her trust in Jesus Christ as her Savior. Sue's eternal destiny is not to be viewed in terms of the events of this past week, but rather in terms of a decision made years ago. Every one of us must face the same decision, this very hour, if never before. God's Word declares that we are all sinners, deserving of eternal punishment and destined for hell. The good news is that Jesus Christ came to the earth to bear our punishment and to give us eternal life. His death was a death for our sins. His resurrection is the basis for our eternal life, and a guarantee of the power which we need to live according to His Word.
Some, perhaps with sincere motives, have suggested that those who have taken their own life will forfeit eternal life. This is simply not true. All who are born again, all who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, will enter into His heaven, into His eternal rest. Many Bible passages affirm this, but allow me to mention a few.
The Lord Jesus said,
"I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28-29).
The Lord Jesus Himself taught that once we are in His hands, our future is also in His hands. No one--not even we ourselves--can rob us of the certainty and security of eternal life, once we have placed our eternal destiny in His hands. Our eternal life is in His hands, not ours. We may take our own physical life in our hands, but not our eternal life.
Three other texts give us great comfort concerning the eternal security of one who has trusted in Christ, regardless of the circumstances of their death, even though they should, in a moment of doubt or fear or despair, take their own life:
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
In the first passage (2 Timothy 2:11-12), we find that even when we are faithless, when our faith fails, His faithfulness endures. Our security is not contingent upon our faithfulness, but in His. Thus, we are eternally secure. In the second text (1 Corinthians 5:4-5), Paul is dealing with a wayward saint. In the context, Paul has indicated that this individual, a true Christian, is guilty of sin which even shocked the wicked Corinthians. And yet, Paul conceives of the worst possible case being the destruction of the individual's body--his physical death, but not the destruction of his soul. In fact, Paul speaks of physical destruction as the means by which God delivers that person's soul from eternal torment. The worst form that divine judgment can take in the life of a Christian is physical death, but never the eternal torment of hell.
In the last text (Romans 8:35, 37-39), Paul specifically names death as that which cannot separate us from the love of God. This is because Christ died for us. He has already died, and if we have trusted in Him by faith, so have we (in Christ). Thus, death no longer has the sting it holds for the unbeliever (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55).
May I say it once again, with all of the conviction which the Word of God gives us, SUE'S ETERNAL DESTINY IS ASSURED BY A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST, AND NOT WITH HER FAITHFULNESS, PERFECT OBEDIENCE, OR SINLESS LIFE. This may sound strange to your ears, but it is not sin that keeps anyone from heaven, for all of those who go to heaven are sinners. What keeps us from heaven is the rejection of God's grace, of His provision of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Jesus is both our salvation and our security. He is the author of our faith, and its finisher (Hebrews 12:2).
Wrongly responding to Sue's death, due to its circumstances and its seeming untimeliness.
There are many wrong responses to Sue's death which are possible, but I would like to focus on two of them.
The first wrong response to Sue's death might be anger. This anger may be focused either toward Sue, for leaving us prematurely, or toward God, for allowing her desire for death to be realized. Job could easily have been angry toward God for the innocent death of his children, who perished not because of his sins, nor for their own, but because of Job's righteousness. As we read through the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Job, we seen that God was using Job as an object lesson of faith. God permitted Satan to take the life of Job's children, all of whom perished in a windstorm (Job 1:18-19). And yet Job responded in worship, not in anger:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20-21).
Job's comfort was not to be found in his understanding of the reason for his children's death, for it was a mystery to him. Job's comfort came in knowing the character of the God whom he served. His God was a God who was both good and powerful. His God was both strong and loving. Thus he could accept what happened as coming from the hand of his God and worship even in a time of grief and loss.
The second wrong response to Sue's death could be guilt. Some here may be guilt-ridden due to something that was said or done, or perhaps due to something that was not said or done. Now it is too late to undue the wrong we have done. This guilt, rooted in our own sin, is genuine, but there is a solution for it nonetheless. There is also a false guilt that can often plague us. We may wonder if something we might have said or done could have prevented her death. There is a solution for false guilt, too.
The Bible describes a terrible sin, committed by one of the great Old Testament saints--David. In 2 Samuel chapter 11 we read of David's sexual sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Uriah had gone to war, to fight for David, but David had stayed home, and in the process had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Bathsheba became pregnant and David sought to cover his sin with deceit. Ultimately, he resorted to murder. The child that resulted from this act of sin was seriously ill for 7 days, and then the child died. During the time of the child's sickness, David refused to eat, laying on the ground all night as he petitioned God for the life of the child. Nevertheless, the child died. David's servants were afraid to inform him, because of the way he had mourned during the child's illness. But, to their amazement, when he learned of the child's death, he washed his face, he ate, and he worshipped God. How could this be? How could David worship God when his sin, his guilt, had caused the death of an innocent child? David was truly guilty, but his guilt was somehow put aside.
How can we, like David, find a relief from our own guilt, whether false or true? The answer is two-fold. From 2 Samuel chapter 12, we learn that David was assured that even though his sin had cost the child its life, this child would spend eternity with him. In answer to the question of his servants, David responded,
"But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23).
David's sin had cost two lives, but not for eternity. David could rejoice that in heaven not only would he be there, but so would the child (and even Uriah, for that matter!).
Also, David found great comfort because he was assured of God's forgiveness of his sin. Psalm 51 is an inspired record of David's prayer of confession and repentance. Here we find David assured of His forgiveness, based upon the goodness and the grace of God. Our guilt, then, is removed by the grace of God, who has forgiven our sins through His Son, Jesus Christ, whom David elsewhere called his Lord, even though He was his own offspring (cf. Matthew 22:41-46). The same Christ, whose death on the cross of Calvary, assures us of the forgiveness of Sue's sins, offers us the same kind of forgiveness. All we must do is to acknowledge our need for it (our sin) and to receive it.
Dwelling too much on the tragic and sorrowful circumstances surrounding Sue's death, rather than on the heavenly realities of it.
Sue's final days were not glorious ones. They were often tragic, painful, and unpleasant. It is possible, even likely, that our minds will dwell on these unpleasant circumstances, rather than on the glory and joy which the Bible describes. Let me illustrate what I am saying with two examples.
Psalm 56 is a psalm written by David, praising God for delivering him from the hands of the Philistines. It is a marvelous psalm of praise. But when we read the background to this psalm in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, we discover that the circumstances were no so glorious as we might have thought. David feared for his life, when he learned that his identity was known to the Philistines. David escaped death by pretending to be insane. It was not nearly so glorious, in the outworking, in its outward appearance, as it was in reality.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 contains a similar situation. There was a certain unnamed rich man whose life was one of luxury and ease. Even at his death, it would seem that he was given all of the help and comfort his money could buy. His funeral, we can assume, would have been elaborate and expensive. And yet, we are told, this man went to hell. Lazarus, on the other hand, was a very poor man. He was sick and unhealthy. He had to compete with the dogs for his meals. His death may have been one that could have been prevented by good medical care. He probably was not even attended or comforted at his death. We don't even know that he was given a funeral or a proper burial. The circumstances of his passing were far from glorious, and yet, at the point of death all of this changed. He was given an angelic escort into heaven, where he lived in eternal comfort. Thus, the eternal realities, the eternal glories of heaven are often the opposite of what earthly appearances would suggest.
I believe that this applies to Sue's death. It was not a glorious year and a half. There were unsuccessful medical and psychological treatments. There were days of depression and sorrow and suicidal thoughts. Here final days were spent in unconsciousness. But that, my friend, is the outward appearance. The heavenly reality is vastly different. The Christian, I believe, has an angelic escort to heaven, and a joyous reception. The Christian is, at death, absent from the body, but present with the Lord Jesus Christ. This, I believe, was Sue's experience. It can be yours as well.
Sue's death is not to serve as an example for you. We dare not suggest that you should imitate her in her death. There is much you could imitate in her life. But most of all, I urge you to imitate her in her faith in Jesus Christ. Here, my friend, is the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins--all of them, and the certainty of eternal life. Here is the guarantee of our eternal fate being in God's hands, not ours. It is in this that we can rejoice, and you can as well if you but receive the gift of salvation which Sue received in her youth. May the comfort of God's salvation be yours today. And may the Word of God give us comfort and joy in the death of Sue Smith this day, and in the days to follow.