I was out working in the yard, and felt compelled to come in and write this. Nobody reads posts on Saturday nights, but here goes…
Over the past few days I have been watching as the world has discussed suicide, and the spectrum is not only visible, it is in full battle mode. I have read articles and seen interviews on TV and online that showcase how differently people can view a tragedy.
Some decry suicide as the ultimate act of selfishness. Some defend the deceased as a victim of disease. Some say it was a willful choice, while others say it was beyond control. Some would hold the person accountable before God, while others give them a pass.
It is a passionate and volatile discussion. And I think most people get it wrong.
Before I explain myself, let me add that my experience with suicide is very limited. I have never had a friend or family member end their life. My closest encounter was a few months after I was called to be bishop. An inactive young man in my ward killed himself, and I was immediately involved by virtue of my calling. I was with the family as they grieved, and I organized and spoke at the funeral. (My first funeral.)
It was during that difficult preparation that I learned a great deal about this subject none of us ever want to learn about, as well as a usually unspoken realization about what we might understand:
We as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are privy to modern revelation and counsel that gives us a greater understanding of life, death and agency than anyone else. This includes bloggers, TV pundits, guidance counselors, Oprah, or Matt Walsh. That greater understanding is there for us, if we search it out.
We are also privy to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, THE Comforter. No drug, counselor, or self-help book can even touch the power of the Spirit in dealing with crisis.
So here is some of what I learned – focusing mostly on the role of Agency and how it applies to those who end their own lives.
The Apostle M. Russell Ballard delved into this topic in a talk called “Suicide: Something We Know, Some Things We Do Not”. In it, he said:
“I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. I feel that the Lord also recognizes differences in intent and circumstances. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.” (italics and bolding added)
The Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said: Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.”
It sounds to me like there is much more to this issue than simply saying someone “made a wrong choice.” Agency is a precious thing, yet we can get to a point where we have lost that gift.
President Boyd K. Packer said, “The battle over man’s God-given agency continues today. Satan and his minions have their lures all around us, hoping that we will falter and take his flies so he can reel us in with counterfeit means. He uses addiction to steal away agency.” (link)
Elder Robert D. Hales spoke at length about how Agency can be lost, and reclaimed in his talk “To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency.” (link)
I have listed four references where prophets have discussed how Agency can be stolen away through addiction, or lost through behavior, deception, and mental or emotional struggles, and how the Lord might look upon such acts.
So let me ask a couple of questions:
• Is it so hard to accept that when a person ends their life, they are not functioning with their Agency intact? Is there still a choice? Or have they reached a place where that ability is lost to them?
• Is someone who is high on drugs in a mental or emotional place where they have a clear perspective of the choices that lie before them? Or are they “mentally clouded?”
• How about a person who is mired in the darkness of depression? Can they see clearly?
• I can’t even bring myself to use the term “chose to end their life,” because I am not so sure if perception of “choice” was available to them, or not. I do not know!
Elder Ballard said, “I believe the Lord will consider each case separately and judge the circumstances of each individual. I have sincerely sought direction from our Father in Heaven to help me understand the nature of those in these circumstances. And I have come to know, as well as anything else that I know from God, that these people have a place in the kingdom of our Father, and it is not one of darkness or despair, but one where they can receive comfort and experience serenity.”
Those of you have followed me over the years know that I am a black-and-white kind of guy. But this issue gives me pause.
• I cannot in good conscience cast a stone at anyone who has gotten to that place where they take their own life. I have never walked in those shoes – even remotely.
• I cannot call them selfish, or egoist, because I am not in their heads or hearts.
• If I have a choice between justice and mercy on this issue, I will come down hard on the side of mercy.
• If anyone interprets this post as condoning suicide, or painting it as anything other than the tragedy that it is, they simply don’t understand.
Hope exists through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It always exists.
“And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.” (D&C 138:57–59; italics added.)