It was with a sad heart that I received the news this morning that a former pastor of mine had committed suicide after a long battle with depression. Although I have not attended that church in about 5 years, I still remember my former pastor as a loving individual and a strong leader. Like everyone, he had his flaws, and as with many pastors in my life, I only knew him from a Sunday morning distance. Still, he seemed to be a solid man of God who tried to serve to the Lord with his life.
The hallmark of a good pastor, I believe, is that he leaves you thinking. He gives you something to ponder after the message is completed. In death, this pastor did just that for me. After my wife told me the news, I stood there this morning, staring at myself in the mirror with half my hair blown dry.
“What will happen to the church,” I wondered. “How will his final act impact the legacy of his preaching?”
That last question may sound a bit callous, I’ll admit. But that is honestly what went through my head. After a lifetime of preaching on hope and the faithfulness of God, will his congregants see the light in these messages as dimmed? Will they begin to question, as well, the meaning of life?
I hope not. But no one ever knows. What I can say is that regardless of a person’s choices, God’s truth remains true. Hopelessness may reign in a person’s life, but it does not negate God’s love or His Word. Depression may cover one’s soul like a fog, but it does not diminish the power of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Therefore, God’s truth, love, and power are secure, even when we feel alone, confused, or are hurting.
The choices and death of one godly man can glorify or call into question an entire career of service. But I do not think that even this suicide will be the final word on God’s goodness or His Truth. In Romans 8 we are told that God works everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Even though the man has died, the Lord continues to work. He is a God who perseveres through our temporal pain, and can show others His glory and grace, even in the midst of life-altering grief. Perhaps his legacy will be challenged. Those on the outside may criticize the veracity of his beliefs. But I believe that whatever attacks are brought against God because of this man’s choice will not find a foothold. Yes, they may create doubts but perhaps this pastor’s life and death can be a clarion call that awakens the depressed and lonely in his church to seek help. Perhaps the congregants will seek the Bible deeper because of this tragedy and will become a stronger force for Christ in their community. After all, faith that does not seek understanding is tepid belief.
This is an opportunity to rise above tragedy and see more than the man or his life. You see, one’s legacy is not something at which a person arrives. It is something one builds over the course of one’s life. This pastor’s suicide, like all deaths, is now a reflection on who and what he served. How did he spill out his life? The question, then, we should all be asking is not about him, but about ourselves. How am I spilling out my life? What legacy have I built so far? If something were to happen to me today, would an examination of how I spent my time, money, and choices, stand up against the image of the man I wanted to be? If I do not know the answer to this question, perhaps it is time to reexamine myself. To ask: what is the one thing that is bigger than myself that I live for? I won’t be remembered for how many NCIS episodes I watched or what college I could afford for my kids. But I will be remembered for how successful I have lived in service, love, and selflessness to a purpose more transcendent than me.
Thank you, pastor. Even in death you make me think and challenge me to live for something greater than myself. And that is the hallmark of a successful man, especially a man of God.