Counseling One Another

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Counseling One Another

Suicide In the Church

Our hearts go out to Rick and Kay Warren as they now walk through the valley of the shadow of death in a way that is unimaginable for any parent who has not been there. Our prayers go up to the heavenly Father who is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:3-5). May the Warren family know the sufficiency of the grace of Christ in ways they have not known before.

In response to Matthew’s death, the Internet is a flurry with articles about the subject of mental illness, depression, and suicide and, specifically, how the church should interact with these realities of living in a fallen world. One particularly cautious, careful article is one that may not get much attention. Therefore, I encourage you to read Suicide in the Church by Dr. Ab Abercrombie of the Biblical Counseling Institute. Dr. Abercrombie writes from the perspective of one who has been involved in counseling ministry for over 30 years, holds a M.S.W. degree in Clinical Social Work and a Ph.D. in Human Services with a major in Psychology. He is licensed to practice in both Alabama and Florida as a professional counselor and family therapist, and is a Southern Baptist pastor.

Practically everyone in the Christian community has been affected by the suicide of Rick Warren’s son Matthew. The Body grieves with this influential pastor and his family as they face the unfathomable process of coping with this unimaginable loss.

Matthew’s death has also prompted the Church to examine our views on mental illness, psychiatric/psychological treatment, and medication. Many prominent Christian leaders have not only offered public statements of support for the Warrens, but are taking this opportunity to express opinions about an extremely sensitive subject that impacts a growing number of believers.

Most leaders are encouraging the Church to acknowledge that matters of depression and suicide are medical in nature and should be addressed no differently than other physical illnesses. They imply that to do otherwise promotes stigma and shame and restricts the believer’s access to appropriate care. [After mentioning recent articles from Ed Stetzer and Samuel Rodriguez, he continues...]

The statements made by Stetzer and Rodriquez seem impulsive at best, and potentially dangerous. Both esteemed leaders make very definitive statements that many in the Christian community will embrace as factual, when in fact they are not. In reality these matters are questions requiring study and biblical discourse. To suggest that these matters have been settled in Scripture, or even in science, is absolutely untrue.

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One Comment

  1. I would like to answer, in the comment section, the reader who sent me the following message by email, since she said it helped her and I think it will benefit more readers. She wrote, “After what was said in the article about mental illness being only biblical, I want you to take me off the list. I don’t want to hear from you again if you agree with this.”

    To which I replied: While the article certainly is stronger in conviction than perhaps others being widely read at this time, I think you have made the author more dogmatic than he is. Though he does say, “While some things are physical, all things are spiritual” (Eph 6:10-24), he seems to be saying that no aspect of our lives is disconnected from spiritual realities. “Some things are physical,” which includes some of what falls under the “mental illness” label. However, he is careful to not give undo authority to scientific conclusions that the medical community itself does not agree on. If you re-read the article you will notice several qualifying statements acknowledging that, while every true believer is obligated to interpret all of life through the lens of Scripture, there are physical, medical issues that we must face honestly.

    For instance, he calls all of us to “study and biblical discourse.” He says that even though there is the lack of clear evidence of such things as chemical imbalances, “This is not to rule out the possibility of medical influence. We live in a fallen, toxic world that always yields the same end: physical death. Some individuals get cancer and heart disease due to lifestyle; while others get similar illnesses through no fault of their own. If a heart or lung can become diseased, it is reasonable to assume the brain could as well.”

    In light of the fact that some of what is called “mental illness” is based on unverifiable scientific evidence, the writer is correct to exhort all Christian leaders to “be cautious about our declarations based upon personal experience and human assessment.” I agree with the author’s exhortation to all of us to not only show compassion at a time like this, but also to caution against dogmaticism and call us to biblical discernment.

    I hope that helps.
    Paul