Conducting a Funeral when Suicide Is the Cause of Death
“Nothing jars the mind and emotions like news of a suicide,” writes Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Practical Shepherding. For this week’s series on suicide, Brian has graciously given me permission to reprint a portion from his practical book, Conduct Gospel-Centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton). Brian continues,
I remember the shocking news I received when returning home for a visit during my sophomore year in college. My mother told me that the father of one of my close friends had committed suicide. I asked my dad, ‘Why did he do it?’ His reply has stuck with me, ‘Why does anyone take his own life?’ My dad let me know that we could dredge up ideas but ultimately, no one knows. In such settings, does the gospel minister have anything to say?
Realize that no one knows what is going on in the psyche of a person who takes his/her life. So be careful of making quick judgments. Sometime emotional illnesses or physiological conditions contribute to the snap decision to take one’s life. John Newton, the famous Anglican minister and author of “Amazing Grace,” spent years ministering to William Cowper, one of the 18th century’s most beloved hymnists, as he struggled with depression, melancholy, and attempted suicide. [Gaius Davies, Genius, Grief and Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering and Success]
As family members ask why, it is okay to probe with them the rationale of their loved one’s decision, though I would be careful of trying to dig too deeply at that emotionally charged point. The minister’s goal is to help the family deal with the sense of guilt that will inevitably fall upon them. What they are looking for in probing for a rationale is what part they had that led to the suicide. Here, we must assure the family that the decision to take one’s life rested with the deceased alone. Point to this as a time to learn how to improve one’s life and service to others. Above all, point to the peace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The funeral service is an opportunity to demonstrate biblically how the gospel is an anchor for us in the worst storms of life. The service is really about how the gospel applies in such settings.