Opinions on faith and life

Two Plus Two Isn’t Nine

2009-12-07

A friend alerted me recently to the suicide death of a popular mega-church pastor named Thomas Young (see also this blog and a bio here). While we cannot know all that went on in the final moments of this man’s life, there are disturbing statements being made to try and make sense of it.

This man was a Mark Driscoll success story, a bad boy turned preacher and church planter. Yet he chose to abruptly end his life after a fight with his wife. Which raises the question: can a saved person, especially a preacher, be saved and commit suicide? When we read the guy’s conversion story it all seems obvious because of the drastic change in his life. But consider a very similar story here, where the turn-around is attributed to “Alcoholics Anonymous, meditation and looking to a higher power”.

While some would call the other guy’s story a salvation experience, scripture does not support this at all. God is not a vague “higher power” and salvation is only through Jesus. So we have here two very similar lives and “conversions”, but the one that clearly wasn’t saved is not the one who took his own life.

And that brings me to the disturbing statements. He was not “called to go home to be with his heavenly father”; he “called” himself. He did not “make a bad choice” as if he had been trying to decide which suit to wear; he chose to punish his family and God for things that weren’t going his way. And if “the father of lies deceived him”, then God lied when He promised to keep us from falling and to prevent us from suffering anything that we could not bear (Mt. 6:13, John 17:15, 2 Thes. 3:3, 1 Cor. 10:13, 1 Peter 1:5, 1 John 5:18, Jude 1:24). It also absolves the man of any accountability to say “the devil made him do it”. And don’t these people always say that Eve and all women are the deceivable ones? If a man like this can be so deceived, then who was he “covering”?

Again, we cannot know whether there might have been some chemical imbalance or anything, and God is still the ultimate Judge of souls. But if we can only explain the suicide of an apparent believer by denying scriptural promises, then we don’t have any grasp of the great salvation we preach. And since unbelievers can mimic the same changed lives, and sometimes greater peace and self-control, then we have all the more reason to carefully consider what it is that saves and how we can recognize a fellow believer.

This incident highlights the vital need to sharply define the gospel. Spirit and Truth must walk together, and above all, no Christian leader should ever be unaccountable to others who are not in his or her “inner group”. There are always signs and red flags preceding a “choice” of this magnitude, and somebody somewhere along the line was not facing them or wasn’t allowed to speak of them. And we must wonder why this church planter, this life so changed, this preacher of righteousness, was in possession of a loaded gun during a fight with his wife.

When things don’t add up, we are most unloving if we turn a blind eye or try to cover it up so nobody ever learns a lesson. Keeping quiet is never the answer.

14 Comments

Paula Fether

This is too black and white even for you Ms Fether because you still feel a tug at your heart that to utter the truthmay hurt those left behind.

I don’t know where you get this, because uttering the truth is what this blog has been all about. The reason we cannot say for sure about Young’s eternal dwelling is because he professed faith in the Jesus of the Bible. God can be trusted to get this right, but unless the guy was wallowing in blatant sin, we have to allow the possibility that he was saved. To try and make this a black-and-white issue in this case is presumptuous as best.

Now there are many "pastors" who do wallow in sin, who teach and encourage some kinds of sin, and who aid and abet those who wallow in sin. Such people deny by their actions what they may say with their words. But suicide is not indicated to be a sin in either Testament, but merely reported. Murder is wrong of course, but suicide doesn’t fit neatly into that definition, especially when we know there can be biological factors.

But I do agree with the statement that "religion" cannot cure anything at all. It’s only the indwelling Spirit who can empower people to turn from sin, not because it’s self-destructive (since many have used other religions or philosophies to improve their lives), but because it is an affront to God. Religion can cover some wounds but never heal them.

Paula Fether

Just saw his Twitter account: God is helping me be continually repulsed by religion. Religious people, not prostitutes, are Satan’s masterpieces.

6:26 AM Nov 21st from web

And his Blogger site:

Friday, June 15, 2007 You Should Never Cry At a Funeral Ok, you should never cry at funerals. I only typed that so you would read this because the statement is ludicrous. I am sitting at LAX airport. I just participated in the funeral of a dear friend of my wife and I. I cried like a baby because I am selfish. She’s with Jesus but we all want her here being like Christ to us. So, technically the crying is over my selfish desire to have her here and not with Jesus. So, crying at the funeral of someone who loved Jesus is selfish. But in the midst of my selfishness I am again reminded to work hard, imagine, dream, and never quit. Why? Because my last breath us unknown. I have to quit jacking around while in this state on this earth. We all must. We just must quit playing games. It’s short. It’s really short. So, join me those who are reading this and dedicate yourself to living and loving Jesus in such a way that others cry at YOUR funeral! And act your funeral is today! Posted by Thomas Young at 5:34 PM

J. K. Gayle

Paula, Thanks for working through thoughts on suicide here in your post. I’ve lost three close friends who took their own lives, all "believers" in Jesus, the most recent friend was an elder in a church I was a member of. Of course it’s a selfish selfish unloving act, like most "sin." But to minimize the despair is something I’m not quite prepared or perhaps even able to do. What the spouses and children and parents and friends say after the suicide is most helpful, I think. Here’s a post from Jane Stranz on the suicide of one of her friends:

http://stranzblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/good-death.html

And there are links back from there to a post of Suzanne McCarthy on some brutal ugly arrogant thoughts on suicide. One of the most important things you’ve said, I think, in your post is... "we cannot know."

Greg Anderson

Good questions as always Paula, and I applaud your sensitivity toward Young’s family in their hour of need.

To be sure, and in one sense yes, we have the Bible to help us resolve the paradox of faith vs. works, but sometimes it is not (for me anyway) as easy as a simple black & white pronouncement.

In the end, God will be the final judge of all our works in this life (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Paula Fether

@J. K.,

You’re very welcome. It’s not an easy thing to write about, but it has to be done or we risk attacks on the faith of those who are given guilt trips or shunning because they must somehow have "done something" to trigger it. And for those in the depths of despair, as you mentioned, we risk defaming a fellow believer if we claim divine insight into the soul of another.

Any of us who knew someone who took their own life go from grief to anger to pain and back again, wondering why, grasping at anything to try and prevent another. But what we can’t do is assign blame unless it’s extremely obvious, such as medicine, drugs, unbearable pain, etc.

@Greg,

Thanks bud. :-) I’m sure the family is horrified, and some around them will blame them, especially the wife. But it is, sadly, a good indication of the spirituality of those others. The main thing is for everyone to pay more attention to each other and be the Body so we can sense their pain before it becomes a crisis.

Greg Anderson

So very true Paula, there will probably be some "blowback" in this horrible tragedy.

Can you hear it now? How, if only "she" had submitted more earnestly, and that it’s probably because of "her" that Young took his life?

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, barf, or cuss if somebody comes up with some "Biblically-based" tripe like this.

terri

I’m having a hard time understanding the comments congratulating your post as being sensitive when it seems to me like you are questioning the salvation of this man.

Am I misunderstanding you? Because it seems to me not sensitive at all, but heartless, to label a person as an unbeliever because they screwed up.

Paula Fether

Terri,

Yes, you’re misunderstanding me. I am saying that it is wrong to either play God by presuming to know what drove him to suicide or to blame his family as if he could not have been at fault since he was the pastor of a large church.

My point is that we need to look beyond pat answers as well as quick condemnations.

And BTW, to question someone’s salvation is not heartless at all, but loving. It is presuming to make final divine judgment that is wrong. In questioning salvation we show that we care, and in this case, that we don’t jump to conclusions either way. We simply don’t know, as I stated twice.

Lin

Paula, Thanks for this post. It needed to be written. We need to ask hard questions. Why? Because this man was a church planter for Driscoll’s Acts29 network. People who are teaching that it is a sin to question the leader. These men are setting themselves up as the authorities over others in the Body. And they are untested.

The comments made by others concerning this are unscriptural and show a lack of discernment. But how can they dare ask the hard questions without losing face and authority? No, he did not make a bad choice and he was not called to come home. Those statements show a lack of discernment and understanding truth. It is a time for fear and trembling, not a time for fuzzy bandaids. This man was a pastor to many.

I could not help to think of folks like Bonhoeffer who had good reason to take his life but did not. I also know others who took their lives because of severe pain that could not be managed.

Can a person who commits suicide be saved? I believe they can. But that is not the concern here about this man. Whatever was really burdening him was being covered up to the detriment of the Body. There were deep problems but where does the "authority over others"go when he cannot share his burdens with his brothers and sisters?

He was a pastor of a large church and a follower of the Driscoll style which means that many looked up. Now is not the time for platitudes but scriptural truth. To say he was called home is to mock God.

Somebody better start asking the hard questions about who they are following because anyone else than Jesus Christ is a dangerous road as we see.

And you are correct, none of us know who is saved in the end. But, we are to judge fruit and it would be unwise not to question the fruit of salvation in this instance. Too many young folks were adoring this guy. And eternity is a long time not to be sure of our own salvation.

Thank you for your courage in posting this.

Lin

"Am I misunderstanding you? Because it seems to me not sensitive at all, but heartless, to label a person as an unbeliever because they screwed up."

Terri, this is the whole point. He did not screw up. He killed himself leaving a wife and three kids behind. He killed himself leaving an entire church filled with folks who looked up to him. My guess is that as pastor he counseled many people including couples with marriage problems.

The reality is that if he sought help, he might have lost his pastorate. Why wasn’t he willing to step down and take care of his serious problems?

Paula Fether

And thank you, Lin, for your courage as well in standing against coverups that harm the Body. We do grieve when anyone falls, but we must follow the Biblical pattern of exposing sin. According to the information available to us, Young was not in severe pain, was not poor, was not on mood-altering drugs, and was well-liked by many. I’m sure that we’re not being told some important details.

But the point, as you know, is that when people say God took him etc., they are in denial of the fact that their leader could not have been protecting them since he could not protect himself. Had he been accountable this might not have happened. But because it happened the people’s confidence is shaken and they react by saying it was due to something other than the man himself.

Again, for any other readers, we’re not saying whether he was saved or not, but that we need to take a hard look at how we cover up for sin and elevate some above others. We’re not doing anyone a favor by whitewashing faults or passing blame. His family is suffering because of him, and may suffer more if others pass blame to them. So the right thing to do is to reconsider the System that grinds up so many people, whether we’re talking about faith or life itself.

TL

"And we must wonder why this church planter, this life so changed, this preacher of righteousness, was in possession of a loaded gun during a fight with his wife."

and that is the big question. Whether he just ’had’ it in his hands or went to get it in the heat of an argument, the question is even what was a gun doing in his house and why would he pull it out in an argument. I’m not saying I know.

These add to a long list of good reasons why young people especially new believers young, should not be given the responsibility of leading a congregation. We must allow people to mature some in the Lord so that they have stability and have already fought some big spiritual battles themselves.

Paula Fether

Good point, TL. Scripture does tell us in 1 Tim. 5:22 not to be too quick to recognize someone as a leader.

Fredrick Schwartz

I’ve written extensively about Pastor Young at my blog and I’ve notice a common thread among the neurotically religious and conservative in America. All have tried to blame something other than Young’s own humanity and the fact that no religion yet has been able to cure that disease. What he did to his own Soul is the ultimate sin, self murder the snuffing of the gift of life. This isn’t something illusory like when does a fetus become a baby. This is too black and white even for you Ms Fether because you still feel a tug at your heart that to utter the truthmay hurt those left behind. The simplest and most accurate explanation of the events after the suicide of Thomas Young is that his Soul went to Hell where it will suffer for all Eternity.

ADMIN EDIT: Your website is porn. What a hypocrite!