Editor’s Note: Many people are talking about suicide today and often do not know what to make of it. With the popularity of the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, we wanted to offer this excerpt from a funeral sermon Michael Horton delivered several years ago. We pray this will encourage you.
The story of Job has come down to us as the catch-all for moments like this one, with spin-off phrases such as, “the patience of Job,” “Job’s counselors,” and the like. And yet, we come to this moment and to this place because we are scandalized by the suffering that brought Tim Brewer—husband, father, pastor and friend—to the end of his rope.
We find ourselves filled with a variety of emotions: pity, sorrow, rage, puzzlement, resentment and despair, and we wonder how things could possibly have ended this way. We wonder how someone who believed and preached the sufficiency of God’s Word and his grace in the face of all trials of life could leave us this afternoon wondering, “If it was not sufficient for him, is it indeed sufficient for me?” What happens when Christianity doesn’t work?
So often, when people come to Christ, they are promised “victory in Jesus.”
Smiling, happy people tell about how they once were unhappy, and now they are filled with buoyant exultation. Broken marriages are fixed, wayward children are returned to the straight and narrow, and depression is banished to the old life.
But, of course, those of you who knew Tim and his preaching are fully aware that this was not his message. He did not see Christianity as the solution to every earthly problem, nor did he worship Jesus as Mr. Fix-It, but as the Friend of Sinners, Redeemer and Shepherd of his sheep. He knew that there was a greater problem that we as fallen creatures faced, though he did not dismiss as irrelevant or trivial earthly challenges, but he placed them in their proper eternal perspective.
But even if Christianity does not answer every problem we have in this life, surely that eternal perspective helps us cope with them, so why, we wonder, did our father, brother, husband, friend and pastor cut his life short?
Whatever was wrong in Tim’s life, he had an unshakable conviction that his witness is in heaven. He knew that Jesus Christ was his intercessor, a friend to whom he could pour out tears to God and he knew that Jesus Christ, his Elder Brother, was pleading on his behalf with God as a man pleads for his friend.
So why didn’t this confidence keep our brother from ending his life? We cannot answer that question any better perhaps than Job’s friends could resolve the riddle of their friend’s suffering. But I can say this: Even if we are too weak to hang on to Christ, he is strong enough to hang on to us. Even though we may not be able to face tomorrow, Christ has already passed through death to the other side and has taken away death’s sting for us.
We are not called here this afternoon to judge God.
God didn’t promise any of us health, wealth, and happiness. In fact, he tells us that we who expect to share in Christ’s glory will also participate in his suffering.
Christianity is true, not because it works for people in that pragmatic, utilitarian way, but because nearly 2,000 years ago, outside of the center-city of Jerusalem, the Son of God was crucified for our sins and was raised for our justification.
We are not here to judge God today. But neither are we here to judge Tim Brewer. No one can justify his action, but Tim Brewer is justified before God. You see, being accepted before God is not a matter of what we have done or left undone, or we would all be lost. It is a matter of trusting in that which Christ has done, for he has finished the work of our redemption, he has paid the ransom for our sins and satisfied the justice that our guilt required.
As Job said that if only he had an advocate, a mediator, he could lift his eyes up to God in his suffering, so all of us can cry on our Father’s shoulder this afternoon because we have nothing to fear. It is not his wrath that has sent us pain and suffering if we belong to him, for he intercepts Satan’s designs and fashions even sin and evil into messengers of grace.
With Job and with Paul, Tim knew his Redeemer lived, even though he himself did not think he could go on living here below. There will be no death, no suffering, no pain, no disease or disappointment. Even now, Tim is awaiting his new body as he is already enjoying the immediate presence of God. If God’s grace is greater than all our sin, even this sin of suicide, then surely every one of us is warmly invited by the Risen Christ, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest.” And with Job and with Paul, he will reign with Christ because his Redeemer lives.
Because Christ’s tomb is empty, Tim’s grave will also be empty on the last day.
With Job, Tim can say, “I will see him in my flesh,” in the very body that, at 18 years old, fell 75 feet while rock-climbing, leaving him with a broken back and reconstructed feet; in that body that witnessed the death of his brother by leukemia and his father’s death while Tim was in college.
It is in that body that, together with Beth, held two children with severe learning disabilities as gifts from God, and in the body that just four months ago was struck by a train, that Tim will see God. It will be a body reconstructed not by the skillful hands of doctors below, but by the hand of his Creator, the Great Physician, that Tim’s body will be perfectly mended and free of pain. On that day, Scripture assures us, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Until then, he is in God’s presence without his body, awaiting that triumphal entry of God’s liberated captives arriving in triumphal procession together through the gates of the eternal city after a long, hard winter through the wilderness.
To Beth and the rest of the family, I know you have lost your husband, son, father and brother. Although I myself have lost one of my closest friends, I cannot begin to know your suffering, but God knows what this is like. For he too lost his Son. He committed his Son to dreadful suffering and a cruel death because through it, he could save people who hated him and make them his own sons and daughters.
You can turn to him as your Father not only because he knows how you feel, but because his loss secured your adoption into his family and made Tim a joint-heir with Christ. And for all of us here who are afraid of death, or of life, the good news is that this man is still at God’s right hand, this advocate who pleads our case. His name is Jesus Christ and if your faith is in this Rock of Ages and in this Mighty Fortress, he will be your friend, in this world and in the world to come.
Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is the author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story.