It's been an extended weekend of loss, it seems. We lost a great many people who impacted many of us—Roger Ebert (whom I wrote about here), Annette Funicello, Margaret Thatcher.
But the loss I most keenly felt this morning wasn't a celebrity or politician, but a 27-year-old pastor's son who succumbed, apparently, to depression in the worst way possible.
Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life and senior pastor for California's Saddleback Church), died early Friday after spending the previous evening with his mother, Kay, and father. It sounds like he had struggled with depression for most of his life.
Warren wrote a letter to the Saddleback staff, asking for prayers. In it, he wrote:
Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said " Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?" but he kept going for another decade.
In his letter, Warren writes that “no words can express” the anguish he and Kay feel. For those of us who’ve never lost a child, the loss is truly inconceivable.
The subject of suicide has always been a tricky thing in the Christian community. We’ve struggled with how to deal with the topic. Before I left my gig at The Gazette, I had the difficult honor of talking with parents still grieving over the suicides of their children. They talked to me of the heartbreak, the loss and, sometimes, the lack of support they received from their churches--where mental illness was treated as an unspeakable secret, suicide an irredeemable evil. And they talked of the pain. Years later, they talked of the pain that never goes away.
But yet in most manifestations of Christianity today, there is a thread of hope in even the midst of the greatest pain. I hope the Warrens find a hint of solace in the hope that Matthew is home now, waiting for a glorious reunification. Thoughts of heaven are surely little comfort in this moment, but a little comfort is better than none.
It amazes me that there are those who would try to strip away that small bit of comfort in this period of unimaginable grief. Some are Christians that believe suicide amounts to an unforgivable sin—overlooking God’s boundless love and mercy. Others are atheists, almost gleefully trying to destroy faith in this moment of grief and anguish. Writes Cathy Lynn Grossman for USA Today:
You can find, among hundreds of comments on USA TODAY's news story on Matthew's death, comments such as the Cincinnati poster who says, "Either there is no God, or God doesn't listen to Rick Warren, despite all the money Rick has made off of selling false hope to desperate people." In another comment, the same poster counsels Warren to "abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us."
The Internet is a wonderful tool, but there are times when the unfettered communication it provides can be a bitter thing. In ages gone by, families grieving could’ve found space to mourn in their own way. They would’ve been given time to heal, time to make sense of it all. Now, it seems, there is no time—no time at all before an unfeeling cacophony fills every place of peace.
There are atheists who declare that the Internet is god—our collective minds wired together forming an all-seeing, all-knowing web of consciousness. There are those who even say it answers prayer.
But as amazing and transforming as the Internet has been, there are times when it reveals itself for what it truly is: A hive made of broken, sometimes petty people, all needing the only real Hope there is.