It was two days after my mom had taken her life; my husband and I were in a Travelodge Hotel adjacent to Heathrow Airport, ready to depart early the next morning to join my grieving family in the USA. I was restless throughout the night. I started thinking about the funeral and wondered how we would address the circumstances of my mom’s death. I didn’t want this to be a ‘typical funeral’ in which all of her faults were ignored, and the tragic and horrendous circumstances of her death glossed over. I thought about the sermon that might be preached – and hoped it would be gospel centred (as that would have certainly been my mother’s dying wish) and secondly wanted it to address these circumstances fairly. It occurred to me – my husband sleeping next to me is a pastor! Perhaps he could do the service!
Unable to contain my idea, I woke my husband up at 3am and asked – ‘Would you be able to lead the funeral service? Do you think you could?’ to which he replied ‘I don’t know…that would be hard. Let me think about it.’ The next day we arrived in the USA and greeted my family members who had already arrived to our parents’ home. We shortly began to discuss arrangements for the funeral – as they were on all of our minds. The first question my sisters and father raised was – ‘will the suicide be addressed?’ Because they wanted it to be addressed. They didn’t want us to hide from this giant elephant in the room. I noted my agreement, and also suggested that perhaps my husband might lead the funeral service. Glances were exchanged – and my brother-in-law produced a list of things they had talked about in the middle of the night before our arrival to the USA. One of the bullet points was ‘Ask Jonathan if he’d be willing to deliver the service’. So it was settled – and I am ever grateful that it was.
My mother loved God, and would have wanted the gospel to be the centrepiece of all things – including her funeral. She furthermore would not have wanted this significant issue – her suicide – to be avoided. She was never one to hide from difficult conversations. And so my husband delivered a sermon which addressed the question on many minds that evening – how can we reconcile her love for God with her suicide? Here are the notes from what he had to say:
Nothing can separate us; the funeral sermon for Bridget Platt, by Pastor Jonathan Arnold
On 04 April 2019, Bridget Platt took her own life. She was a loving mother, sister, wife, and friend; an emblem of love for God and others. Her decision was shocking, unexpected, and undoubtedly world-shattering for many close to her. In the midst of all this some of you are no doubt asking “Lord, what is happening? Do you know what you are doing?
Some of you may feel guilty. You’ve may say to yourselves, as I have, “Why didn’t I reach out?” Or “Is there anything I could have done to have stopped this?” The cloud probably looms largest overt our hearts, because it forces us to question that if one who was so reflective of the light of the gospel of my saviour, one who was revered as a strong Christian could not escape this dark valley, then where do we stand.
The question, therefore is answered in Romans 8:35-39, an excerpt of which can be found here:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of ~God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I want concentrate on two situations mentioned here, distress and tribulation. These were insufficient to separate from the love of God. Using these verses I want to explore this a bit more, looking at why these do not disqualify believers from the kingdom of heaven…
- The pervasiveness of distress (even mental struggles)
The first reason for such struggles are what we could term tribulation, or distress. It does not disqualify God’s children from the kingdom of heaven. If the poor in spirit did not qualify for the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom would be empty. Tribulation in this verse is a burden, a strong pressure. Distress means a narrow place, extreme affliction; these can include our internal struggles.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Even if your mind cannot express it, your heart knows. To be poor in spirit is to be empty inside, to know the anguish and heartache of not seemingly having what is needed for survival, to feel keenly the bankruptcy of our answers and our adequacy; to feel helpless before the wrong in our world and in our hearts.
Bridget knew this. She was not alone. Jesus said these words to a crowd gathered on a mountain. When he spoke to the poor in spirit, he knew he was not speaking to hypothetical people, but those with real authentic issues. The crowds continued to listen because they knew they were poor in spirit – we to at times know emptiness, the bankruptcy of our answers and adequacy, our helplessness before the wrong in our world and hearts
2. God knows the depths of our distress
The second reasons that such severe distresses of mind and despair on this level does not disqualify from the kingdom of heaven is because our merciful God knows that spiritual poverty is deep.
If only those who could entirely overcome poverty of spirit were qualified for the kingdom of heaven, then we would all be overwhelmed. What Bridget did was not what we expected or what would have ever encouraged, but it must be seem in the context of the weakness we all share.
The Bible declares that we live in a fallen world, where every aspect of the created order is fallen and damaged. The effects of human sin have corrupted creation, thorns encroach on our paths, weeds invade our fields, disease infects our bodies, hurricanes pound our shores – and we can be plagued by storms of mind as well.
The corruption of our entire nature includes our physical world and the world of our emotions and thoughts. We damage ourselves and others if we do not consider the full extent of this entirely corrupted nature. Disease may come not only to our bodies as a consequence of our fallen wold, but our minds as well. And sometimes it does. As Christians, this aspect of fallen creation most challenges us because we want to believe that our minds, from which we make affirmation of faith, are somehow beyond the reach. Yet the effects of the fall are entwined around every dimension of our being – physical, mental and spiritual.
I don’t know why Birdget could not pull out of the crash dive that spiralled her downward in recent months. But I do know that Jesus says that though we may lose our grip on him, he never loses his grip on us. In our fallen world, these corruptible bodies and minds can go awry in ways that cause us temporarily to lose our grip on the better part of ourselves, and in those moments to do terrible things. But never do these things of earth pry God’s children from the hand or heart of their heavenly Father.
Searching for Answers
Until we are with the Lord we will not fully understand why. However, if we do not allow ourselves to understand how one can struggle in spite of what they believe, then we will not only blame Bridget, but we will blame ourselves and each other for our failures. Part of our fallen nature is the search for those to blame. Whose fault was it? After Bridget’s strong faith for some many years that there was a moment of darkness? Did her church not do enough? Did her family not do enough? Did her friends not do enough Did we not do enough? Did some of us expect to much, not support enough? Ask questions enough?
The answer to these questions is “Of course we could have done more. But we didn’t realise” We live in a fallen world and our entire nature has been corrupted that each of us who is responsible for one another has in some measure failed to be all that we should be. We are, after all, the poor in spirit. We gather here today mutually bankrupted in spirit and drained of excuses. The reason that we should acknowledge this is because we know that our being poor in spirit does not disqualify from the kingdom of heaven. Even though we lost our grip on Bridget, God does not lose his grip on her or us, and he will not. That knowledge should keep us from looking for other to blame for our hurt or insisting that all heal at the same rate and in the same way, instead of confessing in mutual humility our need – now more than ever – of both the love of our Saviour and the understanding of each other.
It is far more important, and I am sure Bridget would agree with me, that we should be driven to Christ than to find explanations. We will not fix this, but Jesus did not fail Bridget and he will not fail us.
What Bridget did her whole life in faith was not what got her to heaven, and what she did a week and a half ago will not take her out of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven was secured by another – the One who came into the darkness of this world to give himself for those who are poor in spirit. He who was rich made himself poor, so that through his poverty we might inherit the kingdom of heaven. This same Jesus who came preaching the kingdom of heaven is the One who came to die in our behalf to pay the debt for our sins. Sinners inherit the kingdom through Christ.