I got the news on the road to Florida. My family and I (along with my mother) are in Florida for the Gospel Coalition conference. After this, we drive directly to Dallas were I will be involved in the Christian Renaissance conference. News like this breaks me more than any other. I fall completely apart. It’s times like these I probably should not write. I wept for a bit. On top of so many other issues we were having on the drive, I just wanted to turn around. The Gospel Coalition and Christian Renaissance are incredible conferences that are so valuable . . . for a certain type of person. But for those who have a broken mind and broken spirit, where do they go? What conference is there for Christians who find no peace? What conference is there for those who have all the right doctrine and the right beliefs, but find no healing. What conference is there for one who has an asphyxiation of hope?
As I typed “2013″ minus “27″ in my calculator in order to come up with “1986″ to figure out when Matthew was born, I realized that I was too hurt to think deeply about it right now. How cold. For some reason, coming up with the numbers in my own mind put me too close. So, a distant calculator was better. But what good would these words be, if I selfishly let Matthew turn into a set of numbers produced without my mind: 1986-2013. Let those numbers sink deeply into your mind.
I did not know Matthew Warren. I don’t know his father, Rick Warren . . . at least personally. Yet I am very familiar with his ministry. Unfortunately, most of the time that Rick Warren comes up on the radar in my circles is in order to throw his life and ministry under the bus of an agenda that lives or dies by the controversy they create. I have never joined this crowed . . . even in the slightest. Rick Warren’s focus and heart are amazing. What he has done for so many to increase the glory of Christ is beyond measure. His book, Purpose Driven Life is a wonderful book that has lighted a fire in the hearts of many stagnant Christians.
Yet, yesterday, as I continued to drive after hearing the news, I thought to myself, Pastor Warren has provided the purpose driven life to countless millions. Yet, the one closest to him, the one for whom he undoubtably feels the most responsible, the one whom he love the most, could not find that purpose to drive his life. I also bowed my head, as I thought of all those who might have minds poisoned to the point of putting the blame back on Rick Warren. I have not looked to see if there are any who have, but God help them if there are.
You see, I know the what the darkness feels like that led Matt to do what he did. I have been there for a short time. I know how easy it is to pull that trigger. I know what it feels like to have a black hole that somehow drains the breath of every hope you have. It is like hanging on a cross where you cannot catch your breath anymore. Everyone around is offering all their quick solutions (which I did before I went through this), adding only shame to the already insufferable pain. I came out of it, and I don’t know how or why. Matthew never did.
My sister never did. Angie yelled in pain every night, as she called on me to save her. I had never heard the screams of emotional pain before. I had never experienced the wailing that the soul produced. The sound and the hurt was apocalyptic. “Michael! Get back up here!! You are a pastor. You are supposed to be able to do something.” I walked down the stairs each night for a year to lay my head on my pillow and call on God to do something that he was not going to do—heal my helpless sister.
Put me in a den of atheists. Put me with those who hate me. Put me in a crowd of those who hate God and my Lord, Jesus Christ. My faith will remain. But put me in a crowd of those who are all calling on their God to save them from doubt, pain, and depression and my faith will be in quick-sand with them. Why? Because I don’t know what to do.
Francis of Assisi used to sit with lepers and wash there wounds. He only looked for those Christians who were falling apart, inside and out. God called Francis to “Rebuild my church.” and where does he go? He goes to those who could not be built back.
The ministry of Rick Warren to his son was not unsuccessful. The night before, I am told, he was with Matthew. He was a devoted father. Even so, he will enter into a significant time of despair. Suicide is a death unlike any other. You will imagine the thought, look, and pain of the one who is finally finished. You will picture the tears in their eyes and see them begin to pull the trigger. Angie died with her legs crossed on a bed in a cold dark hotel room with Chuck Swindoll’s Day by Day open in front of her. My other sister now has that book. She keeps it guarded like a treasure. Why? Who knows? We don’t know how to process the pain and darkness of that moment so we leave it to a symbolic token that might represent her last thoughts or prayers. We do this as self-flagellation for penance for a task we could not bear.
I don’t know how Rick Warren and his wife (please don’t leave her and the rest of the family out) are going to handle this. They may do like I did and stay strong through many years for the sake of others. But at some point, subconsciously, the dam seems to break and you don’t know why (at least that is my testimony). Or, they may handle this like my mother with sleepless nights until the guilt and the pain eventually take her mind. Or they handle it like my dad with constant guilt.
The questions are always the same: What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Once these are exasperated and find no rest, you have to find some other footing or remain completely adrift in the sea of your faith.
The anchoring conclusion for me, with regard to Angie, is not the conclusion of many. Yet, I don’t know where else to go, biblically. Who is at fault? God is. Not me. Not my mom. Not my dad. And not even Angie. For some reason, in this fallen world, God allowed the darkness to rule her life to such a degree that she left this world with tears and cries to a God who was not going to show in the way we all so desired and prayed. His ways are not our ways. He is the one who works all things after the council of his will (Eph. 1:11), including leaving countless people in their pain as they cry out to him for relief.
I would imagine it was the same with Matthew. I don’t suppose that God was a cheerleader in his pain, hoping that he would listen to the right advice or finally find the right pill. God took him violently. God took him darkly. And we have to accept this sometimes dark violent God as the one who loved him (and Angie) more than we can ever possibly imagine. If you can have that type of faith. . . if, by some miracle, you can drop that anchor quickly, you can continue your ministry in the hopes that you will join him one day.
I don’t know what kind of advice or hope to give to those who have lost someone who was outside of the faith. I am sorry.
To all of those like Matthew: I do not give you permission to die. Don’t mistake my understanding for permission. The darkness that overshadows the lives of the ones you leave is a terrible darkness that has no sun which can break its pain.
To Rick Warren and family: I am truly sorry for your loss. May Matthew rest from his pain, finally. May your pain be one day turned to joy. Until then, may the Francis of Assisis’ of this world break through the judgement that you feel from inside and from those outside. May you be able to forgive all. May the asphyxiation of hope that Matthew felt be relieved in the arms of Christ who loved you and gave himself up for you.