Robin Williams and Suicide

Robin Williams SuicideThe Waves That Batter and Break

A friend posted this on Facebook the day Robin Williams died:

I don’t struggle with depression.

Not yet anyway.

I might someday.

My father did. Robin Williams did. I’m sure a lot of people you know do too, or have.

But I have seen it close up, and I have seen the way it comes in like waves, and I have seen it batter and break.

Last Monday night I drove home from Portland where I had a great visit with my sons Gabe and Nathaniel, and their families over the weekend. Kathy couldn’t go because of work. When I walked in the door one of the first things she said to me was,

“You heard that Robin Williams died didn’t you?”

Wow. No. I hadn’t. It was a shock. I heard that he struggled with depression (as well as alcohol and cocaine addiction). But even so, it caught me off guard.

The Great Clown Pagliacci

Also on the day Robin Williams died, someone on Reddit shared a page from the Watchmen comic that had this dialogue:

Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says,

“Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.”

Man bursts into tears. Says,

“But doctor… I am Pagliacci.”

Pagliacci: that was Robin Williams. A guy who made others laugh but who himself wrestled with depression.

It’s Inevitable: You Too Will Experience The Waves That Batter And Break

Every one of us will at some time or another experience the “waves” that “batter and break.” A seemingly overwhelming storm of deep pain that rolls through our heart. So what do we know about it? When we watch doctors on TV or see books on Amazon or read about it on the internet we see one person talk about the psychology of it, and another talks about the physical part of it, and another talks about the emotional part of it, and another talks about the spiritual part of it. So the Bible, it speaks to the spiritual part, doesn’t it? Or does it? We’ll look at that question in a future post. Maybe next week. But for now, what about the actual act of committing suicide? What about that?

There were times when Robin Williams made me laugh so hard my ribs ached. And he also had a way of coming across as a kind and gentle person. He was such a lovable character to me that his death really did have a disturbing effect on me. It was heartbreaking. But the way he died. Suicide. I have to be honest, that was tragic.

How Lies Can Lead To Suicide Contagion

It was tragic because of the nature of the act. When we’re depressed our perspective distorts, and we hear things. Maybe we hear them from other people. Maybe we hear them as thoughts in our own heads. But we hear them. Job heard such a thing from his wife. At his low point she famously said to him, “Curse God and die!” She effectively told him to quit. You might hear it expressed other ways, “Just give it up, just stay home and watch TV,” or, “Just stay home and play video games,” or, “Just stay home and get drunk,” or, and this is one of the most insidious, “You have become a burden to the very people you love the most, they are better off without you. Do it. Kill yourself.” (Job 2:9)

They’re all lies of course. Doing any of these will make things worse, not better. Take the last one, killing yourself. Are you aware of the horrific copy cat effect suicide has on others? I was first exposed to it when there was a cluster of suicides in the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department. One after another they fell. As I read and heard about each death I was mortified. I didn’t understand it.

Later I learned from Gladwell’s book Tipping Point that this is a well documented phenomena. Gladwell cites an example of it in a South Sea island community with no history of suicide whatsoever. Then one day a popular young man lost his girlfriend and subsequently hung himself with a belt by leaning away from its anchor point. A strange way to end it. And a strange thing happened next. Suddenly, in this community with no history of people taking their own lives, there was an outbreak of suicides by others on the island. Most were slightly younger than the original young man. And they did it by the same method.

Scientists call it contagion. A woman wrote a book about it, this contagious aspect of suicide. In her book she explains why it’s so important to stay alive. Committing suicide well might influence others to commit suicide: family members, fellow students, coworkers, others in your community. But the opposite is also true, she says. Staying alive however difficult your circumstances may be, will influence others to stay alive too. “Your staying alive means so much more than you really know,” she says. (Hecht)

You, Job, And Your Opportunity For Greatness

Just think for a minute about what that lady said in her book. That’s Job. Because Job never followed his wife’s admonition. And since he didn’t, since he chose to keep his trust in God and to stay alive with tenacity and determination, for thousands of years he’s been a great inspiration to others in pain, suffering, and anguish.

Job is one of the greatest people in history precisely because he didn’t buy into the lie. He didn’t curse God and die, instead he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

And he even went a step beyond that when he said of God, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15)

So do what Job did. Though he didn’t know it at the time, it was at his darkest moment that Job had his opportunity for greatness. You do too! Continue on in God. Even if he slays you, maintain your trust in Him.


Bible Gateway

Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping PointLittle, Brown and Company, 2006

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against ItYale University Press, 2013

Katelyn Beaty, Staying Alive in a Suicidal WorldChristianity Today, 8/12/14

Tim Keller, Podcasts Page (Go to podcast #30, The Wounded Spirit)

[Image via Charles Haynes - Creative Commons]

An Open Letter To Those In Pain and Suffering

Christian pain and suffering

Dear Friend In Pain,

I feel so sad and so sorry about what you’re going through right now. I can’t imagine what it’s like. I can guarantee you that what I’m sharing in this letter won’t take the pain away. And I want you to feel perfectly free not to read it. If you don’t I won’t take the least bit of offence. I only want to share with you what made the biggest difference for me when I went through my time of pain. Continue reading

The Holy Spirit: How to Know if You Have Him

kurt bennett:

Easily our most popular post. (from the archives)

Originally posted on God Running:

Pentacost by Jean II Restout (Photo Credit Wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit Better Than a Burger?

At church the other night our pastor directed anyone interested in receiving prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to go to the prayer room after the service.

I was amazed.

Only a half dozen or so showed up. On a normal summer Sunday, our church offers free burgers and the line is a mile long. How much better is God’s Holy Spirit than a burger?

I recently wrote a guest post about the importance of the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit for Not Ashamed of the Gospel and this prompted someone to ask, How do I know if I have His Holy Spirit?

The person asking the question is referring to God’s Holy Spirit being poured out upon someone in such a way as to provide supernatural inspiration. As distinguished from having the…

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The Control Freak And Jesus

Control Freak

There’s This Thirty-Something

There’s this thirty-something in my life who is always asking me these great questions about the Bible: provocative questions, hard questions, but very interesting questions. And it’s caused me to look at the Bible differently. I read and hear so much about how the Bible is restrictive. But this person with the questions has got me thinking about the freedom God has given us. Freedom to make our own choices. Have you ever considered what’s not illegal in the Old Testament? For instance, prostitution is not illegal in the Old Testament, and neither is polygamy. I’m not saying that either of those are good, I’m just saying neither of those is illegal in the civic code given to Israel in the Old Testament. People are free to engage in these activities without legal repercussions, though the spiritual ramifications and life consequences are still there.

God is radical when it comes to our freedom. He wants us to have the freedom to do what we want, even when it’s wrong. And it’s really made me look at my own ideas about what God wants me to do concerning the behavior of others. Because sometimes I want other people to do what I want them to do, and I can get frustrated when they don’t.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Maybe you want to spend money a certain way but your wife wants to do it her way. Or maybe you want more time to recreate with the guys, but she has other ideas. Or maybe it’s just deciding what to do for dinner (not that this question would ever result in a disagreement). Whatever it is, our perspective changes when we Continue reading

Framing Faith by Matt Knisely–Book Review

Framing Faith Matt Knisely book reviewWho Is Matt Knisely?

Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award winning journalist who shares his life and his inspirational insights with the purpose of helping you to connect with God.

His book, Framing Faith, From Camera to Pen, An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried Worldwas written with artists in mind. By artist I mean bloggers, photographers, writers, painters, musicians, and filmmakers, or anyone who has a healthy appreciation for the arts.

The Main Message

Throughout the book I was inspired and occasionally amused–I found his interaction with George W. Bush especially amusing. The main message of the book might be summarized by what Knisely wrote in the introduction: “In this modern age, many of us fill every spare moment we have rather than taking an intermission to see the true works of God and realize that he is present in every moment.” That message resonates with me because for decades I did that, I scheduled every spare moment to the exclusion of the influence of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really prioritized my relationship with God and Christ and what a difference that has made. Framing Faith delivers a great message to anyone in the habit of over committing their self to the exclusion of their connection with Christ.

My Favorite Part

But easily my favorite part of the book was where he describes his disability. Matt Knisely doesn’t take in the world the way you and I do. Matt Knisely doesn’t process words the same as a normal person. His first grade teacher told his parents Continue reading

Patriotism, God, and the 4th of July–Does God Want Me To Be A Patriot?

Patriotism and God 4th of July

And they sang a new song, saying, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9

Not Of This World

“…persons from every tribe and language and people and nation,” they sang. And Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So patriotism is out right? I mean, Jesus died for every nation so, God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t put our country at the top of His list of nations and say, Yeah, they’re the ones to root for, they’re who I favor in the world, so you should favor that nation too. No, He doesn’t say that. So patriotism is out, right? Continue reading

Why Is That Christian So Appalling?

Why are Christians soToday I read about a Christian man who claims to have the ability to teleport, cure cancer, and repair avionics problems in flying airplanes–while he’s standing on the ground. He was eventually convicted of fraud for taking money from the relatives of deceased people with the promise that he would resurrect them. Wow. That’s a Christian for you. (At least I think he claims to be a Christian.)

There was this firefighter I worked with and I found him to be obnoxious–and he called himself a Christian. And I said to myself the words, “Man, how can this guy call himself a Christian.” (We’ll talk more about him a little later.) Maybe you’ve never encountered someone like the guy who says he can teleport, but I know you’ve experienced obnoxious Christians before. I know you have because I have. And I know you have because I’ve overheard people talking. People saying things like, “I just can’t believe she said that–and she’s a Christian!” Or, “Man that dude was obnoxious–and he’s a Christian!” Or, “That guy is such an idiot–and he calls himself a Christian!”

So why? Why do they behave that way, these Christians?

How Can He Call Himself A Christian?

When I read this one certain passage of scripture a certain part of me cries out: “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

It’s the passage where Continue reading

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself? (and what that has to do with Blaise Pascal)

Why doesn't God show Himself“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” -Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician and physicist who laid the foundation for the modern theory of probability. His father appointed himself as his educator and, curiously, decided to omit mathematics from Blaise’s curriculum, so Blaise could focus on the languages (especially Latin and Greek) and the classics. This had the opposite effect from that which was desired and young Blaise found all things mathematical to be irresistible. At 18 Blaise Pascal invented one of the first calculators. At 24 he began his work called The Generation of Conic Sections. He was only 31 when he discovered the fixed likelihood of seemingly random events based on probability. Nicklaus Wirth invented a computer language in the 70s and insisted on naming it after Pascal, in honor of Pascal’s calculator which was one of the very earliest forms of the modern computer. Blaise Pascal died of cancer at the age of 39. (

Pascal was a genius. He was also a Christian. And I think his quote about faith offers insight into the question, “Why doesn’t God show Himself?”

How I Would Do It If I Were God

So Continue reading

So You’re Hurting

Sad Man by Andy Bullock - Creative Commons

So you’re hurting. You’re struggling. Every day you wake up in the morning wondering how you’re going to make it through. It’s so bad sometimes you can feel it, physically. You get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that intense ache in your chest, or that lump in your throat. When you’re around others you fake it as best you can, but the faking gets more and more difficult every day this thing drags on. And you wonder how long you can hang on.

Been there.

Here’s what turned it around for me. Continue reading