It seems that Matt Walsh, a popular blogger beloved by many conservative, has sparked a lot of chatter by arguing that Robin Williams’ suicide was a choice and all that.
Now, if we understand that Matt Walsh is a Roman Catholic, then one might say that he has an inherent interest in upholding the traditional Roman teaching on the sin of suicide as well as moral responsibility and agency, etc, etc, the whole constellation of concepts which goes with the standard official Roman theology. Understandably, many are upset with him for his vicarious pontifications (vicarious since he actually has a Pope!) on the suicide of a popular and widely cherished actor.
I think herein we can get a lesson in the Law and Gospel dialectic. Whatever we may think of the sinfulness of suicide (I have yet to read John Donne’s defence of this in his “Biathanatos” which I trust would prove very fascinating), the point is that even if one is convinced that it is a sin, there is no point saying it at this point. According to Lutheran doctrine, the Law is to be preached to sinners and the lost to convict them of their sin and the futility of their own works to propitiate God, that they might turn to the promises of the Gospel and place their trust entirely in the lovingkindness of God for their salvation. This is the first use of the Law. The Law is also to be preached to both sinners and saints to induce sanctification with promises of rewards and threats of consequences in both this life and the next, the “civil” use of the law so called.
How, both uses are clearly not applicable to Robin Williams. He is dead. When dealing with someone who is clearly beyond the preaching of the Law, you only have the Gospel left. What Robin Williams need now is our prayers, not our lectures. Here we have someone who has clearly been overcome by the devil and the world and sin. Here the terrible power of God’s wrath has overshadowed him and taken his life. We don’t need to add to that with more preaching of the Law. The Law’s sentence has already been passed. We need instead to pray for his soul in the hope of the Gospel promises.
Yes, of course this depends on whether we believe in prayers for the dead, and I firmly do believe in this. It is Lutheran teaching after all.
The divine Word did not overcome death so that we may be struck dumb with no words of prayer or hope for the dead. It is precisely to overcome death whereby the hope of the Gospel was revealed. What separates us from the love of God is not death but sin, and even then, sin is overcome by divine forgiveness. Therefore, the dead are not beyond the pale or hope of the Gospel, but the dead are more especially the hope of the Gospel, that death is not the final word for the Word has triumphed over it. Prayers for the dead are therefore not only permissible, but it is intrinsic to the Gospel which proclaims the victory of the Word over death, which Word cannot and should not be silenced, but be enacted in prayers for the victims of death.
So let us not pretend to assume God’s judgement seat, like Job’s comforters who only increased his torments by adding to God’s judgement with self-righteous words. Let us instead heed the counsel of the Apostle and proclaim the hope of the Gospel:
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.