I once heard a preacher tell of being relatively new to ministry and having to go to a hospital because a lady and her child had been in a car wreck. The child died. The preacher did not know what to say. He tried to find the words. As he began to speak, the lady’s best friend came into the room, climbed into bed with her best friend, hugged her, and they cried together.
It is often the case that when events like a public suicide happen, we all want to chime in. It’s what the Internet is made for. The other day, a friend noted how he recently sat down and got his news from the printed page of a paper. There was no rush and flood of information. The news had sat and marinated for a while in most cases before being set to print. There was no instantaneous commentary, but news that had time to help shape real facts.
This past weekend, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck and killed another man during a race. The man, Kevin Ward, Jr., had been involved in a wreck, gotten out of his car and walked down the track toward oncoming traffic. One driver, quickly interviewed after the incident, said he thought Tony Stewart had acted intentionally to “buzz” Kevin Ward Jr. The driver claimed it was obvious everyone could see Ward though he was wearing black -- at night -- in a dimly lighted portion of the track. Two days later, the driver who had been in front of Tony Stewart claimed he only saw the man in the track at the last possible second.
But because of who Tony Stewart is and what happened, opinions formed quickly. With many facts still unknown there was a rush to judgment. Social media lit up with defenses, accusations and many facts simply stated wrong.
With the death of comic legend Robin Williams a day later, the same thing happened. Many people were quick to sensationalize. Some were quick to pass judgment. A few made, I think, a mistake in suggesting that Williams was suddenly free or at peace or had finally escaped. Those words might sound just a bit too encouraging for people suffering clinical depression. But there were also, from many Christians, harsh words.
There is a time to preach God’s grace and will and “all things work for the good of those called according to his purpose” after the loss of a child. But that time is rarely in the immediate aftermath of death. The family just wants their child, not a sermon of what will sound like empty words in the immediate time and emotion.
In the same way, there is a time to talk about the theological ramifications of suicide, the selfish nature of the act, and the need for Christ and conversations on not just chemicals, but souls. That time, too, is rarely after the person so dearly loved has succumbed to his inner demons.
Depression is a sound and fury that looks out in a void. It crashes down often over geniuses and we all lose their greatness at their deaths. It is tragic because, though a choice, the person at calamity’s frontier sees no choice, only a void.
We can spend all day talking about mental health, suicide and theology, but in the immediate aftermath of such an event, the best theology is often just the quiet act of holding your friend and crying. There is a time for most everything. There is also often a time for reflection and silence and prayer.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.