Sunday, October 08, 2006

Exceptions

When I was young, I was taught that suicide is self-murder. There it was, black and white and horrifying. It's no wonder that when I was taught murder is the only unforgivable sin (I'm leaving out all the disclaimers and discussion of sinning against the Holy Ghost), I could see why suicide was such a tragedy. If this life is the time to prepare to meet God, and we shouldn't procrastinate the day of our repentance as this probationary time could end at any moment, it seemed to me that suicide ends and seals your mortal test with an unforgivable sin. It doesn't get much more hopeless than that. Although I don't see it this way anymore, one can easily see why it's a sensitive topic.

I can see how suicide causes all sorts of tormented feelings on the part of loved ones left behind. The simultaneous horrors of losing a loved one, having that loved one do something terrible, having him be the victim of something terrible, him having no chance to repent or work through the issue, thinking you may have lost him for the next life as well, along with the guilt our human nature foists upon us that we might have stopped it "if only I had...," all combine for a grim eulogy.

During her discussion of her son's suicide in In Quiet Desperation, Marilyn Matis makes this odd observation: "Although losing our son was difficult, it has been comforting to know that he was faithful to his temple covenants." I've heard this statement criticized as implying that it was better for Stuart to have killed himself than to have given in to his gay desires, but I don't read it that way. The subsequent sentence reads: "Fred and I each had an indescribable feeling of peace that lasted for several weeks after Stuart's death." How is such a peace possible given the horror of suicide? Given the sin of suicide?

It's as if Sister Matis sees the suicide itself as, well, not counting. I wonder if it was a spiritual confirmation that all the good Stuart had accomplished in his life was not negated by that one act. Or, perhaps, that he wasn't accountable for the act at all. Elder Ballard has given some guidance on suicide that indicates there are occasions when a person's state of mind excludes culpability.

In more general terms, Elder Oaks has talked about exceptions where one is not accountable for an action that would in some other context be grievous sin. Prior to the quote below he gave the example of a man who wanted reassurance from Elder Oaks that his involvement in military combat would not constitute a violation of the commandment thou shalt not kill:

...The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said [about the commandment of marriage]. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.

Perhaps Stuart's suicide was an exception, given the circumstances of his life and his mental health. Perhaps it is not inaccurate or inappropriate to find solace in the goodness of his life, e.g. in his faithfulness to his temple covenants. At the same time, suicides by those whose lives appear less worthy shouldn't be judged by anyone other than Him whose knowledge is perfect. And we can all have more hope knowing that "The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God."

3 comments:

socal said...

I know the Brother and Sister Matis. They are wonderful. Some of the most loving and compassionate people that you would ever meet.

On the subject of Stuart's suicide, they by no means feel that it was better for him to take his life; however, they are comforted to know that Stuart did his best to live the gospel and the Lord is mindful of their son.

I truly believe that those who take their lives are in such pain and in a state-of-mind that the Lord will have compassion on those individuals. I do not believe that the Lord considers suicide as self-murder.

Living in a fallen world, we are subject to the trials of immortality. Sometimes, these trials become so burdensome that the perceptions of those experiencing them are skewed and they see suicide as the only means of escape. I strongly feel that the Lord recognizes this and his atonement will cover it. I also feel that this is what Bro. and Sister Matis meant when they have received comfort after their son took his life and they know that ultimately everything will be okay.

socal said...

As a follow-up to the comment I just posted, if anyone is struggling with feelings or thoughts of suicide, please get help from loved-ones. While things may seem bad today, there is always a tomorrow. Suicide not only affects the person who takes his or her life but also devastates the friends and families of those left behind. There are better options to dealing with the struggles of life than to end it. Please reach out and get help!!

Scot said...

It seems, one can never really get this topic far enough away to consider it dispassionately; at least it seems I can’t. I thought I could, but then my imagination into the states of mind starts up, the people I’ve known, my young thoughts on it. All that misery and it all seems so... I’ll try another time.

But I’d like to echo, anyone in this position should certainly look for help. And if you won’t talk to your friends, family, or church, you must and can find eager and genuinely concerned help elsewhere. You can make it to a great long life.