The internet offered beautiful sentiments of love and compassion for the loss of Robin Williams.
But it also displayed commentary I found eerily synonymous to Job’s friends in the Bible. Well intended comments that are actually quite harmful. Everything that is good can also be used for harm and the internet quickly became this type of menagerie.
Matt Walsh wrote (in my opinion) a very insensitive article on Robin William’s suicide. Three million people viewed it and he had to write another post stating his case. Ironically, he never admits to calling suicide a choice, which he clearly does.
What is shocking to me is not only Matt’s post, but some of the appalling and disgraceful attacks on him! Then news came that Robin William’s daughter removed her social media accounts because of similar viscous comments.
I am reminded of Job and his well-meaning, but hurtful friends.
“Possibly the oldest book in the Bible, Job reads like the most modern. Its extreme portrayal – one man confronting the abyss in a universe that makes no sense – foreshadows the predicament of modern humanity.” – Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey
I would like to focus in on not the zoo that is the internet, but more on this use of the word “choice”.
People quickly threw out words “selfish” and “choice”. And my heart split. While in the world of rational mind and rational thought, yes suicide appears to be a final choice that one makes. And those left behind are just that… left behind, in deep grief because of what appears to be a decision.
While Job never died from suicide, his friends were quick to rationalize his pain.
His friends and his wife were quite harsh with their words:
“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you. Listen to his instructions and store them in your heart. If you return to the Almighty. You will be restored-so clean up your life.” – Job 22:21-23
“Job scraped his sin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.'” – Job 2:8
We are all so quick to heap opinions and banality on others pain.
“Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops.” – Job 30:26-27
Yancey explains the mypoic views Job’s friends take:
“Job’s friends offered their own versions of words of wisdom and each contains an element of truth. But the Book of Job plainly shows that such “helpful advice” does nothing to answer the questions of the person in pain. It was the wrong medicine, dispensed at the wrong time.” – Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey
What people can’t understand, similar to Job’s friends in the Bible, is how harmful and hurtful it is to say such things. Because the reality is, those of us who have been where Robin William’s was, in pain and torment and deep mental confusion to the point of harming oneself with a knife and then taking ones one life, know it is NOT RATIONAL.
There is no rational thought happening.
There are no typical synopsis in the brain firing like normal. There is only noise. Screaming twisting and decibel breaking noise. And you want it to stop. For that one moment, anything to make it stop.
To help you understand, think of this: Have you ever heard news stories of people with hypothermia who are out in the freezing temperatures and they take their clothes off? How does that make any sense? When you are freezing to death, you take your clothes off to freeze more? Take off the one thing that is actually keeping you warm, keeping you potentially alive!
“A strange thing happens to people when they get hypothermia. Many of them strip off their clothes as one of their last acts before they die. This is common phenomena among fatal hypothermia cases and is known as “paradoxical undressing.” Why in the world would someone who is literally freezing to death take off their clothes?” – blisstree.com
The same thing happens when your mind is twisted and full of pain. The choices are not rational and do not make sense.
“Postmortem studies of the brains of people who have died by suicide have shown a number of visible differences in the brains of people who died by suicide, compare to those who died from other causes, suicide is a result of a disease of the brain”- (Mann & Currier, 2012).
I have written about my own experience with depression and suicide in my book, Table In the Darkness and a few blog entries. Writing about my “choice” to end my life was terrifying, as I knew the response would be something like we saw in the past few days. That I was selfish and how could I do such a thing!
But hear me when I say this, my brain was not working right. There were no rational thoughts. I was crying out to God. I was a Christian who believed that God saved me and loved me. And yet, I still, in that state of mind couldn’t do anything else but try to make the noise stop. Just like someone who rips off their clothes while freezing.
It is so easy isn’t it for all of us to judge what he did, what many do. Because dear God, we would never be so selfish! Stop. Please don’t be like Job’s friends.
Until you have been there, until you have experienced what it is like to have your brain misfiring and sending you the wrong signals, you cannot say you get it. Just as Job’s friends tried to comfort and console using the rational thoughts that worked for them, we only cause more harm in doing so.
Instead, let us respond with deep compassion and grace for mental illness. I have worked with hundreds of suicidal people and as I said above, experienced this myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to feel that dark abyss of pain.
By shaming and judging like many are doing, we are only perpetuating the need for people to stay silent.
To hide in shame when they have these thoughts or experiences. To put on that mask so no one will know. We need education for the public and for the church. I long for people to understand, please try.
More Grace. Less Judgement.
I was happy to read the following beautiful responses to this tragic story: