The following is a funeral meditation given by John Piper for a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church who committed suicide in 1981. Identifying information has been removed.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And if I am right and there is an all-powerful, all-wise God who made the universe, holds it in existence, and guides it to a great climax, then at least one thing is sure: there will be strangeness and mystery in the world beyond our finite little comprehension. There is no reason to think that God should run the world according to our expectations.
- He is infinite; we are finite.
- He knows everything that can be known; we forget our own telephone number.
- He is strong enough to wield galaxies and never sleeps; we tire at a few hours’ labor and spend 1/3 of our lives unconscious in sleep.
- He is more glorious than all the Northern Lights and the Milky Way and the Grand Canyon; but we have to use make-up and hairdos and shiny shoes.
The Mystery of God’s Purposes
There is such an infinite difference between God and us that one thing is sure: the way he runs the world will often puzzle us.
O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? (Romans 11:33–34)
The Revelation of God’s Purposes
But God has not left us in total ignorance. He has revealed some of his purposes in his Son, Jesus, and in his Word, the Bible. The broad and large and final purposes of God are made clear. But God has left us to trust him in the strange ways in which he goes about achieving his final purposes.
The Apostle Paul
One of the strangest stories in the Bible is the story about the great apostle Paul who wrote almost half the books in the New Testament. Paul in his full years was a great man, greater than any of us.
He was great in faith. He said, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). He saw every one of the crushing circumstances that entered his life as another motive to rely more on God and less on himself (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Paul was also great in love. O, how he loved his churches and poured out his life not just for his own pleasure, but for the eternal good of his people. He could be severe with powerful words, or he could be tender like a nurse taking care of her children (1 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 7:8). But whatever he did, and whatever he said, he aimed at the “joy of their faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24). He loved them and would have given his life for them (Romans 9:2).
And Paul was great in wisdom. St. Peter said that all Paul’s writings were the product of God-given wisdom (2 Peter 3:15). And Paul himself had to admit that God had blessed him with insights into divine truth which no one else yet knew (1 Corinthians 2:10–13). There is nothing more profound in all the writings of mankind than Paul’s letter to the Romans. He was great in wisdom.
And lastly, he was great in freedom. His rallying cry was: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). He enjoyed freedom from guilt because he trusted wholly in Christ’s forgiveness which he purchased on the cross; freedom from fear and hopelessness because he believed the promises of God and kept his eye on God’s mercy; freedom from enslaving sinful habits: he said, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). He was a free man, even in jail.
Now that might be discouraging because none of us in this room is great like St. Paul. But there are two strange things about how Paul got to his greatness. The first is that Paul was not always great. He was once a murderer, full of rage against God and the church. The Bible says, “He was breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). He was not a man of faith, nor love, nor wisdom, nor freedom. He was enslaved to anger and hate, because he felt his life threatened by Christianity. It is an amazing thing that God chose a man like this to be his main spokesman in the early church. God called him and utterly turned him around. Paul was so shook he didn’t eat for three days. Then he spent several years away from home to sort things out, and gradually a new man emerged.
That’s strange enough—that God should choose such a man. But the most amazing and unexpected thing we learn is that God had already chosen Paul to be an apostle when he was still in his mother’s womb. Paul said, “He set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace” (Galatians 1:15). Do you see what that means? God chose him for greatness, and then let him become a murderer before he called him into his service. Who would have ever thought of such a procedure? His ways are not our ways. Why did he do it this way? Why let Paul become such a sinner before transforming him into greatness?
Here is Paul’s own explanation:
I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience, for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
This is truly amazing. God set apart Paul before he was born; chose him to become a great apostle of Christ; then he let Paul fall into years, decades, of sin and even murder (the “foremost” of sinners); and then, only then, did God work mightily to make Paul a new man. Why? All for our sake: so we might clearly see that God has remarkable patience and can transform the foremost of sinners. He is rich in mercy.
That leaves us with two crucial insights and a question:
- God’s ways are strange and we must be slow to pass judgment on his wisdom and love.
- There is great mercy and long-suffering and patience and forgiveness with God. Anyone who will trust him can be made new.
Finally the question: What about our friend? Was she made new when she put her life into the hands of God? We have good reason to think she was on the new road. Not instant change, but on the road. The wounds of sin don’t heal easily.
But then came the suicide. And in our minds there lingers the question: Is she safe with Christ? Or does suicide bring condemnation? Jesus has a word for us here:
Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of eternal sin. (Mark 3:28–29)
Only one thing puts a person beyond forgiveness: blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. But this is not any single act, for Jesus says any sins and blasphemies will be forgiven those who follow him. No. Blasphemy against the Spirit of God is treating the Spirit as dirt by continually and persistently resisting and rejecting this call to repentance until death.
No single sin, not even suicide, evicts a person from heaven into hell. One thing does: continual rejection of God’s Spirit. Our friend, we believe, gave up that resistance and accepted the forgiveness of Christ. What sort of momentary weakness, what brief cloud of hopelessness caused her to take her life remains a mystery. But no one can say this: that her final act is unforgivable. Nor any other act by any of us. For Jesus said: all sins will be forgiven the sons of men if they give up resisting the Spirit and look to Jesus for salvation.