Monday, September 2, 2013

My friend took his own life this past Friday; He was an atheist

This past Friday, I learned that a friend of mine took his own life. He was an atheist. In fact, I met him when I joined a local atheist club in town, to get a better understanding of the atheist way of life and outlook. I gave him rides to the atheist meetings several times and we became friends on facebook. We were never overly close, but from time to time he would message me late at night when he was sad or lonely. His name was Johnny. He came from a very religious family and he always felt pressured by his family to accept God. Instead, he identified himself as a staunch atheist. He even had the atheist logo tattooed on his chest. The thing is, I don’t think he was an atheist. He would participate in the typical atheist arguments about how God wasn’t real and science has shown time again that God wasn’t needed for life to begin. But there as more to him than that. When it was just him and I, he talked about being angry with God. He talked about how he had screamed out to God in anger, and despair. He felt that his family forced religion on him as a youth, and as a result he rebelled as an adult. I don’t believe that Johnny was an atheist based on some of our late night conversations. At the very least, he was definitely curious about a lot of my ideas and opinions about the Bible, God, Jesus, the church, and religion. I can’t say if Johnny was a true atheist or not.

What I can say, is that Johnny had some well-meaning Christians in his life who may have pushed him away from God. The very people who were called to bring people to the Lord, may have been the one’s who kept Johnny from wanting God in his life. Early in the past year, Johnny’s father passed away. When this happened, I got a random message from him asking if we could talk. I agreed and he began to tell me how alone and dark he was feeling. He told me that he didn’t want to live. He wanted to mourn the loss of his father, but he felt that he was being attacked by some family and friends. He was told that his father desperately wanted him to know God. He was told that if he loved his father, he would accept Jesus because that was his father’s desire.  He was told that he will go to hell. He was told he was a disappointment to his father. I want to tell all of my Christian brethren out there, that even if you really think all of this is true; not everything that is true, is always helpful. This is not the way.

I don’t know where Johnny is right now. Since I learned of his passing, I have prayed for him, several times a day. I have prayed that God knows his heart. That God can see how confused Johnny was. How betrayed he felt. How hurt he was. I have wept for Johnny on several occasions this past weekend. I wept when I first learned of his passing. I wept when I posted the picture he drew for me on facebook. I wept this morning as I drove to the gym. And as I type this, my eyes are watering and I am choking back tears. I cannot believe that Johnny is burning in some hell right now. What I know of God, is that He is 1000 times more loving and compassionate than I could hope to be. If my heart is broken for Johnny, then God’s has to be, as well. I imagine God wrapping Johnny in his arms. I imagine Johnny weeping and saying “I’m sorry, but it hurt so bad.” And I imagine God saying “I know my son. And I love you.” To me, that is “love.” That is compassion. That is everlasting fatherly love and mercy. That is what God is.
In the Bible, Moses pleads with God to have mercy on the Israelites because they have turned their back on God. Numbers 14:11-20 says:  11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 I will smite them with [a]pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” 13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will [b]say, 16 ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have [c]declared, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children [d]to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your loving kindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word.” The people didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in him, and yet God was merciful because of the prayer of Moses. Later in the Bible, Jesus does the same thing. In Luke 23:24 He says “34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. In both the Old Testament and the New, we see an example of someone who knew and loved God, pleading with God for those who did not understand. Why would Jesus pray for those who turned their back on him, if it wouldn’t do any good? I have prayed to God, on behalf of my friend Johnny, that God would see how wounded Johnny was. How confused Johnny was. How hurt Johnny was. And I know that God can see that Johnny’s despair was caused in part, by people who were supposed to be God’s representatives. The one’s who were supposed to bring Johnny to od were some of the very people who pushed Johnny away from God. I know not every Christian in Johnny’s life was like that. I know a couple of the Christians in Johnny’s life were very compassionate and we tried to show God to Johnny, in a loving way. But maybe we didn’t do enough. I don’t know.

All I know is that my friend is gone. And it hurts. Like I said, we weren’t really “that” close. But I mourn for
Johnny drew this for me last January.
I gave it to my wife for our 19th anniversary.
He was very talented. 
him like we were. I mourn for his broken heart. I mourn for his mother who lost her husband and her son in less than one year. And I pray that Christians will think about the things they say to people and be aware of when they are slamming the gates of heaven shut, in the faces of those who are wounded, hurt, and confused.

Rest in peace, Johnny. I will miss you. And I will do everything I can to make sure your death was not in vain. I will tell your story in hopes that Christians will realize how powerful and hurtful their words can be. I will tell your story to encourage Christians to tell everyone the good news about Jesus’ death, rather than the horrific news of God’s anger, wrath, and death, that too many “believe in.” 

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