Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Very Short Distance Called Hope

[Not for young readers.]

When my father hanged himself, the general consensus on the state of his soul seemed to come from two camps.

In the first camp, there were those who said, "Now his suffering is over; he's in a better place." In my grief, I imagined that they were insincere, that they said it out of habit, because that is what you say when you have no strong conviction of life after death. Perhaps this was uncharitable or at least unfair. Regardless, I could not swallow it, and the sugar-coated consolation grated, saccharine in my mouth, as I smiled and nodded, too weary to argue or even disagree.

The second camp covered me in blankets of compassion and pity and told me that they hoped the Spirit would guide me when I did not know how to pray. They did this because they had no more hope for my father. Their understanding of God's mercy did not extend to him any longer. From their perspective, there could be no salvation for this errant man who strayed so far from God that he took his own life. This perspective came with conviction and charity, and it was not saccharine but bitter, rankling in my gut and tempting me to give in to the hopelessness, to say good-bye forever.

But, I did not give in.
For, there is always hope.

Catholicism is unique among the sects of Christianity for its teachings on life after death. Rather than speaking of our "assurance of salvation," we Catholics speak of our hope of salvation. We are the last people on earth to say that everyone is going to Heaven. We are also the last people on earth to say that any given person is not going to Heaven. We are accused of believing in "salvation by works," but this is untrue. We believe in salvation by grace--grace alone--and we cling to the hope of that grace. We know only that we can never know the state of another person's soul, and we put all our hope in the Hands of the God who created all souls and knows them utterly.

A woman once came to St. John Vianney for consolation and spiritual guidance after her husband committed suicide by jumping off of a bridge. The woman despaired, "Father, my husband has not been to Mass or received the sacraments in years! He committed adultery; he was wicked and unjust, and now he has died a double death of body and soul."

St. John Vianney answered her, "Madam, there is a very short distance between the bridge and the water--but it is that distance which forbids you to judge."

There is a very short distance between the jump and death at the end of a rope, but it is that distance which gives me hope. It is that distance which is hope.


  1. Our God's grace is deep, extravagant and beyond full human understanding. As is his love for your father.
    I can't offer you a convincing platitude, but I can walk your hope with you.

  2. After reading your post, the thought of Jesus on the cross beside two other men also being crucified came to my mind. What I mean by this is that one of them spoke to Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Son of God. Even though that man had sinned and done wrong, ending up being persecuted, in those last moments, he spoke to our Lord. He spoke to Him and the Lord said he would see him in his kingdom. I believe we don't know what is between God and a person in those last moments. Even when all may seem lost, you are right, there is hope. Holly Norris

  3. Bethany,

    I am so sorry for your loss. I believe you are right on the mark with this post. I pray that your father finds his rest. Much love.

  4. I couldn't have said it better.

  5. Bethany, have you heard of the singer Jennifer Knapp? She has a song called, "His Grace is Sufficient for Me". And praise God, it is! I've been deep in the mire right now myself, and just know that I'm walking with you - Satan uses times like this to worm his way into our souls. Keep praying, have faith, and hope.

    You might like Sara Grove's cd, All Right Here, as well, right now. Between my Bible readings and those two cds, they serve as a constant reminder to cling to the Cross...

  6. Hi Bethany -- I just want to offer you prayers. I am a new follower of Christ, who is just trying to find her way through the static. I believe your theology is so grounded in HIM, that I find your little place on the internet so helpful for me ... I hope that YOU find solace in your writings, because really, the wisdom you're imparting is just stunning.

  7. Oh, wow, Bethany, this is an amazing post. What a great point. Thank you so much for sharing. You and your family continue to be in my prayers.

  8. I'm not a doctor or therapist, but I have received suicide hotline training and I was depressed myself years ago. Those experiences make me view suicide more as a symptom of depression than a premeditated sin. When someone is severely depressed, they are plagued by suicidal thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. These impulses are symptoms of their illness, not their usual thoughts. To make things more difficult, severe depression often causes insomnia and lack of appetite. So depressed people often haven't eaten or slept for many days and truly aren't thinking clearly. All these symptoms combined can be a tragic combination. Personally, I don't think God would hold people accountable for the symptoms of an illness.

    At a suicide training class I attended, the instructor said that people who tried to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, but survived, often regretted their decision in midair. I'd imagine the people who didn't survive had similar thoughts as well. We just don't know what goes on in those final moments between a person and God.

  9. We honestly don't always know....I know of a young man who shot himself in the head and blew apart his brain. He was on life support but would never recover. After much prayer his parents decided to let him die naturally, but they got pastoral counseling for him. Before pulling the plug, the young man opened his eyes, apologized to his parents, told them he loved them and asked God to forgive him. The doctors were amazed because the part of his brain that controls such functions was destroyed...not even in existance anymore!!

    I am sorry for your loss and am glad to know you are seeking our Loving Savior as you work through this grief.

  10. A very inspirational post - thank you for sharing. You remain in my thoughts & prayers.

  11. I agree with the person who says that attempting suicide can be a symptom of an illness which the person has no control over, any more than an epileptic can control having a fit. This cannot be the same thing as a conscious, rational decision to commit a terrible sin.

    I pray you can find peace of mind in time about your father.

  12. I thank everyone for their thoughts and condolences. I just wanted to clarify that I do know about the fact that suicidal tendencies often come from an underlying disorder, and I agree that this would render the suicide victim less culpable if not entirely unculpable of their actions. Wat I was more concerned about was my father's life prior to his death--the rational choices that he made to repeatedly turn away from the hand of God. Still, I pray that at the very end, my father accepted that Hand which has been reaching out to him always and through everything.

  13. oof. Those last to paragraphs pack some serious punch. Truth does that.

    This post brought tears. I'm glad you have found hope.


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