Jarrid Wilson, a well-known church leader, author, and mental health advocate, died by suicide Monday evening.
Wilson and his wife co-founded the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope. He was open about his own depression, often posting on social media about his struggles with mental illness. He blogged earlier this summer that he had dealt with “severe depression throughout most of my life and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.”
Wilson was recently an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Harvest Senior Pastor Greg Laurie said, “At a time like this, there are just no words.”
“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not,” Laurie added. “At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for his help and strength, each and every day.”
So do we all.
A suicide every forty seconds
Jarrid Wilson’s death came one day before World Suicide Prevention Day. While suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among the general American population, it is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of ten and twenty-four. Suicide rates in the US have increased more than 25 percent since 1999.
The World Health Organization estimates a global suicide rate of one death every forty seconds. By next year, they predict someone will take their life every twenty seconds.
If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It provides confidential, free support twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You can also call this number to talk to someone about how to help a person in crisis.
All in Christ are a “new creation”
My purpose this morning is not only to encourage those who might be at risk of suicide to get help immediately but also to counter the stigma of mental health illness in the evangelical Christian community.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year. However, few churches have plans to assist families affected by mental illness or provide staff counselors skilled in mental illness. One reason is the stigma and culture of silence that exists on this issue.
Let me be as clear as possible: those suffering from mental illness, like those suffering from any other kind of illness, deserve our best support, medical resources, and encouragement. There is nothing sinful about suffering from depression, any more than it is sinful to suffer from heart disease.
Nor should we limit our response to those suffering from mental illness to prayer and encouragement, any more than we would for cancer patients. Many people who face depression and other mental illnesses suffer from physiological conditions that require medical treatment. And all deserve the best resources available.
One other issue: some in the church have erroneously viewed mental illness as sinful because of the unbiblical belief that those who take their lives as a result of their illness cannot go to heaven. This is a complex issue, but here’s the short version: some in church history claimed that “mortal” sins such as murder caused their perpetrators to go to hell unless they confessed their sins before they died. Since those who commit suicide (self-murder) cannot confess this sin after committing it, they cannot go to heaven.
But the Bible nowhere teaches or even suggests such wrong theology.
The only “unpardonable” sin is rejecting the pardon for our sins offered by our Savior. (For much more on this and related subjects, please see my “What does the Bible say about suicide.”) All who trust Jesus as Savior and Lord become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and receive eternal life (John 3:16).
“Two radically contradictory utterances”
We are all broken people. We all commit sins and face diseases and disasters. Trusting in Jesus does not exempt us from any illness, whether mental or physical. But it does bring the promise that we are forever in our Lord’s hand (John 10:28) and that he is with us “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Peace has come to mean the time when there aren’t any wars or even when there aren’t any major wars. Beggars can’t be choosers; we’d most of us settle for that. But in Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness, means having everything you need to be wholly and happily yourself.
One of the titles by which Jesus is known is Prince of Peace, and he used the word himself in what seem at first glance to be two radically contradictory utterances. On one occasion he said to the disciples, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). And later on, the last time they ate together, he said to them, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’ (John 14:27).
The contradiction is resolved when you realize that, for Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.
Trusting the Prince of Peace
Please pray for Jarrid Wilson’s wife, their sons, and their extended family.
Pray for those you know who are suffering from mental illness and encourage them to get the best medical help and personal support.
Pray for those who have lost someone they love to depression or other mental illness.
And know that whoever you are and wherever you are, the peace of Jesus means “not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.”
Go to the Prince of Peace, today.