Last month I blogged about suicide in Utah (see Youth Suicide in Utah). In the May 12th edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote about religious questions raised by suicide. In “Searching for Solace: Suicide raises difficult religious, personal questions” Ms. Stack discusses the eternal fate of suicide victims according to various religions.
Different religious traditions understand the sin of suicide in varied ways. Some believe there is no hope of salvation for such a person; some think certain religious rites must be denied at the time of burial; and some place suicide in the same category as any other sin, fully forgivable and covered by the blood of Jesus. All seem to agree that those left behind must be treated with tenderness.
The article relates the story of Catherine Poelman, a Latter-day Saint woman who has lived with the horrible aftermath of her son’s suicide for 15 years.
“Fortunately, the Poelmans’ Mormon faith spelled out a more hopeful fate for Stephen in the afterlife. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ theology, there is no traditional hell, but three levels of heaven and the possibility of ‘eternal progression.’
“At the funeral, LDS Apostle Neal A. Maxwell said Stephen would have to ‘work through whatever Heavenly Father wants him to work through . . . and Stephen will do it. He has taken with him all his fine qualities. They are not to be rescinded. They are to be further developed.’
“But, Maxwell added, he will do the working without the ‘chemical imbalances’ that plagued him during this life.”
While my heart breaks for the Poelman family, I can’t help but be distressed over Apostle Maxwell’s remarks from Stephen’s funeral and the attendant LDS doctrine on the levels of glory. Essentially, the official LDS position as expressed above is that, since there is no hell, all will be well for Stephen after he’s paid sufficiently for his sin. He’ll work, unhindered by disease, until he’s managed to please Heavenly Father. He’ll achieve worthiness by continued development of his fine qualities and then…? Apostle Maxwell didn’t say (as far as we know from this article), but Stephen’s mother
“believes her son is ‘working out his salvation in the heavenly realm while we work out ours here.’
“Adds Stephen’s sister, Cathy Poelman Boyden, ‘I believe suicide is wrong, but that he can make it to the top “of heaven” with a lot of work . . . more than he would have had here on Earth.'”
In all of this there is one thing conspicuously absent. Where is Jesus?
The Apostle Paul said Jesus is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1).
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
The Apostle John tells us that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
But a Latter-day apostle directed the grieving family to pin their hopes on Stephen. “Stephen will do it,” he said.
I’m not an apostle, but I invite you all to hear and trust the Word of the Lord:
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.”