Suicide, Mental Illness, and Sin

Robin Williams' tragic death has produced yet another round of voices assuring us the problem is mental illness. This horrible event, so they say, demands more attention and money be aimed at making both education and therapy widely available.

While I acknowledge emotional and mental instability is a growing problem in our society, it is singularly unhelpful to immediately chalk up every tragic occurrence - from mass shootings to celebrity suicides - to mental illness. 

The real culprit, even where mental instability may be a contributing factor, is sin, and almost no one wants to talk about it.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God the virus of sin entered the operating system of creation. Since that time it has replicated itself over and over, increasingly finding new ways to express itself. Sadly, we all are born into this world riddled with it.

Paul tells us this natural unrighteousness prevents us from seeing and understanding the truth about God (Romans 1:18ff). This causes a deep sense of spiritual dissonance since we all carry about in our souls an emptiness that only God can fill. The Bible defines this emptiness as the state of "spiritual death." God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the forbidden fruit, for in doing so they would die. That is, they would find themselves no longer completed by God, but separate from him. They would be left to themselves, consigned to a futile search for meaning and purpose in this life, without God.

Augustine put it this way, declaring to God: "You have made us for yourself, and we are restless until we find our rest in Thee."

Robin Williams, and so many before him, tried to fill the void in his soul with everything but God.  In the end, he failed. Was he mentally ill? We simply can't know for sure. We do know his long-standing drug habit certainly had a debilitating effect on him, and he had recently returned to a rehabilitation center. Certainly there were many factors that, over time, brought him to the place where he believed ending his life was his best option.

But, if all we take from this is an increased determination to  deal with mental illness we will have missed a great opportunity. Yes, people need help when life runs them over. But even more, people need the gift of spiritual life - reconnection with God - offered freely in Jesus Christ. 

I expect many will disagree with me here. The mental illness bandwagon is large, and ever expanding. Mental illness is, for far too many, a safe answer to sinful activity simply because it means no one is ever at fault. But this is a dangerous path. When those who engage in  destructive behavior are cast as victims, we end up losing any sense of individual accountability. 

The truth is, humanity's biggest problems are not mental, or emotional, or even physical. Our great problem is spiritual. Our sin and selfishness drive us to pursue our own course rather than humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, acknowledge our sinfulness, and turn in full submission to entrust our lives to him. To explain away sin as illness is to turn a blind eye to the utter sinfulness of sin, thereby allowing it free reign in our society. 

As humans we don't just need help. We are dead in our sins and in need of new life available only through faith in Jesus Christ. The great tragedy is not that Robin Williams took his life, as horrible as that is. The great tragedy of his life will always be his ongoing refusal to accept the gift of life so freely offered by God in the Lord Jesus Christ.