Robin Williams died yesterday. All the news reports say it was suicide. But they are wrong.
Cancer kills people. Heart attacks kill people. People die tragically in car accidents. Soldiers die in war. Depression kills people. No one dies for no reason.
Martin Luther, the voice of the Protestant Reformation put it this way:
"I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber… They are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence He must teach us in this way. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter."
In commenting on that quote, a friend wrote, “Jesus calls the devil ‘a murderer from the beginning.’ And, like every serial murderer, the devil is an opportunist, targeting the most vulnerable, when they are weakest. This is especially evident in suicide.” Another wrote, “And lest we forget, constant drug use, alcohol abuse and failed marriages can be a perfect storm leading to a final black hole of despair.”
I don’t pretend to know the details of William’s struggle. No one but God can know his state of mind or faith. We are not his judge. But the fact that this comes as a surprise to those who knew him, who were his friends and family, is perhaps the greater tragedy.
The human desire to be perceived in a favorable light is life -threatening. It keeps hurting people from sharing their greatest burdens. The devil must love that about humans. The fact that we hide our insecurities, our hurts, our inadequacies behind a veneer of socially acceptable behaviors gives the devil power over us. A burden shared is a burden lightened. A burden hidden becomes an unbearable weight.
The irony of William’s death is that he portrayed vulnerable and transparent people in his most memorable movies. In Patch Adams he played an eccentric, self-absorbed nut-case who became a doctor and discovered his purpose by connecting with troubled people on a real level. In Good Morning Vietnam, he assumed the role of a military disc jockey who was willing to upset the brass to help the front-line soldier. And in Good Will Hunting, he risked his professional standing to help a brilliant but troubled student.
To the credit of his writers, but also his acting skills, some of the lines from those movies are worthy of recalling:
- “You treat a disease, you win or you lose. You treat a person, I’ll guarantee you’ll win every time.” (Patch Adams)
- “Hi, Patch Adams.” – (Reply) “Mitch Roman, Georgetown University. I was awarded the William F. Thompson Scientific Achievement Award.” - (Patch Adams responds.) “Mmmm Emerson Elementary. I once drew a picture of a rabbit that got me two gold stars.”
- “I don’t like you.” (Mitch Roman) – “Why don’t you like me? You’re a prick and I like you.” (Patch Adams)
- GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!!! Hey, is it a little too early for being that loud? Hey, too late! It’s 0600. What’s the O stand for? "Oh my God, it’s early!"
- Here’s a little riddle for you. What’s the difference between the army and the Cub Scouts? Cub Scouts don’t have heavy artillery!
- You know, you’re very beautiful. You’re also very quiet. And I’m not used to girls being that quiet unless they’re medicated. Normally I go out with girls who talk so much you could hook them up to a wind turbine and they could power a small New Hampshire town.
- Sometimes you got to specifically go out of your way to get into trouble. It’s called fun.
And last but not least, here’s my favorite speech Williams made in “Good Will Hunting,” when he bluntly spoke truth to Matt Damon, the brilliant student who was hiding behind a shield of macho superiority, refusing to be real.
“If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo; you know a lot about him. His life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? “Once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping by sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ‘cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. When I look at you…I don’t see an intelligent, confident man…I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my f’n life apart. You’re an orphan right?…You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, just because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally; I don’t give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can’t learn anything from you, I can’t read in some f’n book. Unless…unless, you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. Then I’m all in. But you don’t want to do that do you sport? You’re terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief.”
Sorry for the length of this week’s Edify. Some thoughts can’t be limited to 500 words. I attempted to modify some of the more offensive language in the quotes for fear of offense, but not so much that I would be guilty of hiding behind what most consider “socially acceptable dialogue.” That’s the point after all. Hiding. That’s what kills people.
The Scripture: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32)
- What does the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are” mean?
- Why is it silly, bordering on insanity, to keep secrets from God?
- What about Jesus gives you confidence to tell God all your troubles and expect help?
Survey: When it comes to honesty about my struggles in life:
A. I keep everyone on a need-to-know basis.
B. I tend to be pretty open and forthright.
C. I tend to stay politically correct.
Click here to take the survey and take a moment to leave a thought or opinion.
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“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.
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Stephen Hower, Pastor
Challenging the status quo to awaken an appreciation for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:13,14 (and to lower my golf score)
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