The suicide of Comedian-Actor Robin Williams has provided a rather interesting window into the worldview of various and sundry Christians. I was caught quite surprised over the emotion that Williams death would generate among those who claim the name of Christ. It could be the reason for all that emotion is that Williams has been a poster child for large segments of both the Baby Boomers and Generation X. In losing Williams these large swaths of people are losing a cultural identifier that was woven deeply into their psyche. No one can doubt that Williams, for good and for ill, made a huge impact on the zeitgeist.
In this discussion, I think I can understand both the perspective of those that insist that, as Christians, we should be respectful of the dead and so not speak ill of them as well as the position that observes that Williams should be used as a negative example of the danger of gaining the whole world while losing one’s own soul.
An example of the former disposition can be found in the following quotes provided by sundry Christians,
“We can’t say for certain whether or not he is in peace right now so being respectful and gracious is the right thing to do. RIP”
“Well, we can certainly dissect the lives of anyone who has died, believer and non believer alike at their deaths. But, is it kind and is it necessary to do so? Is it the place of those who knew him so little to make fun or to criticize those who have grief right now? There are unpleasant stories in the past of us all. People right now are desiring to focus on the positive and pleasant memories of Robin Williams and his brilliant wit and comedy. We are all shaped by those around us: family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, those in the political realm and those in the fashion/music/entertainment world. In spite of the negative influences that the Lord allowed to be part of the shaping of who I am today, i hope that when I take my final breath, that others who may not care for me will allow those that do to grieve. My life was not damaged by Robin Williams, though not all that he did was I fond of. It is like eating fish… Spit out the bones when you get a few in your mouth and move on. Enjoy the good things that a person did.At this time, the death of a well loved man, perhaps our testimony as Christians shines brighter by showing respect rather than making a mockery of others and their memories and grief.”
“It honestly just bugs the hell out of me when people say things negatively about people like him when they die. Its not as if he committed genocide and deserved to die.
I feel more terrible that a man who was a thinker and had such a great mind for comedy probably wont be in heaven. You should grieve more for people who don’t have any hope…because they are damned. At least when our fellows in Christ die, they get to move onto the afterlife of peace and tranquility. Not so for unrepentant. Show your quality as Christians by being sympathetic.”
There are texts in Scripture that seem to support this disposition. Proverbs 24:17-18 for example says:
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; or the Lord will see and be displeased and turn His anger away from him.”
The Proverbs 24 passage echoes other passages. Job, for instance, believes himself righteous because he hasn’t rejoiced in the death of his enemies (Job 31:29). Scripture indicates that when we see the wicked rejoicing over the death of their enemies, we automatically know it isn’t right (Judges 16:25; 2Sa 16:5-6; Psalm 35:13-15; 42:10; Micah 7:8).
Certainly then there is a place for sensitivity and tenderness in an untimely death. We can all admit that there is a certain sadness when the wicked die. After all, there but the grace of God go any of us. We can be sad at the waste of all that talent as the talent was not used for God’s glory. We can be sad at what might have been. Sad for the damage they did to themselves and to those who loved them. We can be saddened over how the enemy kills and destroys image bearers of God.
However, sadness and a pious respect are not the last words on this subject. We must also consider that Scripture repeatedly speaks of joy over the death of the wicked. Proverbs 11:10 says,
“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; they shout for joy when the wicked die.”
In Psalm 58:10 this idea of God’s people corporately rejoicing in the death of their enemies is recorded,
“The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.”
Here we note that God expects His people to rejoice over the death of His and their enemies. And why should we be surprised at that? The wicked are those who oppose the advance of God’s Kingdom. The wicked are those who prefer their triumph over God’s triumph in the land of the living. The wicked prefer their glory being known as opposed to God’s glory being known. The wicked desire to make a name for themselves at the expense of God’s people making a name for God. There can be no doubt that the removal of the wicked should be a cause for celebration, if only because their attack on God’s reputation is finished.
The greatest mind ever produced by America, (Rev. Jonathan Edwards) preached a sermon once that captured some of this. Edwards reminded his listeners that the most intimate of relationships would not cause the redeemed in the relationship to not rejoice over the destruction of the unredeemed. Edwards wrote,
“You that have godly parents, who in this world have tenderly loved you, who were wont to look upon your welfare as their own, and were wont to be grieved for you when any thing calamitous befell you in this world, and especially were greatly concerned for the good of your souls, industriously sought, and earnestly prayed for their salvation; how will you bear to see them in the kingdom of God, crowned with glory? Or how will you bear to see them receiving the blessed sentence, and going up with shouts and songs, to enter with Christ into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, while you are amongst a company of devils, and are turned away with the most bitter cries, to enter into everlasting burnings, prepared for the devil and his angels? How will you bear to see your parents, who in this life had so dear an affection for you, now without any love to you, approving the sentence of condemnation, when Christ shall with indignation bid you depart, wretched, cursed creatures, into eternal burnings ? How will you bear to see and hear them praising the Judge, for his justice exercised in pronouncing this sentence, and hearing it with holy joy in their countenances, and shouting forth the praises and hallelujahs of God and Christ on that account?”
Our current Christian culture, such as it is, has no problem with the empathy side of the equation. Unfortunately, in our current culture most of our empathy is on the side of fallen men. But understand, that those who properly rejoice at the death of the wicked are also demonstrating empathy. It is a least possible that they are demonstrating empathy for God and His Christ in rejoicing over the death of the wicked. Is there not a place for empathy over God’s glory being diminished and then a place for rejoicing when those who have diminished God’s glory are removed? Is there not a place for empathy for God, when His name and character are denigrated, and then a place for rejoicing when those who have denigrated the Holy name of God are removed so as to never denigrate it again? Not all rejoicing over the death of the wicked is a case of insensitive clods who don’t understand what it means to be Christian. And some of the tenderness over the death of the wicked is a case of insensitive (to God) nekulturny who don’t understand what it means to be Christian.
The point here plainly stated, for those who may have missed it, is that it is possible that sympathy and empathy for the fallen wicked may come at cost for sympathy and empathy for the Transcendent, Holy God.
So, we must own both sides of the equation in this matter. I think that we can both rejoice at the death of fallen men and not rejoice over the death of fallen men by remaining God centered. We can rejoice in God’s name being cleared and we can not rejoice when remembering that it is only God’s grace alone that causes us to differ from God haters. In the death of the wicked we have to satisfy both sides of the equation.
Clearly it is possible that Robin Williams turned to Christ just before he jumped off the chair to hang himself, (odd combination there to think about) but if we were only to look at his body of work it is clear that the man did not own Christ and so is eternally separated from God. There is nothing inappropriate about noting that as a warning to people.