Robin Williams’s alleged suicide has sent shock waves through the world. Williams was a man bursting with manic energy, an out-sized personality, prodigious dramatic talent, and a completely unique comic genius. He could make us roll on the floor in laughter and he could move us deeply to tears. Many of us have memories of his performances that stretch back into our childhood. Now, suddenly, at age 63, it appears that he has taken his own life. For this tragedy it is too early for any more words. Let us cover our mouths, weep, and pray for his family.
But for some of us in the household of Jesus, Williams’s death hits hard for very personal reasons. For some, a profound, oppressive darkness is threatening to douse the little light and hope they see. They are fighting for dear life to remember and believe that life is worth living. And Robin Williams’s surrender is sucking the hope that they will be able to keep fighting. If that’s you, I simply want to point you to hope by recommending a few things: Read the book of Ecclesiastes. That may sound strange because some find that book depressing. But I have appreciated this book most in my darkest times. Reading it will remind you that the Bible deals straight up with the bleakness of futility — finding hope in the world apart from God in this age. And it has clear pointers to hope.
Then read the book of John. Here is the Hope. The Light of the world shines with unique brightness in this book and in his light we see light (Psalm 36:9). When despairing of life, we need to spend concentrated time listening to the Life (John 14:6). Look through our list of free resources for help dealing with depression and despair. A while back I wrote about what I learned in one of my dark spiritual storms. It might be helpful to you. You Are Not Alone And one thing you need to remember is that the oppressive darkness and the temptation to despair is common to man. You are not alone. About ¼ of the Psalms are written to help you. And one man’s surrender to the darkness does not at all mean that’s where you’ll end up. This precious promise is for you: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The Fight for Hope
For others in the household of Jesus, Robin Williams’s death is a reminder of another precious, precious loved life that ended in a similar incomprehensible surrender, and has reopened the wound that will never fully heal in this age. Ineffable love and sorrow and confusion and maybe anger has been stirred up again and they are fighting for hope that suicide may not be the final word on that life and that the God who did not intervene to prevent it is good — or is there at all. If that’s you, I’d like to point you also to a few helpful resources: Suicide is not the unforgivable sin. John Piper shared some very helpful thoughts on an episode of “Ask Pastor John” last May titled, “Suicide and Salvation.” John also has preached a number of funerals for believers who committed suicide. This one from 1988 and this one from 2007 are particularly hopeful and helpful. Our National Conference from 2005 focused entirely on suffering. I recommend every session. But a particularly poignant one might be Mark Talbot’s message, “Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us.” Listen to the Light One thing for you to remember is what C. S. Lewis’s Aslan once said, “I tell no one any story but his own.” Essentially that was what Jesus replied to Peter who wanted to know Jesus’s plans for the Apostle John: “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22). We dare not speculate too much about what we cannot see and cannot know about another’s story. We must rest in the trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Genesis 18:25). And remember that someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4) For most of us, depression is an indication of what we are believing. Let us not listen to the darkness and it’s seductive, hope-depleting half-truthed lies. It leads to a black hole. Listen to and move toward the Light. Light will dawn for those who trust him (Psalm 112:4). It’s a promise.
Related resources: The Joy Will Come When God Says Wait Worship in the Dark Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.
Resolutions are good things. They’re biblical: “may [God] fulfill every resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). And I think developing New Year’s resolutions is a very good idea. A year is a defined timeframe long enough to make progress on difficult things and short enough to provide some incentive to keep moving.
A resolve is not a vague intention, like “one of these days I’m going to get that garage cleaned” or “I’m going to read the Bible through this year,” but without any clear plan to do it. Resolves are intentions with strategies attached to them. You don’t just hope something is going to happen; you are planning to make it happen. To be resolved is to be determined.
Make Love Your Aim
But resolves can either be rooted in our selfish ambitions or in the love of God. We must think them through carefully. So as we make our resolutions for 2014, God wants them to all serve this one great end: “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1).
“Pursue” is a very purposeful word. The Greek verb has an intensity to it. It means to “seek after eagerly,” like a runner in a race seeks eagerly to win a prize.
The RSV’s translation of this phrase is clearer: “Make love your aim.” It has a sense of single-minded focus to it. The NIV falls short: “Follow the way of love.” It has no edge to it. It sounds like a platitude that the most polite company could smile and nod to without feeling unnerved. It does not capture Paul’s intensity.
No, this is an aggressive verb. In fact, it can mean to “pursue with hostile intent.” That’s why in the New Testament, it is frequently used to mean persecuting or harassing someone.
That sounds like Paul, the former persecutor who became the persecuted. What he is saying to us is that we should pursue love with no less fervency and determination that he once pursued Christians to Damascus — only our aim is not to stop love, but to unleash it and be captured by it, or, I should say, by Him (1 John 4:8).
Plan to Make Love Your Aim
Let this be the year that we pursue love. Let this be the year that we stop talking about love, that we do less regretful moaning about how little we love and how much we need to grow in love and actually be determined to love more the way Jesus loved (John 15:12). Let this be the year we actually put into place some strategies to help us love.
Each person’s situation is so unique that we can’t craft strategies for each other to grow in love. It’s something that we must each do with God, though some feedback and counsel from those who know us best are helpful.
But here are some of the Bible’s great love texts to soak in during 2014 that can help loving strategies emerge:
1 Corinthians 13: soak in or memorize it and let each “love is . . .” statement in verses 4–7 search your heart. With whom can you show greater patience, kindness, and more?
John chapters 13–15: soak in or memorize them. Ninety-five verses are very doable. You can memorize them in 3–6 months and be transformed.
The First Epistle of John: Soak in or memorize it. You can do it! Forcing yourself to say the verses over and over will yield insights you’ve never seen before.
Take 2–4 weeks and simply meditate on the two greatest commandments according to Jesus (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10). Look and look at them and pray and pray over them. You will be surprised at what the Lord shows you.
Read Hebrews 13:1–7, take one verse per day and prayerfully meditate on what you might put into place to grow in each area of loving obedience. It may be one thing or ten things.
You get the idea. We don’t need all our strategies in place by January 1st. But we can make 2014 a year where we pursue love with more intentionality than we ever have before. And as we meditate, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), the Holy Spirit will guide us in creating the strategies we should use.
The Most Courageous Resolution
But let’s also be clear: making love our aim in 2014 will demand more courage and faith than any other resolution we can make. Nothing exposes the depth of our sin like really seeking to love God with our entire being and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
So we must let our pursuit of love drive us to the gospel. None of us has ever perfectly kept either of the two great commandments. Ever. Our very best efforts have been polluted by our prideful sin. And we have rarely been at our very best.
We can only love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19) and sent his Son to become sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ has kept the greatest commandments (and the rest) perfectly for us! So we are forgiven of our constant failure to love as we ought and are given grace to grow in the grace of love. And because of Jesus, someday we will love perfectly just as we have been loved.
So let’s make our resolution to pursue love this year more than we ever have, knowing that we have been loved with an everlasting love (Psalm 103:17).
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