I'm not sure why the news that Pastor Rick Warren's son had taken his own life left such an impression on me. I'm not connected to the family, and unlike apparently everyone else, I don't have strong feelings one way or another about Rick Warren's theology or approach to ministry. Maybe I'm just becoming more aware of the expectations that are placed on pastors and, more unfairly, on their families. The very vocal minority is at it again, speaking out harshly against the Warren family, turning the knife inside the wound of what is already the most horrifying experience I can imagine. It makes me feel sick.
I've learned a few things about mental illness in the past few years, and the one thing I know is that there are no easy answers. I pray that we can begin to understand, though, that this kind of depression is essentially a disease for which there is no known cure. We ought to have a lot more sympathy about it.
When a young man tragically dies of cancer, virtually no one blames his family life or his insufficient trust in God or his misguided theology. We say "He lost his battle with cancer." Yet when it's suicide, the questions always arise—if not in cowardly anonymous comments on the newspaper's website, then in hushed conversations at the back of the church foyer, where we speculate about what must have gone wrong and pontificate about his eternal fate.
I have a simple suggestion that might help us be more charitable to those who struggle with mental illness. What if instead of saying "Matthew Warren committed suicide," we said "He lost his battle with depression"?