“Come Unto Me…”

Te Ururoa Flavell

Suicide. The mere mention of the word is enough to stir our emotions, our memories and even move some of us to anger. It is no surprise then that the MP for Te Waiariki, Te Ururoa Flavell sparked such controversy with his recent column on suicide. You can read it here, but basically what the esteemed member of parliament said was that we shouldn’t celebrate the lives of those who commit suicide, instead we should bury them at the entrance of the cemetery (where people would walk over them) so their deaths will be condemned by the people.

As Falvell says, this is a hardline stance, but he is proposing it because he has seen firsthand the trauma and grief caused by suicide, and in his words “What else can we do?”

Like most people I have been touched by suicide, while my whanau and I have been lucky enough to not have a suicide in the immediate family, the effects of suicide are such that even when it occurs in the extended family or even a loose circle of acquaintances, everyone feels it s horrible presence no matter how distant. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Flavell’s article caused such a reaction.

Like everything, I think it is important to look to our faith when dealing with issues, especially issues like suicide that seem to have no reason, but hurt so much. One piece of scripture that comes to mind whenever I think of suicide is from Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This passage sums up to me what I believe would be God’s response to any person who is convinced that their burden is so heavy, and they are so weary that the only way to be free from it is to end their lives. As I type these words I am very aware of the dangers of glorifying suicide, and please know that that is certainly not my intention. These words are not a way of legitimising suicide but rather a response to it. The real power in these words from Matthew’s gospel are in the fact that they are a calling to all of us to place our burdens on Jesus and free ourselves from the weight and tiredness that comes with those burdens. Through doing so, and responding to those words from Matthew, we free ourselves from those dark corners of our lives where some of us are sometimes moved to consider, and in the worse cases commit suicide. I believe our God is a god of love and while God would much rather see us live our lives and live them fully in him I cannot for a second fathom that God wouldn’t be waiting to receive any victim of suicide with open arms and offer them the paradise they were so tragically denied during their lives, that paradise that we are all entitled to.

From this perspective I must disagree with Flavell. I do not think that it is right for us, or anyone else to deny a grieving family a Tangi (funeral) or to bury a victim of suicide outside of the urupa (cemetery) by themselves. They were so alone in their lives, why would we condemn them to remain alone (even if only their mortal remains) in death? Even more than that, I am moved by my faith to respond to suicide in a way that is inspired by, and lives out the love of God as revealed to us in his son Jesus Christ.

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