A Theological Response to Robin Williams (and Matt Walsh)

This is one part of a two part response to the suicide of Robin Williams and Matt Walsh’s blog about him. Click here to see a psychiatric response.

It’s hard to miss headline writers like Matt Walsh these days. He gives voice to the super conservatives among us and is one heck of a catchy writer. In light of the latest celebrity tragedy this week, Walsh wrote the following tweet for his blog post.

As you can imagine, this garnered a fair amount of criticism. He wasted no time returning the fire and putting the blame back on his critics: 

To answer his question, we were reading his post where he said that the disease Robin Williams had was irrelevant to the fact that he chose suicide. Walsh chooses to play dumb to this association but he shows a dangerous way of approaching people with pain in the midst of weakness.

The responses to Williams’ suicide cover all ends of the spectrum. The Academy of Motion Pictures tweeted a picture of the genie from Aladdin (voiced by Williams) with three simple words: “Genie, you’re free.” On the other side, Shepard Smith of Fox News referred to Williams as “such a coward.” Are we celebrating or chastising?

Take a step back for a moment and let’s look at it from another point of view. Anger is a secondary emotion. I’m mad because of something. It’s a reaction. That’s what suicide is. It’s a heartbreaking, permanent, devastating reaction. But it’s a reaction to SOMETHING. It’s rare to find the suicide note from the personal who feels fulfilled in their life and is full of joy.

One of the biggest logical faults from Walsh’s post is when he claims:

“Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice.”

While this is literally true, it assumes two errors: 1) suicide is a primary emotion/decision, and 2) a person contemplating suicide is in an objective place to make a logical choice. As with anger, suicide is a reaction to something else. To overlook that or negate that, as Walsh does with Robin Williams, is to force a damning judgment. This does not mean, as he also assumes, that we must then play the pure victim card and say that he had no other option other than suicide. More accurately, he probably couldn’t see his other options clearly.

As I’ve written about previously, Walsh’s mistake is similar to a Christian arguing that God won’t give you more than you can handle. The point for the person contemplating suicide is that they can’t handle their current situation and likely don’t see another way out. But this is why we must lean on the truth of Scripture instead of popular opinion. Consider what the apostle Paul learned in his own life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 12 Corinthians 12:9

Grace is sufficient for us BECAUSE God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Here’s the bottom line: As Americans, we are uncomfortable with the thought of weakness. Spiritually speaking, we should own our weakness and invite Christ to be powerful precisely in those moments. What Matt Walsh and countless other people indicate is that we are far too uncomfortable acknowledging a person’s weakness. We need to blame them for it.

Jesus showed us a disarming ability to meet a person in their weakness. By contrast, we tend to define a person by their weakness. But consider your own life. Do you want to be defined by your moments of weakness? Do you want people to remember you that way? Do you want your eternity decided in that state? The saddest part of all of this is that it tends to be the Christians who often throw the most fuel on the fire. I remember watching pastor Rick Warren lead with dignity and strength after the loss of his son to suicide. But he had to deal with a lot of hurt from Christians.

After the apostle Peter (one of Jesus’ closest disciples) denied him three times, we see Jesus return and seek him out among the other disciples to restore him (Lk. 24:33-34; 1 Cor. 15:3-5). Jesus could have said (if he subscribed to Matt Walsh’s blog) that Peter had a choice and didn’t have to deny him. While that would have of course been true it would have negated the fact that Peter was scared and overwhelmed. He was weak.

Jesus desires to restore weak people. Jesus looked at this weak version of Peter and saw through it. He saw that this moment didn’t define Peter. Jesus wanted to redeem this broken image.

Yes, suicide is a choice. But depression rarely is a choice. Abuse is rarely a choice. Confused emotional states are rarely a choice. Fear is rarely a choice. People don’t decide to end their lives by making a pros and cons objective analysis and come to the conclusion that this is the least pain for all involved. They turn to the best option they can see in the moment of weakness. So we must meet people in their weaknesses. We must see them.

We must realize that a moment—even a season—of weakness does not define a person. (click here to tweet this)

Let’s start believing that God’s grace really is sufficient.

Sign up with your email and never miss a post!



Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, Aiden, and Abel. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

More in Mental Health
Addressing Mental Health with Medicine AND the Bible

I'm excited to formally begin work on a project that my friend Brad and I have been talking about for...

Close