Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Perceived Roles of God during Suicide Bereavement

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Perceived Roles of God during Suicide Bereavement

Article excerpt

Ten women described their religious lives following the suicide of a family member. Using their audio-recorded and transcribed interviews, this qualitative pilot study describes their perceptions of God's roles in the suicide and their bereavement. Religious traditions and Western culture contain ancient and contemporary Christian teachings regarding suicide and the bereaved respond to them and create their own attributions. The analysis produced four themes: 1) contrary to ancient Christian teaching, God as judge did not deny heaven to their loved one, 2) God was in control, but was not responsible for the suicide, 3) God provided individualized spiritual care, and 4) God brought good out of the tragedy. Larger and more detailed studies are needed to clarify further how theological attributions function within suicide bereavement.

Few realities are as central to the heart of religion as death" (Spilka, Stout, Minton, & Sizemore, 1977, p. 169). Questions about death beg for answers and religion is helpful because Cc ... causal explanation is the hallmark of religion" (Spilka, Shaver, & Kirkpatrick, 1985, p. 1).

Religion is also helpful during bereavement because it "attempts to create a conception of existence ... in which death is incorporated as a meaningful element" (Wuthnow, Christian, & Kuzlowski, 1980, p. 410). A systematic review (Becker, et al., 2007) concludes that 94 percent of 32 studies show some positive effect of religious/ spiritual beliefs during bereavement.

Grief due to suicide is a significant problem in the U.S. In 2006, the last year for which data are available (American Association of Suicidology, 2009), at least 33,300 persons committed suicide (i.e., 91 per day, 1 every 16 minutes). The American Association of Suicidology (2009) also estimates that an average of six family members/friends mourn a suicide. Based on that assumption, approximately 4 S million suffered suicide related grief between 1980 and 2006, nearly 200,000 persons in 2006 alone. Further, suicide is a unique, deliberate self-destructive act and the bereavement process can be particularly difficult (Jordan, 2001).

Christians believe that their death is not the end, but rather a transition to a better life with God. This gives death and bereavement transcendent dimensions. As a result, the bereaved make faith-based attributions (spoken or unspoken) concerning God's roles in their situation. During suicide bereavement, they respond to traditional "ready-made" (Spilka et al., 1985, p. 7) religious attributions concerning suicide and create additional ones based on their own beliefs. Their attributions may be helpful or contribute to bereavement difficulties.

This study used a qualitative methodology to explore these attributions concerning God, asking the bereaved to describe their religious life after the suicide of a family member. The project examined their intrapersonal religious lives, the religious aspects of their relationships to other family members, and their experiences with established religious communities and the clergy. The project's comprehensive results appear elsewhere (VandeCreek & Mottram, 2009). The present article refines an aspect of those results by describing the perceived roles of God during suicide bereavement.


The Scriptures and Their Interpretation The long history of interpreting the Hebrew and Christian scriptures contributes to the perceived roles of God invoking suicide and this influences its bereavement. The Hebrew Scriptures record suicides, the exact number depending on how suicide is defined. These scriptures do not condemn or prohibit it (Clemons, 1990).

The Christian New Testament provides no moral condemnation for the one recorded suicide (i.e., Judas Iscariot) nor does it prohibit it (Clemons, 1990). A long and tangled history, however, evolved as Christians struggled with persecution under Roman rule. …

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