Why I’m Not Celebrating Ariel Castro’s Suicide

Ariel-Castro-sits-in-the-courtroom-during-the-sentencI sifted through a couple hundred comments on news articles of Ariel Castro’s suicide in his prison cell. “Good!” “Scumbag.” “Rot in Hell maggot.” “A cheap funeral for tax payers.” “Coward, he can dish it out for 10 years but can’t take it for 30 days.” Rest assured, the easy thing for the public to do is to celebrate the death of someone who did such evil to innocent children. But it’s apparently very hard to imagine what his family is going through right now. Not one comment mentioned his family nor considered what they are experiencing today.

I’ve heard the comments myself–“Your dad will probably be someone’s girlfriend in prison.” “He’ll get his for what he did,” as if those thoughts bring comfort. Don’t get me wrong, the horror that is waged on innocent kids is devastating. But for Ariel Castro’s family, his suicide is just one more layer to the complex sour onion of grief. And rest assured, the publicity and the negative comments about their father/ex-husband don’t put a smile on their face. Nor do they bring peace and comfort. To the family of a perpetrator, death is just another humiliating reminder that the family is plagued with a cloud of shame and embarrassment, and that the public shamelessly will hurl insults and say things that make us want to find a bigger rock to hide under.

Ariel’s death will likely bring more questions to his family than it does answers. Was his suicide a cop-out? Was he too selfish to endure prison? Did he feel remorse for what he did and snap from the guilt? Did he really love his own children? Who gets to plan the funeral? Will there be a funeral? Who, if any, of the family should go? Who do they get to do the funeral? Where do they lay his body to rest? Should he get a tomb stone? What will it say and who gets the burden of writing the message? Who pays for the funeral? Will the media smear us if we attend his funeral? Should I be glad that he is dead? If I go to the funeral will that drive a wedge between me and my siblings? Should I be sad that he is dead. . . or glad?

These are just a few of the myriad questions that are going through the family’s mind. I am the preacher of my family, so when my dad dies I will likely be the one to take the lead in suggesting whether or not there will be a memorial service. Most of my family has not spoken to dad since his arrest 2 years ago, and I fully respect that. It’s where they are right now in the grief process. The betrayal was deep, manipulative, and disgusting. But one day he will die. Some family members may never have a chance to speak to him before he dies. They will have to process that. If there is a memorial, I will have to find the right words to address the pain that is in our family. There may be a majority of family who do not come.

Today, rather than join the drum beat of the public, I choose to pray for Ariel Castro’s family and feel their grief. They have a lot to process in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

No More Mr. Nice Guy: Jesus and Children

It’s a scripture that many avoid. We don’t want to believe that Jesus would utter violent words, so when he does we pretend like he didn’t really say them. But what if we took seriously Jesus defense of children? What if churches were willing to go to war for the protection of the kids who were in their care? Jesus is often painted as a fuzzy, cuddly kind of guy who was always soft spoken–a pacifist who turned to the other cheek at all costs, even the cross.

But the reality is that Jesus sheds his nice-guy persona when children are willfully led into darkness. Listen to his words: “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea‘” (Matthew 18:2-6 NIV). I’m not arguing that Jesus was talking about vigilante justice here. Rather, he is talking about the justice of God. Over and over again Jesus talks about judgment, exclusion from the Kingdom, and torment with weeping and gnashing of teeth. God does not smile at abusers, pat them on the head, and say, “There, there, my unfaithful servant. Just try harder next time.” And neither does Jesus.

In fact, it is not often that we find Jesus visibly upset. But when children are involved, the gloves come off. The word for “to become angry at” is only used once of Jesus, and it appears in Mark 10:14: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant” (Mark 10:13-14 NIV). Jesus then rebuked his disciples and took the kids in his arms to bless them. But only after he tells them that anyone who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a kid will never make it there. An angry Jesus. A Jesus who says a person would be better off to have death by drowning than to cause a kid to sin. In other words, “You think that downing was bad? You haven’t seen anything yet!” Let that sink in for a minute.

After conducting a workshop on child abuse, a young woman came up to me in tears. “I tried telling my mom that dad sexually abused me. She told me that I probably just imagined it. A few years later I got the strength to talk to someone at church about it. I was told that the Bible says to forgive and I need to move on. How can I trust anyone anymore? Doesn’t God care that he did this to me? I don’t even know if I believe in God anymore.”

When our response to abuse is a pacifist view, and when children are told to “just get over it” or to “learn to forgive like the Bible says,” I wonder if some of the wrath of God will not be reserved for them as well. I know–but their intentions were good. They didn’t mean to harm a kid by telling them those things. But guess what? They did. The last time I read my Bible cover to cover, I failed to find where people are rocket launched to heaven for having good intentions. We Christians are just as likely to “cause one of these little ones to sin” as the abuser if we give them a picture of God as someone who couldn’t care less about their abuse. And pulling scriptures out of context in order to not have to face an uncomfortable conversation is no excuse for damaging children’s eternal souls.

I’m just thinking out loud, but perhaps we should tell our sons and daughters, our children in the pews, our students in the schoolroom that we’d be damned (literally) if we would ever intentionally allow someone to harm them. I go out of my way to tell my 3 year old daughter that I will always try to protect her and that if anyone ever does something to hurt her she can always tell her mom or me. Kids should feel protected. They were designed by a Creator to feel safe and secure in a stable home. They shouldn’t have to fear that if they tell mom and dad about something bad that happened, they will get in trouble or be ignored. One night as I was putting my daughter to bed she said, “Dad, you make me feel safe.”

We exchanged “I love you”-s and as I walked out of her room I fell apart. I cried as I thought about the countless children who feel abandoned rather than safe. It’s time to take a closer look at the anger of Jesus and live in His shadow.

Where Are You, God? A Prayer

I sit in my chair looking across my neat desk into eyes that are sad. Just plain sad. There is no mistaking the emptiness. It’s haunting, but even more so for him. I can turn it off at the end of the day. He cannot. A burning question comes back to me, “Is this loneliness and despair what God has in store for me?” “Is it a sick game from a God who’s far more powerful than me?” It’s a question too many people have, and too many people get irresponsible and damning answers from religious leaders. Victims of abuse are told, “Just put your trust in God,” as if that melts away the images of his sweaty body being thrust upon them, forcing them into unimaginable acts. “Jesus Loves You, This I Know,” one man sings as he’s raping his daughter.

Perhaps we preachers should allow people to cry out to God, to yell at him, be mad at him, and to question him. Rather than offering useless clichés like, “God is good, ALL THE TIME!” we should be saying, “My God, I can’t imagine.” Though the person sitting in my office that day is not a victim of sexual abuse, his feelings about God mirror many who are. I did not offer any “wise” prescriptions for his personal life experiences. I simply listened. And cried.

I asked him if I could publish his prayer, because I believe there is grace, eloquence, and brutal honesty in his words. I believe that people can benefit from hearing his desperate cry to God. I believe preachers should be listening to these types of prayers and, instead of offering cheap advice, offer hope by identifying with the hurt. Here are the raw, unaltered words of his prayer:

Almighty God, I humbly come before you now. I don’t know what your plan is for me or if you even have a plan for me, but I need some assistance from you. I know that you love and care for me deeply, which is why I don’t understand why you let me suffer so much. I know that as Christians we are called to suffer as Christ suffered for our sins to be forgiven, but why did you make things to turn out this way? You are the one and only omnipotent God. You could have made things to be anyway you wanted. It’s not like you had to get anyone or anything else’s permission to make things the way you wanted, you are the boss. I don’t get why you would make the penalty for sin death. You could have made it something far less severe or even done away with anything that would be considered sinful. Why did you choose to let people suffer and die and burn in hell for all eternity? Just for the sake of giving us the choice to serve you? Sorry, but if that’s the case I’d rather not have the choice. I’d rather prefer you to control my actions and guide me along your desired path than just saying: Okay, you’re born now, so you can choose to follow me or suffer forever. I didn’t have a choice in being born, so why should that change for the worst just because I have been born?
On another note, I don’t understand why good people suffer and evil people get the riches of the earth. I know that in the end good godly people will be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven and that wicked people will be cast into Hell and die for all eternity, but this raises a question and a concern in my mind. Why do good people have to wait? So, from my perspective, it doesn’t make sense to punish people for doing good things and rewarding people for living sinfully. That doesn’t seem like the Ideal way to convert sinners to Christianity. Wouldn’t it be easier if living in a godly manner got the rewards and leading a sinful life drove people into darkness such as poverty & depression? I really feel that would be a better system than what we’ve got right now (not trying to challenge you almighty God, I’m just saying that I don’t understand anything you do at all).
Anyways, I am suffering right now pretty severely. I don’t have a job, I’m not in school, I have no money, I haven’t been to Church in months, I’m lonely, I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I hurt physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. And the worst part of all of this is that there is no end in sight to any of these problems. In fact, I only see that most of them (if not all) will be getting worse. God I apologize for this but why do you allow me to suffer so much? Now I realize that there are people out there who have worse problems than I do, but I am definitely in need of some divine intervention now.
God, I feel worthless. I feel that I have no point in existing. You’ve given me reason to suspect that you do have a purpose for me by the fact that I could have died twice now but didn’t. So, if you do have a purpose for me please tell me what it is so that I can work on accomplishing that. And if I truly don’t have a point or my point is to suffer, than I would like to opt out of this mess that is my life. Please give me a life that is worth living. My entire life, from birth to present, has been nothing but failure, pain, sorrow, grief, and torture. I feel as though I cannot keep dealing with this fiasco for much longer especially since I only see it getting worse.
I want to embrace life. I want to love and be loved. I want to experience joy and happiness. Please let me. God, please help me now in my time of need.
It is in Jesus’ name that I say and ask these things and more. Amen.