If I make my bed in the depths, you are there… If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you…. +Psalm 139
The curtain closed for the last time on Robin Williams this week.
Instead of taking a bow, he crumpled over a chair with a belt around his neck.
It seems that the darkness covered him… that he found himself in the depths…
I loved Robin Williams. I remember driving by his home in San Francisco as a kid to check out the T-Rex topiary in his front yard- longing for a celebrity sighting as we crept along his street.
I grieve the dad who dressed in drag to nanny his kids, the charming genie with 44 voices, and the bright red clown nosed doctor who spread joy and hope. But that was the only Robin I knew. He hid his sorrow well. Or, maybe I just didn’t look closely enough.
In faith communities, we struggle to talk about mental illness, depression, addiction, and suicide.
Church folks are known for smiling on the outside, singing things like “Kum ba yah” and offering cheap words in times of loss like “everything happens for a reason” or “God must have wanted Robin in heaven” or the worst: naming mental illness and suicide ‘a sin.’
These types of ‘faithful’ responses to mental illness and suicide embarrass me.
As a pastor, a counselor, a friend to so many who struggle, and a huge fan of Robin Williams- I want to offer a different perspective.
I wish there was a “Kum ba yah” response to ease the pain and chaos of severe mental illness, but there isn’t. Instead, it is a long, daily battle that we don’t always conquer. No amount of Hallmark phrases or cheap, shallow theology can make sense out of the tragedy of suicide.
In our faith lives, I think we struggle to name what we do not know. We fight against unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries. We like answers, so we offer them- even when they do more harm than good.
I do not know why darkness and suffering continue to capture people and communities around the world every minute. I do not know what healing and redemption look like or how long we must wait for hunger, violence, injustice, prejudice, mental illness, and suicide to end.
Often, this mystery angers me and challenges everything I believe. And I think that owning up to our anger and doubt and questions is sometimes the most faithful response we can offer.
I do not believe everything happens for a reason or that God orchestrates or endorses the brokenness around us.
Most importantly- in no way do I believe that those who struggle with mental illness are fighting ‘sin.’
There is no place for righteousness in the face of someone who is suffering. Instead of trying to make theological sense about the darkness of our neighbors, we need to be present with those who struggle- listening, loving, embracing, assuring and walking with them.
This is what I do believe: there are dark places in this world, and since the beginning of time- God shows up there first. At the dawn of creation, God hovered over a void of darkness and God’s spirit lingered over the deep (Genesis 1:2).
God shows up in darkness over and over again.
Scriptures tell us that as Job wept on a pile of ash in desperation, God was there. Gospels tell us that as Mary wept into the ground at the grave of her child, God was there.
As faithful people, we are called to do the same: to bear witness to suffering, to be safe havens and places of refuge for those who struggle.
When I remember Robin Williams, I know that God created Robin and said that he was very, very good.
I know that Robin must have suffocated in the darkness before his death, and I know that even that darkness was not dark to God…
And just as God hovered in the darkness at the beginning of time, God was there in that last moment, with that last breath, surrounding Robin with arms wide open, ready to usher him to a place with no more sorrow, no more struggle, no more suffering, and no more pain.
I believe God brought Robin to the light. May he rest in peace.