Pastor Greg Laurie addressed the subject of suicide among Christians, arguing that you will not be judged for the last thing you did before death, but the last thing Jesus did before His death.
In the wake of the suicide of pastor Jarrid Wilson, Laurie, the longtime leader of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, stressed in a message Thursday that "one dark moment in a Christian's life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross," citing Romans 8:38-39.
The NIV translation of that passage reads: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
"We do not go to Heaven because of what we have done. We go to Heaven because of what He did," Laurie emphasized.
"We need to remember that."
He expressed sympathy for Wilson's wife, Juli, and their children, noting that to say their lives have changed is the understatement of the century. Although devastated, Wilson's wife told Laurie, who had visited with her and their sons, that right after his death she strangely felt God's peace with her.
She wrote, regarding his death: "No more pain, no more struggle, you're made complete and you're finally free. Suicide and depression fed you the worst lies but you knew the truth of Jesus, and I know you're by His side right this very second. I love you forever, Thomas Jarrid Wilson. But I have to say that you being gone has completely ripped my heart out of my chest. Suicide doesn't get the last word and I won't let it. You always said hope gets the last word. Jesus does."
Laurie stressed: "We don't know what was going on in his mind on that night when this event happened. He was dealing with challenges, medical challenges and other extenuating circumstances we know nothing of."
"It's really not fair to pass some judgment. This is a time for compassion," he said to applause, going on to say that neither pastors nor prophets possess all the answers.
Jarrid Wilson, who was 30 when he took his own life on Monday, was known for his compassion for people struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts and mental health issues. Hours before he took his own life he presided over the funeral service of a woman who had died by suicide.
Joining Thursday's service was Kay Warren, an author and wife of longtime Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, whose son, Matthew — who had been diagnosed with depression when he was 7 — killed himself in April 2013. She described the chance to speak as a "holy and hard honor."
Warren had only connected with the deceased pastor recently after they had followed each other on Twitter. Approximately three weeks ago, she had spoken with Wilson and his wife on the phone where they discussed how the church could help people dealing with mental illnesses.
"One of the aftermaths of suicide is questions. I mean, huge questions," she stressed, "questions that can keep you up at night, questions that can leave you tormented, questions that can leave you full of guilt, can leave you full of doubt ... so much pain."
The only people who really know why Wilson took his life are Jarrid and Jesus, she explained.
"We like it when our Christian faith ties things up in a nice pretty bow. We like things to be neat and contained and clean," she said, recounting how she screamed in agony upon hearing of her son's suicide and how she wrestled with God.
"And I just want to remind you, this is earth. This is not Heaven. And everything here on earth is not neat and clean. It's messy and it's painful."
She ended up writing her questions on small strips of paper and putting them in a small pot. She told the crowd who felt similarly that asking questions is fine as long as they realize that some of what they ask they will never know the answer to, and that as time passes, they should release them to God.
Warren is the author of Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough and serves on the board of a suicide prevention task force board in Orange County, California.
At the end of Thursday's service, congregants got into small groups to pray for one another