Robin Williams. By John J. Kruzel/American Forces Press Service (Americasupportsyou.mil article) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Like many of you right now, I’m processing the death of actor Robin Williams. His comedic timing and infectious energy permeated our hearts. Reading many status updates in the past two hours, I see that this one death has left a very large hole in our culture.
It breaks my heart that someone who brought joy to thousands of others has endured a silent struggle with mental health issues.
In remembering his life, we tend to recall lighter comedies like Aladdin or Mrs. Doubtfire or significant mentor roles like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society or Sean McGuire in Good Will Hunting, overlooking some of Robin’s performances in lesser known roles.
In 1998, Robin Williams led the cast of What Dreams May Come, a feature film about a man who risks his soul to rescue his wife, Annie. His character loses both children to a car accident, and then Chris himself dies in a similar manner. His wife cannot escape her depression. She commits suicide to escape her life of pain.
On the other side of heaven, he hears that his wife decided to take her own life and that she is confined to hell. Determined to be reunited and rescue her from her self-imposed eternal damnation, Chris sets out to explore each layer of heaven and hell to find her.
He uses every bit of his afterlife energy, and in her own Sheol, a shadow-filled underworld, he finds her.
Many in our society believe that people who kill themselves bring upon themselves eternal damnation or a self-imposed confinement to hell. Yet I believe that God is much like Chris in What Dreams May Come: searching for us, sitting with us in Sheol and helping us find a way out. God knows that mental illness is just that: an illness. And God never abandons us no matter what illness and no matter if we are barely thriving on this earth or barely existing in the afterlife. God’s pursuing love is chasing us on every level of the afterlife to help lead us to heaven.
Psalm 139:7-12 says the following:
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
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.”
And that’s where I believe Robin Williams is: with God. That’s where I believe all people who commit suicide are. There is no afterlife hell for people who struggle with mental illness and commit suicide. God’s grace is bigger than any condemnation or judgment. God knows of Robin’ pain, and God is doing everything that God can do to be with him right now – from Sheol to heaven and everywhere in between.
Many people including some of you reading may be contemplating suicide because the pain feels too great. However, there is help and hope if you struggle with depression or other mental illness. Your life is valuable to many people. Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call (800) 273-TALK (8255).