Robin Williams, Sentimentalism, and Blunt Truth (updated)

The death of Robin Williams has sparked a lot conversations about depression and suicide. It has also generated no small amount of sentimental nonsense from the world of broad evangelicalism. Wishes of "Rest In Peace," "Genie, you are free," "Now he is free from the pain," etc. can be seen across the Facebook landscape.

Mr. Williams' tragic death has also been an interesting window into celebrity culture. "I never met Robin Williams but I knew him," "I felt like I knew him through his work," and other such posts reflect one of the chief characteristics of the celebrity culture: the illusion of intimacy. The irony is that Mr. Williams' suicide proves that we certainly did not know him through his work or any other way for that matter.

I understand the sentiments. It is terribly sad when a man takes his life. And when it is someone widely recognized, someone whose movies we enjoyed, someone who made us laugh, the sadness is quite real. It is also appropriate. Christians, above all other people on earth ought to grieve (though not like the world) over the reality of death. It should be an especially sharp grief for Christians when we ponder the death of those who have died in their sins apart from a saving relationship with God through Jesus.

And while none of us were present in the closing hours of his life, there is no indication that Robin Williams repented and turned in faith to Jesus. Certainly it is right to take care that our public pronouncements are seasoned with grace. But it would be doubly offensive if our desire to be kind degenerated into outright falsehoods like, "Now he is finally free."

The blunt but ultimately liberating truth is that there is no freedom, no peace, and no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. We do not serve the cause of Christ or further the joy of man by speculating on how Robin Williams has 'em rolling with laughter in Heaven. His death is a tragedy, not because there will be no Mrs. Doubtfire 2 but because the peace that apparently escaped him in this life is now eternally beyond his reach.

It is clear that some of my brothers and sisters believe my words are too definitive in this post. Let me try to be more clear: We DO NOT know the spiritual condition of Robin Williams at the time of his death. I thought I had made that clear. However I can see why some might read my final sentence as too definitive. Also, there is absolutely NO evidence from Scripture that those who commit suicide go to Hell because they commit suicide. I have no doubt that genuinely converted brothers and sisters can find themselves for various reasons so beyond any sense of hope that they end their own lives.

This post is a response to the overflow of, what I believe, are deeply troubling responses from Christians to Robin Williams' death. As I have written in this post, the death of Mr. Williams is a tragedy and something for which we ought to grieve. However, in that appropriate grief we must be careful to not distort truth with statements that could be profoundly misleading.

That said, my final statement would be better phrased something like this - "His death is a tragedy, not because there will be no Mrs. Doubtfire 2 but because the peace that apparently escaped him in this life may also be eternally beyond his reach. Certainly it is right to hope that something he heard in his upbringing or from faithful Christians later in life may have come to mind and in his final tragic moments opened his heart to call out to Jesus."