For days, in disbelief, we have looked, listened, and read to learn more about thirty-nine people who committed suicide. They sought a rendezvous with a spacecraft that would take them to heaven's gate. In their desire to escape the emptiness of life, they joyfully anticipated liberation from sexism, sensuality, shallow relationships, and materialism. Quite simply, they had enough of life on earth and wanted life in heaven.

The components of their hope--Jesus, a spacecraft, and a comet--seem bizarre to us. Jesus was the assurance, the space craft the means, and the comet the divine sign. Their deep faith and certain confidence was evident in the joyful relief seen in their predeath video statements. The "bottom line" of their decision was not desperation, despair, or depression. It was weariness with the shallow focus of the "American dream." It was the desire to be free and to be at peace in heaven.

We can regard their self-induced deaths as an insult to "serious" followers of Jesus. We can be indignant, even outraged, that their focus combined Jesus, a spacecraft, and a comet in an attempt to reach heaven.

If we react on that basis, we react without reflection. We do not blink at our conviction that Elijah rode to heaven in a chariot of fire, that a star led wise men to Jesus' birth place, that Jesus' mutilated body came to life, and that eleven men watched him float into the sky until he was hidden by the clouds. Those who reject the Bible regard a trip to heaven in a space craft "more reasonable."

Those who reject the Bible see our commitment to worship, to Bible study, to generosity to the church, to self-denial, to Christian values, and to Christian codes of conduct as being equally bizarre. To them, traveling to heaven in a space craft is more "believable" than trusting a man who died 2000 years ago to take us to there.

Speaking for myself, the tragedy is not seen in their faith, their longing for heaven, or their desire to escape the emptiness of the "American dream." To me, the tragedy is this: their faith in Jesus and desire for heaven were coupled to a space craft and a comet. They did not understand that Jesus' resurrection provides purpose for life now as we live in the emptiness of today's world--as well as the assurance of heaven.

To me, it is not a faith that resulted in suicide that speaks. To me, it is the emptiness and shallowness of the "American dream" that speaks. To me, it is the failure to understand how Jesus addressed the emptiness of present life that speaks.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 6 April 1997

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