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FIRST-PERSON: Robin Williams and depression

I grew up loving Robin Williams. My favorite performance was his work portraying the magical genie in Aladdin. Surely Williams is one of the finest actors ever to appear on the silver screen. He moved millions to the extremes of laughter and tears. I was stunned when I learned last night of his death.

Robin Williams' death is a demonstration that amazing talent and a profound sense of humor can mask tremendous personal pain. I don't know Williams and am unfamiliar with the circumstances that led to his apparent suicide. News reports have depicted a struggle with deep depression and addiction. What is clear is that beneath his hilarious persona Williams was a deeply troubled man.

As Christians our hearts break when we learn that a man, made in the image of God and blessed with amazing gifts, was so overcome with despair that death seemed the only comfort. We also grieve with those in his family who knew him not merely as an entertainer, but as a husband and father.

Robin Williams' passing serves as a tragic reminder of the urgent need to help troubled people overwhelmed with sorrow. Christians must respond to Williams' death with grief over the loss of a precious life. We must also respond with resolve. People with depression need many things. They need medical care. They need relationships full of love and accountability.

As Christians we know these desperate people also need hope. They need a Savior.

As I have reflected on Robin Williams' death my mind has been drawn to Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I don't know if Robin Williams ever heard these words from Jesus summoning from despair to hope all those who would trust in him. Now that Williams has died, I find myself praying for a church that will stand up with strong resolve to point people laboring under the burden of depression to Jesus Christ, who alone gives rest.

Oh how the church of Jesus Christ needs to be light in this dark age where some studies indicate that as many as 20 percent of people will wrestle with depression.

For centuries the church has worked harder than anyone else to bring meaningful help to depressed people. In the last 100 years Christians have not been as devoted to this work as in the past. Williams' death reminds us of the preciousness of life and the pain when a life is lost. It reminds us of how greatly we need to take the hope-filled Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world overwhelmed with despair.

NOTE: If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A version of this article was published by Baptist Press

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