Pastor’s Blog: The Thief Comes Only to Steal, Kill, and Destroy

I just saw a brief internet story about “Momo,” a character in an app that urges teens to harm themselves, yes, even to commit suicide. The avatar, or whatever, looks like a young girl with bulging eyes (suggesting hanging oneself?). There is some thought that the origin of this evil garbage is in Mexico where, you may remember, there is a whole cult especially among the “narcos” devoted to Saint Death (Santa Muerte).

When my Dad was 12, his father cleaned the house, baked a cake, and went out in the backyard and blew his brains out. Dad was selling peanuts and popcorn at a Fort Worth Cats baseball game. His boss said to him, “Zumwalt, go home. Your Dad’s dead.” That’s how he found out. So, he went home, learned that it was indeed true, and even managed to see some of his father’s brain matter in a backyard tree. Lovely.

Grandma was a beautiful, young, superstitious Sicilian mother of three. Dad was 12. His brother was a very young 8. And Marifrances was a baby. There’s always more to the story, but the most important part was nobody’s life was ever the same…especially my Dad. What little bit of childhood he had left was destroyed that day. He had been working since he was seven. His parents went through multiple separations. Grandpa suffered with clinical depression, and doubtless his hard shell Baptist preacher in 1924 told everyone  that Grandpa went to hell for killing himself.

Grandma’s father died the same day after a long, lingering illness. So, Grandma went more than a little crazy and kept dragging my Dad off to seances to try to contact the dead. It left him with a lifelong case of nightmares, and he had zero tolerance for anything smacking of the occult. When my sisters, the twins, and a bunch of high school girlfriends started an impromptu game with a makeshift Ouija Board on the kitchen table, Dad was not amused. This gentle man, whom the girls all adored, preached a lay sermon on the spot that brought more than a few remorseful tears with promises to leave that stuff alone forever.

Dad’s life was never the same after his father committed suicide. He turned down a full scholarship to the University of Texas in order to work fulltime providing for his mother and siblings. He remained single until the age of 32 because of his sense of responsibility to his family of origin. And despite being brilliant, an autodidact, an omnivorous reader, able to carry on simultaneously a telegraph conversation while answering questions in the room and on a phone, Dad was existentially frustrated his whole sixty-two years. He died an old man at 62 from lung cancer.
All of his kids were affected by the effects of Grandpa’s suicide. All of our first serious love relationships were influenced by the family dynamics that emerged after Grandpa’s suicide. Again, there is much more that could be said, but this is not the time or the place.

At a very low point in my adult life, an acquaintance asked if I had ever felt suicidal. I answered, “No, but I have felt homicidal.” In other words, I have never been tempted to harm myself, not only because of what I learned from growing up in the aftermath of Grandpa’s suicide, but also from an awareness of what terrible damage it does to those left behind. As a pastor, I have seen the haunted eyes and heard the “what ifs” from loved ones. Suicide leaves a multi-generational mess…especially when a young person with so much life ahead gives in to despair.

The Lord Jesus tells us the thief (the father of lies, the devil) comes only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Those who urge others to harm themselves or other people (think master terrorists and gang leaders) are children of the devil. They have sold their souls to the old evil foe whose stock in trade is chaos. He cannot win. His minions cannot win. But they can create havoc and destroy many innocent lives. Hence, Momo.

Dad was right. Leave that stuff alone. And tell the old bastard to go back to hell where he belongs. Thinking like that isn’t the stuff of superstition. It’s Reality 101. Slapping a medical diagnosis on evil behavior may make someone feel more in control and safer from the darkness. But that only works until evil camps on your doorpost, takes someone you love, and leaves you spending countless hours cleaning up the mess.

The Good Shepherd has come that we might have life and have it abundantly and eternally. Don’t play for the other team. It’s a killer.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.