"I have cried every single day since Matthew died," the megachurch pastor said on CNN Tuesday night. "But that's actually a good thing. Grief is a good thing. It's the way we get through the transitions of life."
He choked up on camera, too. His wife, Kay Warren, wiped tears from his cheek as they talked about the five months since their 27-year-old son, who had borderline personality disorder, shot himself with a gun he bought illegally online. Matthew's death, they said, came after years of threatening suicide and even asking his father, "Why can't I just die?"
The Warrens combined personal moments from their story—Kay hugging her son's body as the coroner took it away, Rick reading sympathy letters from people who Matthew had led to Christ—with their advocacy for a more robust response to mental illness and their continued hope in God. Christian leaders and viewers tweeted along to the hour-long conversation; their hashtag, #WarrensOnCNN, trended into this morning.
The author of The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick repeated that there's a purpose to their pain, affirming his belief in God even after "the day that I prayed would never happen happened." He said:
I never questioned my faith in God. I questioned God's plan. There's a big difference. I know God is a good God. … But not everything that happens in the world is God's will. Everything that happens in the world God allows, he permits, because it couldn't happen without his permission. But we live in a world where there are free choices, so if I choose to do wrong, I can't blame God for that. So God isn't to blame for my son's death. My son took his own life. It was his choice.
The Warrens told Morgan their son was not afraid to die and is now in heaven. "Matthew's body was broken. That gun broke his body, and he was buried in brokenness. But he's going to be raised in glory," Kay said, referencing (NLV).
The interview aired hours after LifeWay Research reported that nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians (48%) believe that people with serious mental illness can overcome their condition through prayer and Bible study alone.
Even as evangelical leaders like the Warrens and former Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page (who lost a daughter to suicide) publicly share their stories, mental illness continues to be seen as a spiritual deficiency or character flaw by some Christians. Researchers also found that 54 percent of Americans said churches should do more to prevent suicide, and 68 percent said they would feel welcome in church if they were mentally ill.
When he returned to the pulpit at Saddleback Church six weeks ago, Rick Warren launched a sermon series on grief and a campaign to help churches address mental illness. "There's no shame when any other organ in your body fails, so why do we feel shame if our brain is broken?" he asked.