Son of Rick Warren Commits Suicide

RickWarrenReading this news shocked me. The youngest son of Rick Warren, Matthew, aged 27, has committed suicide after a life long battle with mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts. This is a copy of a letter Warren sent to members of his staff:

Subject: Needing your prayers

To my dear staff,

Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.

No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.

You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.

But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said “ Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.

Thank you for your love and prayers. We love you back.

Pastor Rick


  1. What a tragedy. This is very sad. When I was a teenager, a young fellow in my cousin’s church committed suicide. He was a believer, but his struggle with schizophrenia eventually ended with him taking his life. I really struggled to understand what happened to him. Once I brought it up to my pastor, and he said that it was because he had a lack of spirit, and so he could be taken over by evil spirits, perhaps he had an unrepented sin that prevented God’s healing from working. That response really didn’t sit well with me; it seemed very uncompassionate and legalistic. Christians struggling with mental illness is a question to which I haven’t yet received an agreeable Biblical answer.

  2. I agree that the response of your pastor was uncompassionate and legalistic. Sadly, it is not uncommon. It is a black white, right wrong, good evil, in out, dualistic response that is really not helpful in the complexity of life and the issues we face.

    Suicide is a sin. But our salvation is through the righteousness of Christ and not our own. Our sins, including suicide, are covered by the blood, though our faith in Him. The question is whether or not one truly believes in the Son, only God knows. Without a doubt, it is not for any man to judge what God himself only knows.

    William Cowper is a Christian and hymn writer who suffered with depression and despair to his dying day. This is John Piper’s detailed description of this complex issue of depression in a Christian in Cowper’s life:

  3. CanadianGirl

    Thanks for sharing this heart breaking news Ben. May the God of comfort be with his family and friends.

    It sounds like Matthew was very brave to push through each day despite his terrible pain.

    So many Christians struggle with some kind of mental illness. I pray the church would become more aware and prepared to address it.

    In the end, we are healed by his wounds, but waiting for it to manifest in the present…

  4. Thanks, CanadianGirl. For sure the church needs much compassion and sensitivity to love those with mental illness.

    From what I have heard, the worst appalling comment from some “Christian(s)” is that Warren’s son went to hell. Why do some “Christians” think they need to play judge and God. Is it any wonder why the sentiment toward Christians is so overwhelmingly negative?

    Other “Christians” while offering condolences need to state that they do not agree with Rick Warren’s teachings and doctrine. Is this really necessary???

    • Hereticman, who believes wholeheartedly in this version of outlaw theology agrees, Ben. There is no sin that can eliminate our salvation. Our sin will affect our “quality of life” in Heaven (which is our 2nd judgment) but will not result in our condemnation (which is our 1st judgment).

      I believe that salvation is from at least five problems: shame, sin, law, curse and death. All of this salvation depends on what God has done on the cross, not what we do. Salvation depends on the faith of Christ, not our faith. Our repentance is to rest in this grace, and it is by grace that we can enter into this eternal rest Today (Hebrews 3,4,5).

      Under the law, breaking the smallest commandment (such as getting a tattoo) would send you to hell. But in Christ we have a new covenant, the covenant of grace. Every covenant requires action by both partys involved. The good news is that in this covenant of grace, God fulfilled the requirements of BOTH sides. God did His part, and God did our part because we all fall short. This gospel is foreshadowed numerous times in the law and in the old covenant stories. This is most evident to me in Genesis 15, esp. Genesis 15:12-20. The mysterious vision of God passing through the parts of the bull teach me that God made a covenant with Abram, and that God took the oath of both parties!. This is demonstrated by the fact that only God passed through the bull pieces. Abram was sleeping and did not take the oath that would have bound Abram to do his part in the covenant. God took responsibility to accomplish both ends of the deal.

      So then can we “do whatever we want”? Yes. And when Christ lives in you, you want to do what is right more and more, being sanctified by grace not by becoming more moral by obedience to the law. Believers are slaves to righteousness, not slaves to the law.

      Are we then free from the consequences of our sin? No. As we live our life, we find consequences of our sin, on a daily basis. And because of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we come to have godly sorrow which invokes eagerness to “make things right” as soon as we are made aware by the Spirit of our sin.

      Because of all this, I no longer believe that suicide sends you to hell, nor does being a homosexual either in orientation or in practice. All of the behavior called out in the law will have consequences, but the gospel is that there is no condemnation in Jesus Christ.

      Our one command to obey is now to love. Love is the fulfillment of the law.

      The mystery is “Christ in you”, and when Christ is in you sin no longer masters you and the law no longer supervises your life. Scripture makes it clear that there is sin that leads to death, and sin that does not lead to death. I only find evidence of one sin that leads to death, and we are told not to be the accusers or judgers of such sin. We are told to love, with faith and hope and joy and justice and peace and grace and mercy and truth.

      Our responses to shame, sin, law, curse and death are typically fear, self-condemnation, selfishness, restlessness and bitterness. But the gospel of Jesus is glory, grace, kingdom, peace and life. When we believe this gospel we eventually find our way to respond to tragedy and problems and success with love, forgiveness, generosity, contentment and joy.

      The love that never fails, the ability to forgive, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of all-surpassing power and the promises that give hope are all for our edification.

    • [Feel free to call me a semi-pelagianist, a hedonist, an antinomian, a hyper-Calvinist, a heretic, a drunkard (yes I love rum, beer, vodka, etc), a fool or whatever you want. I am not any of those labels, but I am all of them combined. And no, I have not read any of Rob Bell’s books. I have come to the conclusions above after submitting to the Holy Spirit as my Director and surrendering to the grace of God demonstrated on the cross of Jesus.]

  5. Greg Laurie, who lost his 33-year-old son in 2008, shares perhaps all that can be said in moments like this:

    “At times like these, there really are no words, but there is the Word. There is no manual, but there is Emmanuel.”

  6. The ubf directors need to honestly and openly discuss the issue of suicide, and especially we ought to learn from Saddleback as to how to deal with the suicides that have happened in ubf.

  7. Sadly, since some in UBF are ruled by an overwhelmingly strong honor/shame sentiment, suicides (or anything “bad”) tends to be hidden, unaddressed, not talked about, not disclosed, and not made public, because it is perceived as shameful and a discouragement.

  8. A really sad post by Frank Viola on the horrible responses of some “Christians” to Warren’s loss of his son:

    Viola writes, “I fear for those who made these deplorable remarks. The Scriptures clearly teach that how we treat others is how the Lord will treat us. And if we have the knife out for one of His children, we will eventually end up falling on it ourselves.

    Jesus taught that the entire Law and the Prophets is fulfilled in this one statement: Treat others the way you want to be treated in every circumstance. How we respond to bad things that happen to others (be they tragedies, failures, or pain) is a barometer that reveals how well we know our Lord. In fact, there may be no greater test.”

  9. For the next six Sundays, Rick will preach a sermon series entitled, “How to get through what you’re going through.” He will devote a message to each of the six stages of grief: shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender, sanctification and service.

    Read more:

  10. big bear

    Ben Toh, I know the pain somewhat of children with mental issues and how the church shuns them and even their parents. Two of our daughters fought off suicidal thoughts and one tried to commit suicide x 3. They told me that the stress of living under ubf teachings triggered these feelings and eventually I was kicked out of my own family and ubf. The church looks down on people who go thru such things and they dont understand the pain and grief that families go thru. I had a Bible student who shot himself in the chest while in his bath tub. I spent countless hours at the hospital with him as he nearly died. I am helping a suicidal young man at our new church who got involved with drugs. Young people need strong families and christian community and support. This is what scares me most about ubf. Children are neglected for mission and families are so unbalanced. I am surprised that there is not more divorces and sucides. Perhaps they are being swept under the rug like we were by ubf. Despite everything God has made me a better father and husband and servant of God. Rick Warren brokenness is what the church so desperately needs and ubf. Yesterday God blessed me with the oportunity to serve about 300 people in covington with a meal with Pastors of many local churches. It opened my eyes to to the beauty of the body of Christ. It is so frown on in ubf to work with other churches or to help the poor but is vital to become healthy and to stop judging but live in love.

  11. Thanks for sharing, big bear. May the peace and grace of Christ be with you and your daughters, as God helps you and them navigate the painful and difficult real problem of mental issues.

    “I am surprised that there is not more divorces and sucides.” – See more at: Yes, there have been suicides in ubf. I think they have primarily been among 2nd gens in Korea. But they are rarely if ever addressed publicly, so that we might truly and collectively empathize with the grieving family and learn from such a painful tragedy.

    In Chicago UBF, two suicides occurred that I am aware of over the last few decades. One was of a Bible student. Another was of a mother of an American shepherd. Her husband and all of her three children are still in UBF.

    Yes, this is a painful and difficult issue. And yes, we need God’s grace and help to address them and glorify God, as Rick Warren did with the suicide of his own youngest son.

  12. The reason we do not publicly address painful and “shameful” issues such as suicide, incest, adultery, etc, is sadly because churches tend to be far more concerned about their own public reputation and honor, rather than come before God in humility, vulnerability and brokenness when we face such agonizing human issues.

    • Yes, this is yet another area that ubf people desperately need to address. For example, a young man (about 20 years old) who was a second gen near Toledo died sometime last year (maybe 2 years now?). It was not suicide, but his family and ubf members were terrified to speak about this until they got an official coroners report. The report showed no evidence of suicide, and only after that could they begin discussing the event.

      This young adult was the younger brother/son of those I consider friends, yet there was almost no healthy conversation about him. I did end up having two good discussions online with those close to him, but only after I pressed the issue to find out what happened.

      As most of you might already suspect, I do NOT believe suicide is the “unpardonable sin”. Scripture does not teach that. Suicide does NOT send people to hell automatically. I find no basis for such horrid teaching in the bible.

      Such belief that suicide is a hell-bound action, in my observation, is another fallacy in a long line of fallacies in the social arena taught by well-meaning but ill-informed Christians. Again, I find no support for such teaching in the bible.