Chester's Suicide & The Gospel
by Nolan Tjaden
Linkin Park was the band that served as my gateway to all rock and metal music. I can still remember sitting on the bus in 6th grade listening to their hit “Crawling” on a CD player when it first came out. More importantly, I recall how their dark, raw lyrics were a portal to all new feelings for me. The emotions they expressed so vividly were shaping.
Later, my life took a sharp turn upon encountering the Gospel. I began to turn from much of the dark thinking and emoting I had learned through bands including Linkin Park. As I journeyed further from this way of thinking I recall feeling actually uncomfortable with the lyrics and saddened for the writers, believing that Jesus was the answer to the kind of pain they explored in their songs.
Unfortunately, that’s not the story of Chester Bennington, lead vocalist for Linkin Park.
Sadness filled Chester’s childhood. From age 7-13 he quietly suffered sexual abuse from an older friend. Meanwhile, his parents unaware of this, ended their own broken marriage in divorce. Until he was 23, this artistic and gifted young man became enslaved to drug and alcohol addiction and worked a dead end job with relatively little success, channeling much of his pain into music and art.
At about this time, Chester’s enormous vocal talent was discovered by a hip-hop group with whom he joined forces. This became the band now called Linkin Park. Shooting into a life of fame didn’t solve his drug or alcohol habits. The pattern of divorce and sadness continued into his own adult life. Chester enjoyed a second marriage, his children, and musical success, but the sadness never really stopped. In fact, in recent months, the news that one of his dearest friends Chris Cornell committed suicide was yet another heavy blow to Chester.
Tragically, this week at 41 years old, Chester Bennington was discovered dead in his home near LA, and police reports began circulating that he took his own life by hanging on Cornell’s birthday.
As a follower of Jesus, I’m convinced that there is an important story here underneath the story. I think there are things we can learn from the tragic tale of this gifted and hurting man. Here are two to consider.
01 The words that shape us matter. In my own experience being influenced by Linkin Park, I felt the lyrics in songs such as “One Step Closer” affect me. Dark emotions I didn’t otherwise conjure seemed compelling through their music. "Everything you say to me takes me one step closer to the edge and I'm about to break...I find the answers aren't so clear wish I could find a way to disappear”. In a sense, they showed me a path. One of darkness, drugs, and the deep identification with personal, emotional pain.
The entire culture of metal and emo music has a path. It offers a journey. And that journey has a trajectory. By totally undeserved grace my trajectory was altered when I stopped allowing the lyrics of hurting artists to shape me and began being molded by the life-giving words of scripture. And as much as I enjoy metal, emo, and hiphop music, the words we let shape us really matter because they place us on a trajectory that leads somewhere. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Whose words are shaping you? Whose words are you letting determine your trajectory?
02 There is a death that solves the pain. Chester’s life was laced with attempts at coping with the pain. From drug abuse, to alcohol addiction, to the very music he was known for, Chester was looking for some kind of outlet. He was looking for a rest from the overwhelming pain. And can you blame him? Consider the unconscionable things he suffered. Suicide offers itself as a means of solace from the sadness. The only problem is that rather than solving the sadness it actually perpetuates it in the lives of everyone around its victim.
Everyone born into a broken world finds themselves looking for a solution to the pain of life. That’s what’s so beautiful about the Gospel. For those who have seen suicide as a possible solution, the Gospel speaks to you. It agrees that there is a death that solves the pain. But it is not your death. Instead, there is One who died for you.
The Gospel says that all pain and brokenness caused by sin were experienced and dealt with by Jesus on the cross. And his death and resurrection, while they don’t remove all the pain of this life, point forward to the death of pain itself when Christ returns and eradicates evil once and for all. Furthermore, Jesus' resurrection 2,000 years ago was a foretaste of more resurrection later. It was a promise that one day he will return to make all things new in the universe. The dead will rise. He will wipe every tear from every eye (Revelation 21:4), and as one author puts it, "make all the sad things come untrue.” There is a death that solves the pain. It’s the death of Jesus for our sin that results in the renewal of all things in the end.
As we read the tragic stories of men like Chester Bennington, I pray we don’t just sigh, or feel sad and move on. It is our job as Jesus followers to be people who consider how these stories intersect with the Gospel Story, that we might not just feel something about them, but learn from them.