The suicide of a person we love is probably the most devastating event in anyone’s life. Unfortunately, suicides are not uncommon in the United States. They are the third leading cause of death among teenagers (Comer, 1995. p. 366).
Although a lot has been written on this topic, let us examine what the Bible has to say about it in the well known story of Judas Iscariot. Judas means “praise” and Iscariot means “a man from Kerioth,” a town of Moab. As you might remember, Moab stands for lust. He was the son of Simon, which means “a stone or rock.” This seems to say he had the potential to be a man whose life would be a praise and honor to God, one who became solid like a rock (like Simon Peter), but who struggled with lust (Moab). Judas was selected to be one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples and the treasurer of the group. Possibly, he was chosen because he was one of the most educated and initially, one of the most trustworthy in the group. He, like the other twelve disciples, was sent forth to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. It would also appear that he was at least as successful as the rest in their earlier ministry endeavors.
1. Thoughts of suicide are usually an indication of deep depression and low self-image. It is not unusual for addicts to have suicidal thoughts after failing over and over again. This is especially true when they have hidden their inner shame until it has turned to toxic shame. To be forgiven they would have to confess their sin and to confess their sin they perceive that they would feel even worse and may even be rejected. They fear doing the very thing that is most necessary. Judas was hiding the fact that he was stealing from Jesus and the disciples. Judas’ lust problem was that of covetousness or a greed for money.
2. The person contemplating suicide tends to either bury his problems or project them on others. The key to Judas’ betrayal is clear in each gospel. Immediately before he went to the priests to offer to betray Jesus, Mary broke the bottle of expensive perfume and washed Jesus’ feet with it. Judas objected that it should have been sold and given to the poor. In John, we are told that his comment was motivated by his own greed, so he could have taken some of the money.
Jo 12:3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he (Judas) said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
3. Many times the suicidal person feels rejected and not part of the group. In the same story in Matthew, Jesus responded with a fairly strong rebuke. Persons with low self-image are usually extremely sensitive to criticism and take it as rejection.
Mt 26: 10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. 12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
4. When a person feels rejected, he tends to want to strike back. In the next verse, we see the result. He offered to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, the price of an ordinary slave. I believe Judas was attempting to bring Jesus down to the level of worth he felt about himself. This is not an unusual reaction for someone who has deeply personalized a feeling of rejection.
Mt 26:14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, 15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.
5. When a person is closed or sees others as against him, he will not accept gestures of love or attempts to help him. Judas was invited to the last supper with the other disciples even though Jesus knew his intentions. Jesus washed his feet along with the others showing great humility and love. He also gave Judas a sop (meat on a stick) which was a sign of special honor. Then Jesus set a boundary. It was not right for a disciple to betray his master. The consequence would be great—it would be better for him if he had not been born (Matt 26:24)—but Jesus would not stop him if he insisted on betraying Him. Jesus did all he could to win back Judas, but to no avail. Sometimes the only option is to take a suicidal person to the nearest emergency room for hospitalization.
Jo 13:2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Mt 26:21 When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 26 Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
6. The suicidal person’s own actions compound his problems. Judas not only told his enemies where Jesus would be, but he led the soldiers to him and betrayed him with a kiss of friendship in front of the other disciples. By doing this he not only clearly broke off all possibility of a relationship with those he had been friends with for three years but did everything he could to make the hurt worse by contemptuously kissing Jesus. He was cutting himself off from any possibility of reconciliation. What seems to be hatred and revenge is many times just the opposite side of a deeply entrenched feeling of rejection.
Mt 26: 47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. 49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. 50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
7. After he sees himself as a failure and remorse set in; he may even regret what he has done. If he believes that there is nothing he can do to succeed or redress the wrong, he may begin to contemplate suicide. He has no options.
Mt 27:3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
8. Suicide becomes an option when a person loses faith that life can ever become worth living again and believes that there is no hope for the future. Suicide is like being in a room with only one door and no windows. As Judas saw it, through his blatant betrayal, he had cut himself off from Jesus and all his friends. His new allies, the priests, had also rudely rejected his attempt to repent; and he believed that there was nowhere to turn. Even when a person has not done anything as evil as Judus did, they may still become so depressed due to adverse circumstances that they may consider suicide. Women are more apt to become depressed and attempt suicide, but men are more lethal in their attempt, because they more often use more deadly and irreversible means.
Mt 27:5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
9. The suicidal person is in extreme emotional pain and sees suicide as the only way to stop the pain. In the book of Acts, we are told that when he hung himself, his bowels gushed out. Bowels in the Bible signify the deepest of emotions.
Acts 1:16 Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
Steps to Recovery for Those Contemplating Suicide
In order to understand the steps for recovery for a person tempted to commit suicide, we will turn to the story of Simon Peter. He also had the potential of being a rock. Just like Judas, he also was strongly rebuked by Jesus for what he said. And he had denied Jesus three times after strongly declaring that he would even die with Jesus. The Bible says he was also extremely distraught over his denial (a type of betrayal) of Jesus. With Peter’s personality (one person has suggested he may have been ADHD), he probably was also a prime candidate for suicide.
1. Thoughts of suicide many times accompany deep feelings of failure or loss. When Peter saw Jesus, he realized what he had just done. He had failed by doing the very thing he had promised he would never do. His worth as a person was immediately devastated, and he wept bitterly.
Lu 22:61 And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 62 And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.
2. The key factors in helping a suicidal person are providing a support system of friends and hope for the future. This is where a counselor and someone to befriend the suicidal person is important. The suicidal person needs someone to talk to and to give them hope that they still have a worthwhile future. They need to know that the room has at least another window or door that leads to life. At this point I usually ask them to make an anti-suicide contract with me. I explain that I can help them only if they will give me time, but if they actually kill themselves my work would be wasted. I ask them to commit to not attempting suicide for a particular period of time and to call me if they are tempted. Many suicidal people want to put everything in order before they die and may call even if they have already decided to kill themselves. If they do call, it provides at least one more chance to help them.
3. Some of the signs of a potential suicide are giving up important plans for the future, ending relationships, selling treasured objects, or quitting work. Peter was so devastated by his failure that even after Jesus rose from the dead, he decided to go back to being a fisherman and asked several of the other disciples to join him. This is significant because Jesus had called them from fishing for fish to become fishers of men. Peter saw no hope for the future with Jesus for a failure like him. Fortunately, he at least had enough hope to return to his old trade of fishing.
John 21:3 Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4. The suicidal person needs to quit trying to make his life work in his own efforts and trust God to give him a future and a hope. After fishing all night, Jesus came to the shore where they were fishing and suggested that they throw the net on the right side, reminiscent of when Jesus had first called Peter. This time, however, the nets did not break, and they caught 153 fish. Jesus was illustrating for them that if they relied on themselves they would fail; but if they relied on Him, they could do great things for God. It is when we fail and wish to give up on life that we have the opportunity to turn to God and trust Him to overcome our inadequacies.
Jo 21:6 And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
5. The suicidal person needs someone who cares enough to accept them where they are and yet believe that they have a future. Jesus confronted Peter about his denial by asking him if he loved Him three times. Where Jesus initially asked Peter if he was fully committed to him (agape), Peter could only answer that he was fond of Jesus (phileo). Each time Jesus asked Peter to return to the work of the Gospel. When Jesus finally asked if Peter was only fond but not fully committed to him, Peter agreed. He had been so devastated by his earlier self-confident declaration that he would even die for Jesus, and his subsequent denial of Christ, that he felt he could not promise to do anything for Jesus again. Jesus responded that he had so much confidence in Peter that he was still calling Peter to be a pastor of God’s flock.
Jo 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (phileo) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest (phileo) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
6. The suicidal person must understand that suicide is murder and that because Jesus has bought him with the price of His death on the cross, no one has a right to take his own life. He is to serve God and if necessary give his life for God. Jesus even predicted that instead of selfishly going back to fishing, Peter would, in the end, sacrifice his life in the service of Christ on a cross. Sometimes, I will confront the client and tell them that they do not look like a murderer to me. They are usually shocked, because they do not realize that to kill themselves is murder in God’s eyes, since they were created and redeemed to serve Him.
Jo 21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
It is critical that when counseling someone who you believe may be suicidal, that you do everything possible to prevent them from actually committing suicide. Because many suicidal people want to meet all of their obligations before they die, it is standard practice to ask the client to call you if he is ever again tempted to kill himself. Hopefully, if they do call, this will give you another chance to talk them out of committing suicide. At least the phone call may provide a chance to locating them so that you can send emergency personnel in order to attempt to save their life. Counselors are obligated to prevent suicide, homicide, and to report child and elder abuse. On the following chart I have summarized the steps that a counselor or friend should take if they truly believe that the person may attempt suicide.
Steps for Preventing Suicide
1. Suicide attempts usually occur when a person is in deep emotional pain, has suffered a great loss or failure, or when they are deeply depressed about life.
2. The suicidal person believes that they have no future worth living for and that they have no other options. It is like a person in a room with only one door and no windows.
3. If you really believe they are suicidal and will kill themselves and you cannot dissuade them, ask them if they have a plan and if they do, make sure they are watched at all times, take them to the nearest emergency room, or call 911.
4. Try to show them that they do have other options that lead to life and help them turn to God for help with their inadequacies. Help them to understand that both you and God love and accept them and will assist them to find a new life in Christ.
5. Suggest that they make an anti-suicide contract with you to give you time to help them recover. They should agree not to attempt suicide for a specific period of time and call you if tempted.
6. Help them understand that they do not have a right to take their own life, because Jesus died to redeem them and their lives are to be dedicated to obey and follow Him.
7. Express your belief that, in spite of the past failure or loss, they will recover to an even better and fuller life in Christ Jesus. If they are not sure they are saved, lead them to accept Christ or rededicate their lives, making Him Lord of their life.