Throughout the years of working with people in various capacities, the most troublings encounters that I have faced is the lack or the lost in the will of an individual to live. I have internally ask myself many questions as to what has caused this person to choose suicide over life? What are the external or internal stressors within their soul-life, that are the underlying factors that have disabled this person from the fighting of their life?
In my personal encounters with suicidal survivors, as well in reviewing data, articles and research material, most were first, non-religious in that they expressed that they did not believe in God or followed any doctrine. Yet to my surprise, second, many others, states that they were believers, Christians, or very religious.
In these cases of those who are believers, it does beg to question “how can a Christian commit suicide” when essentially everything about the Judeo-Christian belief system speaks about abundant life now and eternal life to come? Just where is the disconnect when one’s belief system fails to delivery the soul when it matters the most? We will attempt to answer this question.
The basis of this blog post is an attempt to understand the mindset and various conditions of suicidal individuals while looking behind the scene of the most infamous suicide in history, Judas Iscariot, who as a hand-picked disciple of The Messiah, choose suicide over life.
This blog also hopes to provide the reader with valuable and useful educational information about this ever-growing National crisis. The author will combine biblical, theological and scientific data in this blog post in an effect to present a realistic holistic perspective on suicide.
Even though there are many reasons that people become suicidal, this blog post will examine the emotion of unresolved guilt as one of the most damaging human emotions if left unchecked.
What this blog will not do is make a general, judgemental or blanket statements about the eternal status of individuals who have taken their lives by suicide. We will present a well-thought-out biblical position concerning what is stated and unstated in the Holy Scriptures on suicide and the believer.
The Numbers Speaks for Themselves
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
The CDC Fast Stats Table 19 looked at the leading causes of death from 1980-2016 and suicide rated 10th during this time period each year. One may contend that in the review of the 9 other leading causes of death in America during this time, except for the “unintentional injuries” which in 1980 was ranked 4th, and in 2016, was ranked 3rd, suicides were perhaps “preventable deaths!“ https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2017/019.pdf
However in all fairness, in the review of the Leading Causes of Death in the US by the CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and kidney problems all may be top causes of death due to another “preventable” condition that is not even mentioned at all, morbid obesity. Just look at the health risk that is associated with morbid obesity: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight
Just how many American have died since 2017 of suicide? An estimation of 47,173, while there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts. In 2015, suicide and self-injury cost the US $69 Billion!
In an updated post written on July 7, 2018, by Amy Ellis Nutt reported that suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race, and ethnicity, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the people had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives. [to see what factors social scientist attribute for this increase and causes, see:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/06/07/u-s-suicide-rates-rise-sharply-across-the-country-new-report-shows/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.04686ebfcb90
Discovering Light in Darkness
Researchers from the areas of spirituality, mental health, religion, and culture are all collaborating with a very growing interest discovering the importance of spirituality and religious beliefs in the lives of individuals. Taking into consideration of various elements of diverse, racial and or ethnic backgrounds, age, and demographic regions in the US and abroad, there is an increase of empirical research database that attempts at measuring how individuals respond to stressful, adverse and even life-threatening circumstances.
[for this blog post, I gleaned data from, “Mediating Effect of Coping in the Link between Spirituality and Psychological Distress in Culturally Diverse Undergraduate Sample.” Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 2014 Vol. 17. No.2, 173-184]
In these above-mentioned contexts, spirituality and religion are often implicated as all important in the lives of individuals as they contend, cope with unwanted, undesired crisis within their lives from the cradle to the grave.
One grave important consideration of these researchers was the need to define the difference between “what is spiritual and what is religious?” Researcher Kenneth Pargament and his colleagues have drawn the most scholarly attention in their seminal work on “Religious Coping,” described spirituality as the process by which individuals seek to “discover, hold onto, and when necessary, transform whatever they hold sacred in their lives.
Meanwhile, religion represents the institutional or doctrinal context, traditional or otherwise, within which such a spiritual search or quest occurs fro the individual. [quote from Hill, P.C., and Pargament, K.I. (2003) Advances in the conceptualization and measurement of religion and spirituality: Implications for physical and mental health research. American Psychologist, 58, 64-74].
Pargament’s summation of his research contends that the spirituality-driven coping model stipulates that individuals religious and spiritual resources can be transformed into concrete coping behaviors at times of distress or illness to offset the adverse impact of stressors on an individual’s health.
While the evidence supporting the role of religious coping on patient’s health abounds (i.e., improving health and reducing mortality), very little is currently known about the process through which spirituality interacts with other non-religious forms of coping.
In all of the assessed empirical research on spirituality and religion, the focus was on: public participation and attendance at religious activities; religious and denominational affiliation, private religious practices (e.g., prayer, meditation, etc) and religious coping. [source: George, L.K. Ellison, C.G., and Larson, D.B. (2002). Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, 13(3), 190-200]
Pargament’s theoretical framework contends that an individual’s religion or spirituality interacts with his or her coping to bring about health consequences in a predictable manner. As such, the person’s degree of commitment to a religious faith can directly dictate his/her selection and mobilization of various religious/spiritual coping strategies: these coping strategies will, in turn, contribute to the physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being of the individual, including improved mood, resilience, quality of life. [Pargament, K.I. (1997). The Psychology of Religion and Coping. Theory of Research Practice. New York, N.Y: The Guildford Press.]
What happens when one loses their ability to cope or just lack the ability to deal with life’s adversities? When their behavior, attitude and the overall person becomes unpredictable, and even if this person becomes a danger to themselves, regardless of their spirituality or the lack thereof?
Suicidal Behavior and Signs
This is the time to recognize suicidal behaviors and signs. All of the health professionals strongly believe that in many cases, suicide is preventable by individuals who are informed of the risk factors while being alert to the signs of depression and other mental disorders, recognize the warning signs for suicide, and intervene before the person can complete the process of self-destruction. [see this link for a thorough analysis of what to look for:https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11352-recognizing-suicidal-behavior
Remorse cannot be Coerced, it has to be Discovered
This diagram is an example of a type of chart known as a state transition diagram. Each colored bubble represents a state of being that reveals the way you are now. The arrows represent actions or events and the arrows show paths into or out of each state. You are at one place on this chart for one particular relationship or incident at any time. [see the entire article concerning emotional competency-Guilt: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/guilt.htm
Judas’ Suicidal Death
Using this diagram above, let us track the actions, thoughts, and deeds of Judas Iscariot in the New Covenant account. The death of Judas was a suicide committed after he was filled with remorse but the record does not say that he repented for his willful betrayal of Jesus of Nazareth.
Matthew and Luke (in Acts) both mention some details of Judas’death, thus reconciling the details between the two accounts that may conflict on Judas’ cause of death.
Matthew says that Judas died by hanging. “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. [Matthew 27:5-8] Luke says that Judas fell into a field and that his body ruptured. Here is the account in Acts: “With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.” [Acts 1:18-19]
The final verdict concerning Judas’ death was that he hanged himself in the potter’s field [Matt. 27:5], and that is how he died. Then, after his body begun to decay and bloat, the rope broke, and the branch of the tree he was using broke, and his body fell, bursting open on the land of the potter’s field [Acts 1:18-19]
Judas’s Mental Health Analysis
Judas’ transgression was his betrayal of Jesus. This act led to him experiencing guilt, denial, and remorse [ he never accepted the responsibility for his actions]. He threw the money into the temple and left after discovering that his actions led to Jesus’ own death on the Cross.
It is within this cycle of inaction that he never practice acts of restitution [forbearance, apology, reparations]. He drifted deeper into a very unhealthy mental status from guilt, remorse, shame and then toxic shame.
Shame is personal, while guilt is public. Shame reflects on the “human being”, and guilt reflects on the “human doing”. Guilt is about what you did, while shame is about you and who you are. Guilt is about what they think, shame is about what you think.
It is within this latter stage of shame which leads to toxic shame that abuse, trauma and faulty thinking occurs. This is where intervention must be employed. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Can a Christian Commit Suicide?
The short answer to this question is yes! The Holy Scriptures support this possibility by defining that all of humanity is totally depraved [Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:10-18]. The implications of these verses don’t mean that we are as evil as we could be, but that every human capacity is tainted by sin.
- Another truth states that even after regeneration, a follower of Christ is capable of committing any sin except the rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion and regeneration. [Roman 7:13-25, and the unforgivable sin in Mark 3:25-32].
- Intentional death [suicide] and the killing of another person either in self-defense or murder does not invalidate person salvation.
- Christ’s sacrifice at the cross has forgiven all of our sin-past, present, and future. [Col. 2:13-14; Heb. 10:11-18
- The sin a follower will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable, He made us justified. [Rom. 3:23-26; 8:29-30]
In closing, I wish to leave with this prayer for fighting suicidal thoughts by Beth Ann Baus.
The darkness has taken hold me and I can’t find my way back to the light. At this moment, ending it all seems like the best option, the only option, the only way to escape. Yet, there is something in me that wants your light to snuff out the darkness. So I ask, Lord, that you would do just that. You are the only light that can shine in the darkness.
I know when I’m consumed with thoughts of death I’m believing lies from the enemy. I ask Lord that you would remind me of these truths: when I feel alone, you are with me; when I feel invisible, you see me; when I feel worthless, my value is knowing you and being known by you.
Lord, help me to understand that you are enough because you are everything I need and more. Remind me that when I feel hopeless, you have hope in me and for me. Remind me that when I don’t have the words to cry out to you, your son Jesus is praying for me, and your Spirit intercedes for me with groanings too deep for words. Let this remind me that I am seen, heard and deeply loved.
I often feel out of place in this world. I don’t fit in and I’m not sure I want to. Remind me that this world is not my home and while, as your child, I will never fit in here, my time here isn’t over. Not yet. Please, give me the desire to live.
When I feel like I don’t matter, remind me that I was created with a purpose. When I don’t know or understand why I feel the way I feel – remind me that you know the depth of pain in my heart, in my body and in my being. You know me better than I know myself… and yet you still love me.
When I feel like my death would go unnoticed because my life seems to go by uncelebrated, remind me that you celebrate me and that you hurt for me when I’m in this dark place. Remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and I am worth more than I know. Remind me that this life is not mine to take. Remind me that suicide is not the only option. Remind me to love you and to love myself.
As I say these words I know in my heart that you love me and I feel incredible guilt for wanting to take the life you gave me. I feel embarrassed to admit these thoughts to you. I feel overwhelmed that you know these thoughts without my even saying them, and yet you still love me. Remind me that Jesus did not come to earth and die for me so that I could live a defeated life. Help me to desire life and to live fully in you.
Grace and Peace
Alonzo E. Thornton, D.Min