Ministry to the Suicidal and Those Who Have Lost Someone Through Suicide

After the recent apparent suicide of the comedian and actor Robin Williams, there has been some welcome discussion on depression and suicide among many on social media. I didn’t have the personal contact with Robin Williams to speak to his own situation. Eric Metaxas had a very good summary on the Breakpoint commentary, and he mentions that in recent days Robin Williams did visit a church and may have been seeking answers for his life.

Here’s something that I don’t think is emphasized enough: An unsaved suicidal person is often someone who is open to Jesus in a way that he or she has never been open before.

God has given each of us human beings a deep running desire to cling to life, and someone who is seriously considering ending that is searching for some kind of answers to his or her situation. In that time we need first of all to share Jesus and his salvation with that person. We need not and should not do anything to make the gospel more palatable to that person in that situation, but the gospel is the water of life, and a person who is really desperate enough to take his or her life may be more thirsty for the water of life in the gospel than we may realize. What that person needs is none of our evangelical psychobabble nor any attempts for us to play amateur psychiatrist, but the clear, unadulterated gospel of the Lord who suffered and died to provide forgiveness of sins and eternal life. A suicidal person is a person who often realizes that he or she is hopelessly lost and cannot do anything by himself or herself to save himself or herself, whatever situation has made this utterly and starkly clear to him or her.

Second, when a person is suicidal, Jesus sometimes personally intervenes quite dramatically in that person’s life to save the life of that lost person when that person cries out to him. He has actually done so in the lives of Sadhu Sundar Singh, Ravi Zacharias and myself 39 years ago, and I suspect that he has done so in the lives of many more people than many of us have actually heard of. And once he has taken hold of a person in this darkest hour, that person can never, ever let him go.

Third, pastoral education and other personal ministry training may lack any guidance on ministry to the suicidal or to a family who has lost someone through suicide. I was fortunate in being asked during my ordination interview about how I would conduct a funeral for someone who had committed suicide. I came up with two things to say that I actually used later when I did participate in a funeral for a man whose eight year old daughter had been attending my church and who had been hanging on his arm when he fired the gun into his head when he ended his life. I made no judgment on the eternal fate of the man who had committed suicide, but rather I spoke as someone who was there to offer hope and comfort for the living.

For a family which has lost a member to suicide, there is comfort in this promise of God: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our difficulties, so that we ourselves may be able to comfort others in difficulties with the same comfort that we have received from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-5). So there is no situation that we can come into but that the grace and comfort of God is not greater than the pain and agony which we are experiencing.

For the living, there is this hope and promise from Jesus himself: “I have come that they might have life and that more abundantly” (John 1o:10). So Jesus himself can through his salvation give his people a life so abundant that they never consider suicide as an option again or at all. And this is my own personal witness to him, that his salvation is that full and free, that he can fill us to where suicide is entirely and wholly something that was foolishly considered in the past, but from which Jesus has saved me and many others.  And where a person testifies to how Jesus has saved them from suicidal thoughts and desires in the past, it is a part of pastoral care and genuine faith in the grace of God not to try to treat that person as someone who is currently depressed or suicidal but to give all praise and honor to God for the power of his salvation.

I can’t speak much to the many possible causes of suicide, and these must be a part of a more complete and Biblically rigorous guide to pastoral care to the suicidal. In some cases, particularly where professed believers in Christ have committed suicide, a protracted and often organically based depression may well be to blame. I personally lost a friend to suicide about six years ago when she was trying to come off her antidepressant medicine and  was suddenly confronted by a family situation that she found overwhelming. The suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son may well be attributed to the agony of a diseased brain. I would emphasize that we still need to keep on praying for the healing of such people, and there have been many cases where God has healed such people. But we may often forget that people in living under protracted harassment or abuse or oppressive or overwhelming circumstances may see suicide as their way out. When this is a student, this is often called bullycide.  In other cases there may be occult bondage involved as well; people who go into occult sins are often plagued with suicidal thoughts as well as night terrors; in these cases confession and complete renunciation of the occult and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord opens the door to his saving power, since “ . . . the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8 ). So I offer these three alternatives as part of understanding what is happening with suicidal people. But again, I would advise against any approach which places too much emphasis on the pastor or counselor as the one who has the answers or one which goes too far into psychological explanations and remedies. The pastor, elder or Christian worker must be a witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ above all to the person who is considering ending his or her own life and to each and every family member who has lost someone to suicide.

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