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Suicide in Ministry: Lessons from Judas

While all of my blog posts need prayer, I had to say an extra one for this post. Suicide affects just about everyone in some form or fashion. It feels heavy and uncomfortable and hard to talk about. Even so, the longer we let suicide hide in corners of shame, the more people are hurt by it – especially by suicide in ministry.

The Passage

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:1-5

Suicide in Ministry

One of the most heartbreaking responses I received on my Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression came from a friend of a friend. She responded that her nephew who worked in ministry at a church committed suicide several years ago. Their family was still hurting from the event.

I can’t help but think that if Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples who lived every day with Him for years, can struggle with mental illness to the point of committing suicide, then we should not forget our own ministers or look down on them for depression. That’s what the chief priests and elders – the ones who orchestrated the death of Jesus – did in rejecting Judas’ confession. They told Judas that it was his own struggle and they need not be bothered. I wish I could shout a rebuke to the church from the rooftops: mental illness is not a sin!

Friends, can we make an effort to bring mental illness out from the shadows? Let’s dig deep with our ministers and not shame them for struggling with the same things we do. Let’s sit with others in their pain and walk alongside them in their struggles. Perhaps we could keep a few more friends on this Earth with us for a little while longer.

For another article on suicide in ministry, check out this post on Christianity Today. As always, please seek professional counseling if you are struggling. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and there is no shame in calling it. We need your story with us in this world.

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