Could Suicide Prevention Tools Have Saved Judas Iscariot?

Could Suicide Prevention Tools Have Saved Judas Iscariot? September 8, 2023

Jesus’ betrayer Judas ended his life with a rope. But what if his death were preventable? Suicide prevention means asking good questions.

Judas Iscariot leaves Jesus and disciples at Last Supper
“Judas Leaves the Lord’s Supper” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 

Judas didn’t have to die. I know, some will quote Acts 1:20 where Peter said his death was inevitable and another had to take Judas’ place among the disciples. But this was Peter’s interpretation of vague scriptures and not a clear indication that God planned or willed Judas’ death by suicide. In fact, it’s dangerous to suggest that God might ever want anyone to end their own life. The truth is that God suffers when we suffer and finds joy when we’re joyful. God delights in our well-being and wants wholeness for everyone—even Judas.

 

An Opportunity to Help

The way we look at Judas affects how we treat people experiencing suicidal ideation. When someone ends their life, if we say, “There’s nothing I could have done about it. It was just meant to be,” then we take no responsibility for our part in helping folks who are considering suicide. But if we understand that events aren’t written in the stars, then when someone hints at suicidal thoughts, we can take it as an opportunity to help. Judas didn’t have to die. Neither do those you care about. So, I wonder—what if the disciples knew about suicide prevention? What if just one disciple had paid attention to the warning signs? What if they were brave enough to ask their friend what he was planning to do?

 

 

Will I Put the Idea in Their Head?

Many people say they’re afraid to ask a person if they’re thinking of ending their life because they don’t want to “put the idea in their head.” The fact is, if they’re considering suicide, it’s better that you ask them. If they’re already thinking about it, you’re not going to make it worse. And if they aren’t already considering it, they’re not going to take your words as a suggestion. They’ll just say, “Oh, definitely not!”  In which case, you’ve shown yourself to be a good friend by asking.

 

 

Burying Your Head = Burying Your Friend

Others are afraid to ask because they secretly (even subconsciously) don’t want to deal with the responsibility of that knowledge. You might not know what to do if your friend says “yes.”  But you can’t hold back from asking. Burying your head in the sand might also mean burying your friend. It’s better to ask someone—even if you make a mistake—than it is to live with the regret of not asking. So, here are five tips for talking to someone with suicidal ideation:

 

 

5 Suicide Prevention Tips

1.      Use Sensitive Language

First, remember that words matter. How you phrase things can make all the difference between a truthful affirmative and a false negative. Try to avoid the phrase “commit suicide,” because we commit crimes. Your friend is not a criminal just because they are experiencing suicidal ideation. Try to avoid asking, “Are you planning to take your life,” because this can sound like stealing, and feels like an accusation.

Similarly, we don’t want to use the accusatory term, “killing yourself.”  These days, we use the phrase “die by suicide” or “end your (or their) life.”  The words you choose have influence, so you want to use sensitive language. Some might argue that using such careful language is hyper-sensitive. But those who are considering suicide are experiencing raw emotions. Even if such language is hyper-sensitive, it’s worth being extra cautious with a person’s feelings if they are in such a state.

2.      Don’t Ask Leading Questions

Next, don’t lead your friend to give you a false negative by asking, “You’re not planning to end your life, are you?”  What you’re really saying here is, “I don’t want to deal with your potential suicide, so I’m asking you to reassure me by telling me it’s not going to happen.” Too often out of empathy for their friend a person will say, “Oh, no, I’m not thinking of that,” just so you won’t worry. It’s better to ask the question, without suggesting the answer you want to hear.

3.      Ask Open-Ended Questions

Related to this, ask open-ended questions instead of looking for “yes” or “no” answers. Open-ended questions draw people out in conversation and give you more opportunity to really listen to what they’re saying. Try asking, “Tell me more about that.” or “What makes you think that?” Try, “How long have you felt that way?” These open-ended questions invite people to share their deepest thoughts and feelings.

4.      Ask Good Questions

Asking good questions is so important! Dr. Stacey Freedenthal offers more suggestions: Don’t try to give them the answers or make suggestions—let them think about it and discuss their thoughts. One good question is, “What one thing do you need that would prevent you from ending your life?” This one unmet need may be something that you can provide.

Another good question is, “How much do you want to end your life?” Or “How much do you want to live?”  This gives them the opportunity to elaborate on their feelings. Try asking, “What unfinished business do you have?” This gets people to think of the things they still want to accomplish in the world. You might ask, “What’s one small thing that, if you accomplished it today, might make you feel a little better?” or “What problems would ending your life solve?” Then, follow it up with, “Would you still want to die, if we could solve those together?”[i]

5.      Don’t Use Guilt/Shame

Remember, don’t argue with the person by using tools of guilt and shame. Don’t tell them that they’re being selfish. Don’t threaten them with hell. People who consider suicide are already wracked with guilt, shame, and fear. Don’t increase those feelings—decrease them.

 

 

The Columbia Protocol

If you’re wondering whether a friend, family member or coworker is considering ending their life, you can find out how to get them help just by asking simple questions. The Columbia Protocol is an easy, free risk assessment tool used by schools, first responders, military personnel, and more, to determine whether a person has a high risk of suicide. I encourage you to save the graphic below or click here to download it.  Print it off, laminate it, and keep it handy for when you need it. With this suicide prevention tool, you just might save someone’s life.

 

Could Suicide Prevention Tools Have Saved Judas Iscariot?

Judas didn’t have to die—and neither do your friends. A few simple questions can make all the difference. Judas ended his life because none of the disciples followed him into the darkness to see how he was doing. Maybe none of the disciples felt a close enough bond to him that they felt comfortable asking him tough questions. Or they were so immersed in their own situations that they didn’t take care of their friend. I wonder how things might have changed if someone had followed Judas into the darkness. Could suicide prevention tools have saved Judas Iscariot?

After Peter denied Jesus, Peter wept bitterly—but Jesus restored him after the resurrection. Jesus would have restored Judas, too, if only the disciple had waited before ending his life. The difference was likely that Peter’s sub-group of friends within the body of disciples cared for him in a way that Judas’ friends did not. Peter had people to comfort him. You can be that person of peace and reach out to someone who’s hurting. Just a few simple questions can save the life of your friend, family member, or coworker.


[i] Suggested questions are from Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. “Helping the Suicidal Person: A Clinical Toolbox.” September 10, 2021. The Clinician’s Suicide Prevention Summit: Treatment Strategies to Inspire Hope and Save Lives. Sponsored by PESI.

For related reading, check out these articles:

About Gregory Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for a dozen years. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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