Can a Christian Become a Non-Christian?

Can a Christian become a Non-Christian?

The biblical answer is no.

Jesus chose his words carefully. When he used the figurative language with Nicodemus, “born again,” to describe, in human terms, one’s sincere profession of faith in him, he knew exactly what he meant: just as it is impossible for a son or daughter to be “un-born” physically regardless of one’s attitude or belief about their parents, it is impossible for one to be “un-born” spiritually.

So, how can people choose to ‘delete’ their faith in Christ?

Again, we go to scripture. The biblical answer is one of two: (1) either they never genuinely professed their faith in Christ, but rather based their decision on something they ‘felt’ deeply rather than believed – the Bible describes this as “tasting” the Christian faith – or, (2) they’re simply on a journey as a genuine Christian where they, at least for a season, have abandoned their faith due to haunting questions and/or doubt. You can find despairing doubt throughout scripture. Even John the Baptist, for a moment, questioned if Jesus was who he claimed to be.

I know all about the second option because I took that option the days after my 19 year old son took his life after losing his battle with crippling depression. I consciously chose to pursue atheism, firmly believing I had dedicated my life and career to a lie.

But,… atheism failed me. And Christ was not only patient, he never scolded me for “leaving him”, and was lovingly waiting for me when I “came back home.”

This “de-conversion” of professed Christians is not uncommon. The Bible mentions it, commonly using the phrase “falling away.”

Significantly, John 6 records that when Jesus told his followers exactly what it cost to genuinely follow him, John, an eye-witness, wrote, “From this time many of his disciples (not the inner twelve) turned back and no longer followed him.” (vs. 66) But, apparently, stories like the article linked here make for news-worthy headlines.

Jon Steingard is a precious man for whom Christ gave his life just as much as he gave his life for Billy Graham.

I don’t know which path Steingard is on. The 36 year old musician said, “I suspect if [God] is there, he is very different than what I was taught.”

Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in NYC, once said, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Chances are, I don’t believe in that God either.

Let’s pray Steinhard finds his way home.

For all who, like me, who’ve struggled with doubt at some point, rest in this:

The evidence for God’s existence, the historical reliability of the New Testament, and the claims of Christ are all supported by overwhelming evidence for the Bible being true and for Christ being exactly who he claimed to be.

This is believed not only by people like me, but by Ph.D.’s from institutions such as MIT, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Oxford, just to name a few. As Yale law grad, Lee Strobel, stated, “We have an intelligent, defensible faith.”

Even the atheist, Albert Camus, once said, “I would rather live my life as though God existed only to find that he doesn’t (after death), than live as though he doesn’t exist only to find that he does.”

And, as Pascal famously wrote, wagering the Bible is not true is most certainly a bet you don’t want to make.

The only reason I post this is not to bring shame or condemnation on Steingard, but rather to bring biblical context and truth to fellow believers.

If you would enjoy visiting more about this topic simply contact me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Horatio’s Blindspot

From Christianity Today – April 2020

What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The historical evidence is clear: Those who claimed to see him risen must have seen something. JUSTIN BASS; APRIL 13, 2020

What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

On June 26, 2000, ABC aired a documentary called The Search for Jesus. The network’s leading news anchor, Peter Jennings, interviewed liberal and conservative scholars of early Christianity about what we can know historically concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The series ended with a striking statement by New Testament scholar Paula Fredriksen, who is not a Christian herself.

Commenting on the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, Fredriksen said,

I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.

She’s admitting, in other words, that the best available historical evidence confirms that followers of Jesus like Mary Magdalene, his brother James, Peter and his other disciples, and even an enemy (Paul) were absolutely convinced that the crucified man Jesus appeared to them alive, raised from the dead.

Fredriksen is not alone in supposing that these followers must have seen something. Virtually every Bible scholar across the Western world, regardless of religious background, agrees that Jesus’ earliest followers believed he appeared to them alive. This is what launched the world’s largest religion. As a result of these appearances, Jewish fishermen began proclaiming to crowds in Jerusalem that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32). Two thousand years later, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed by billions of Christians in nearly every nation and in almost every language on planet earth.

What did all these witnesses see?

A Bedrock Confession

According to the earliest source we have on record for Jesus’ death and resurrection, a hidden pearl found within 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to multiple individuals and groups, and at least one enemy. This creedal tradition, according to virtually all scholars, dates to within five years of Jesus’ death. Through this source, we can reach back to the earliest years of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, to the bedrock confession of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

This catalog of Resurrection appearances is unparalleled in the New Testament, even in all of ancient literature. We learn from this list that Jesus appeared to three individuals: Cephas (Peter), his chief disciple; James, his brother; and Paul, his former enemy. And we also learn that he appeared to three groups: the Twelve (disciples, minus Judas); more than 500 early followers; and all the apostles.

That Jesus appeared to more than 500 men and women at the same time is a truly remarkable claim. Paul boldly puts his credibility on the line when he mentions that most of them are still alive. After all, he is essentially inviting members of the Corinthian church to travel to Jerusalem and speak to these witnesses, investigating for themselves what it was like to see the risen Jesus. We can see, then, that solid eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus was readily available in the decades following his resurrection. As G. K. Chesterton observed in The Everlasting Man, “This is the sort of truth that is hard to explain because it is a fact; but it is a fact to which we can call witnesses.”Article continues below

Mary Magdalene also belongs on the list of key eyewitnesses, as she too was readily available to be questioned about her experience with the risen Jesus. As the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in How Jesus Became God, it is “significant that Mary Magdalene enjoys such prominence in all the Gospel Resurrection narratives, even though she is virtually absent everywhere else in the Gospels. She is mentioned in only one passage in the entire New Testament in connection with Jesus during his public ministry (Luke 8:1–3), and yet she is always the first to announce that Jesus has been raised. Why is this? One plausible explanation is that she too had a vision of Jesus after he died.” Mary Magdalene was given the high honor of being not only the first to see the risen Jesus but the first person in history to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

Whatever these eyewitnesses saw, it transformed their lives to the point of being willing to suffer and die for it. In 2 Corinthians 11:23–33, Paul recounts his almost daily suffering for his conviction that Jesus appeared to him. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, starved, lost at sea, and daily in danger of all kinds of evil on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire.

We also possess strong historical evidence that certain key eyewitnesses were martyred for their faith. Peter, for instance, was crucified. James was stoned. Paul was beheaded. Whatever they saw, it was worth giving their lives for. They sealed their testimonies with their blood.

The Magic Wand of ‘Mass Hysteria’

In order to explain away these Resurrection appearances, some scholars have speculated that the eyewitnesses were merely hallucinating.

In his excellent book Resurrecting Jesus, New Testament scholar Dale Allison surveys the available scientific studies and literature on hallucinations. In documented cases, he concludes, there are four things that do not happen (or rarely happen). First, hallucinations are rarely seen by multiple individuals and groups over an extended period of time. Second, hallucinations are rarely seen by large groups of people, especially groups of more than eight. Third, hallucinations have neverled to the claim that a dead person has been resurrected. And fourth, hallucinations do not involve the person’s enemy. (We could also add the fact that hallucinations typically aren’t known for launching global movements or world religions.)

Yet in the case of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, every last one of these rare or seemingly impossible circumstances has come to pass.

Allison sums up the implications forcefully: “These appear to be the facts, and they raise the question of how we should explain them. The apologists for the faith say that the sightings of Jesus must, given the reports, have been objective. One person can hallucinate, but twelve at the same time? And dozens over an extended period of time? These are legitimate questions, and waving the magical wand of ‘mass hysteria’ will not make them vanish.”

Cautious Agnosticism

The only other answer given by respectable scholars wrestling with this robust historical record is some variation of “I don’t know.” Much like Fredriksen, renowned New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders also represents this cautious-agnostic approach when he writes, in The Historical Figure of Jesus: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had Resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”Article continues below

Jordan Peterson, the popular professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, also belongs in this category. He neither affirms nor rejects the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. When asked directly if Jesus literally rose from the dead, Peterson responded, “I need to think about that for about three more years before I would even venture an answer beyond what I’ve already given.”

The cautious-agnostic’s position is a respectable one. Even the original apostles did not believe the claim of the Resurrection when the women first told them (Luke 24:8–11). Yet if someone like Peterson, with an open mind and heart, follows the evidence where it leads, I am convinced he will find himself at the feet of the risen Jesus, proclaiming with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Convincing Horatio

The extraordinary nature of Jesus’ resurrection reminds me of my favorite scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play opens with the “wondrous strange” appearances of Hamlet’s dead father to Bernardo and Marcellus and then later to Hamlet’s friend Horatio. Horatio is the skeptic of the group, and Hamlet challenges his disbelief of the supernatural in this exchange:

Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Shakespeare speaks through Hamlet, telling us to expect the unexpected. Welcome the strange and extraordinary. It is indeed wondrous strange that the ghost of Hamlet’s father is appearing to people, but do not reject it for that reason alone. Your philosophy should be wide enough for the supernatural. More things are happening in our wonderful world (and beyond) than you can imagine. If your philosophy is not wide and open enough to include the miraculous and the extraordinary, then you need a new philosophy.

We should be open to miraculous claims from the ancient world and in modern times. Our philosophies should make room for the unexpected, strange, and extraordinary. And yet, the most important question to ask of any miraculous claim is “What is the evidence?”

We have seen that, even from the perspective of the most skeptical scholars, the weight of the historical record attests that a host of individuals and groups believed they saw the risen Jesus. All the evidence we have suggests that his eyewitnesses were trustworthy and honest. Why disbelieve them?

And if that doesn’t convince our modern-day Horatios, then we can go further, summoning the Twelve and the more than 500 who saw the resurrected Messiah.

We can even move beyond the first-century time frame, exploring how belief in the Resurrection laid the foundations of all Western civilization, inspiring some of the greatest art, literature, music, film, philosophy, morality, and ethics that the world has ever seen. Is this all based on a lie?

And if all that is still not enough, then let our Horatios behold the billions across the world today who readily testify to how the living Christ has transformed their lives. These include intellectual giants who have converted to Christianity from every world religion (or from atheism and agnosticism). In Christ, they have found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

On Easter, these billions were proclaiming the same message the apostles proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

Now more than ever, in this dark, plague-ridden world, your family, friends, and neighbors are looking for hope. The living Christ is the only hope for us all. Before Easter fades into the rush of everyday life, ask your neighbor: What (or who) did all those witnesses see?

They saw hope incarnate, new creation, life in its fullness, God in the flesh.

This indeed is wondrous strange! Encourage your skeptical friends not to stop at “I don’t know.” Give the risen Jesus welcome.

Justin Bass is professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan. He is the author of The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection(Lexham Press) and The Battle for the Keys: Revelation 1:18 and Christ’s Descent into the Underworld (Wipf and Stock)

It’s Okay to be Afraid

There’s a reason the Psalms are my favorite book in all the Bible: they help me to know the “heroes of the faith” were no different than I am/we are because what they run the gamut of human emotion.

You’ll find both praise of God as well as anger at him. Faith and doubt. Joy and pain. Thanksgiving and loneliness. Loving prayer for others as well as a desire to see them dead.

The psalms are raw and real. More importantly, they are prayers. As such, they give us “permission” as Christians to tell God exactly how we feel.

And God can handle everything we throw at him. 

Moreover, he wants us to tell him how we feel.  He wants us to bring our darkest doubts and fears to him so he can help us receive wisdom, courage and peace.

David, who wrote at least 73 of the 150 psalms, was a fierce warrior, but also as ‘human’ as you and me. In Psalm 56 he is terrified.

Vss 3 & 8 of this psalm are familiar to the general mainstream:

Vs 3: When I am afraid I will trust in you.

Vs 8: You have kept record of all of my tears – every last one.

The meta-narrative of the psalm is this:  Jesus is whispering, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

It’s easy to focus on how big our fears are.  What can be hard to remember is that God is infinitely bigger.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Knowing Why You Believe What You Believe

When I began honestly investigating reasons for the Christian faith it changed everything.

My faith, over time, became my own.

No longer was my answer for being a Christian, “The preacher said it’s true,” or “Grandma said it’s true.”

It’s ok – very ok – to doubt your faith. John the Baptist, according to Jesus’ own words, was the greatest prophet to ever live. Yet, John, in prison and about to be beheaded for his faith, doubted if Jesus was really the Christ.

Thomas, the eye-witness and close disciple of Jesus, wanted hard proof before he was going to believe something so outlandish as Jesus rising from the dead.

Finally, even as people were watching Jesus ascend to heaven after his resurrection, Mathew records, “some of them doubted.”

Doubt is a parasite of faith.

What’s critical is that we address our doubt rather than accommodate it.

Should someone ask us why we believe what we believe, we are biblically obligated to “give a reasoned, logical defense for our faith.”

I am a pathetically flawed teacher and pastor – one I would encourage no one to emulate.

That said, apparently every now and then I make some sort of sense. Case in point, below are a few comments I received from teens after I led a series of sessions on why the Christian faith is an intelligent, defensible, rational faith.

Here’s what they said:

“Thanks for showing me a way to help my doubting friend.”

“This helped me understand all the possible ways to prove to somebody that God exists.”

“This strengthened my faith in God.”

“This made a huge impact on my own faith.”

“This explains truth.”

“I have learned so much and that Christianity is really true.”

“I’m not sure how to describe it, but my confidence and motivation to share my faith got a shot in the arm this weekend.”

When I think about those teens, and their thirst for understanding their Christian faith, I think of one of my professors during my grad work in Chrisitan Apologetics. Brilliant, articulate, and highly educated – Nancy Pearcey describes herself as a “leaver” of the Christian faith as a teenager.

In a 2010 editorial, Pearcey wrote,

“I became a leaver myself at age sixteen. I was not rebellious. Nor was I trying to construct a moral smokescreen for bad choices. I was simply asking, ‘How do I know Christianity is true?’ None of the adults I consulted offered any answers.”


Young Christians are counting on us to be able to engage in intelligent dialogue where the Christian faith is concerned.

Let’s not fail them.

Let’s fall in love with our Bibles again. Let’s take the time to work through the hard questions of our faith. Let’s teach Christians to be thinkers, and thinkers to be Christians.

Love to you all, Nick

The Last Straw

Have you ever done something you believed was the “last straw” with God?  Have you ever felt like you’ve, finally – once and for all – ruined your life?

NOTE:  A follow-up to my message a couple of weeks ago about the Cross’s power over shame.

Tullian Tchividjian (last name is pronounced “shuh -VIJ-uhn) is the grandson of Billy Graham. (see pic of Tullian with his granddad)

Tullian pastored a large church in south Florida and was a rising star in the church world, reaching almost celebrity status. Handsome, a gifted speaker and author, and possessing an engaging personality, he forgot how quickly a man can stray off course and slowly fell into Satan’s trap. (“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12)

Over time, Tchividjian  grew more and more blind to the moral danger awaiting us all when pride tightens its grip, giving us a false sense of invincibility.  As a result, he, like so many before him, was easily lured by the enemy into moral failure.

In 2015, he was removed from his church after getting caught in an affair.

He lost his ministry and his marriage.

Below is something Tchividjian wrote not as the celebrity-status-pastor he once was, but as a broken man.  It is powerful.

*Tullian’s note begins here*:

In a season of sin and self-destruction back in 2015, I lost everything and hurt many people in the process. At 41 years old, I broke my life, I broke my family, and I broke the hearts of those who trusted me and looked to me for leadership.

Through heaving tears of sorrow and shame, regret and remorse, I sent this note to a friend of mine the night my granddad (Billy Graham) died two years ago today:

“Watching my grandfather’s life, it has hit me afresh just how selfish and arrogant I was, how much I squandered. And for what? FOR WHAT?? What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Character matters. It does not gain us favor with God, but it does give us credibility with others so that we can deliver God’s favor to the world. I blew it. I’m undone.”

My friend responded with six words: “There was a man named David…”

I lost it.

My friend had the perfect words at just the right time. It was the powerful and comforting reminder I needed at that moment that God loves and uses people who fail because people who fail are all that there are. Maybe you need that reminder too.

Yes, “There was a man named David…” But even more powerful and comforting is the good news that there is a man named Jesus.

Unlike my grandfather, I soiled my record. Regardless of how I live my life from now until the day I die, my season of sinful self-destruction will always be remembered and talked about. The hurt I caused myself and countless others will linger in many hearts and cause some people to doubt me, disparage me, and distrust me for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that my blemished reputation is here to stay. There is no going back.

But I believe that if Daddy Bill (Billy Graham) were still alive, he’d say something like this to me:

“Tullian, I may not be guilty externally of the same sins you are, but I assure you that my heart is no less sinful than yours. According to God’s standard of perfection, I’m a failure just like you. Your sin speak to what people saw. But the Gospel speaks to what only God sees. All of our records are stained with sin. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ perfect record is ours by faith. When God looks at our account, He doesn’t see all of our nasty withdrawals. Rather, he sees all of Christ’s perfect deposits. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that because of Jesus, the sins we can’t forget, God chooses not to remember. So take heart failed one, before God the righteousness of Christ is all any of us need. Before God, the righteousness of Christ is all any of us have.”

That righteousness, that gift of God, speaks louder than any voice of accusation. I may have a blemished reputation, but not in the eyes of God. When my Father sees me—and when he sees you—he sees someone who looks just like Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.

*Tullian’s note ends here*.

The idiom, “the last straw,” comes from the longer idiom, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Simply put, at some point the camel is going to break under a given amount of weight. It’s inevitable.

But, the sin of the entire world couldn’t break Jesus’ back. Not then. Not now.

Jesus is whispering to you, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Do Prophets Still Exist? (The kind that can predict the future?)

FOX News recently published an article about pastor/author, Shawn Bolz, a self-proclaimed prophet as well as pastor of a church in Los Angeles, CA.

Bolz isn’t the first – nor will he be the last – modern day Christian to claim to have the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy.  I use the adjective predictive because the New Testament term for prophecy does not suggest modern day prophets function in this way of being able to predict the future.  (Read the FOX News article here.)

This begs the common question:  Do prophets still exist?  (The kind of prophets that can actually predict the future?”)

Good question.  Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says…

NOTE:  The question of whether or not there are modern-day predictive prophets is a debatable one as this doctrine is clearly subject to interpretation, some firmly believing the “miracles & sign gifts” are as viable today as they were prior to the completion of the canon of scripture.  And, in Bolz’ defense, I have never met him and am certain he is a wonderful and loving man.  My purpose here in this blog is solely to provide biblical context for the reader so that they may prayerfully and carefully consider the scriptures where this doctrine is concerned.

To get started, I agree with John MacArthur on this doctrine:

Like its Hebrew equivalent (nābā), the Greek [New Testament] verb (prophēteuō) behind prophecy simply means “to speak forth, to proclaim.” It assumes the speaker is before an audience, and could mean “to speak publicly.” The connotation of prediction was added sometime in the Middle Ages…

A [modern-day] prophet of God, therefore, is simply one who speaks forth God’s Word, and prophecy is the proclaiming of that Word. The gift of prophecy is the Spirit-given and Spirit-empowered ability to proclaim the Word effectively. Since the completion of Scripture, prophecy has no longer been the means of new revelation, but has only proclaimed what has already been revealed in Scripture.

The simplest and clearest definition of this function is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

I, personally, tend to hold to the conviction that the “miracles & signs gifts” served the purpose of providing apostolic authenticity i.e. God authenticated a particular chosen servant by giving him/her authority to perform miracles & signs.  (I always wonder why people claiming to have the spiritual gift of healing aren’t walking the halls of hospitals and nursing homes healing those people.) However, these types of gifts gradually decreased as the canon of Scripture – the full revelation of God to man – increased and came to completion.  Paul wrote,

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:8-10

“The perfect” is the Word of God.  The Bible.

The author of Hebrews adds,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 1:1-2

In other words, with the miraculous revelation of God’s Word we no longer are in need of these gifts to help us know what God is saying to us.

Of course, and I believe this strongly, this does not mean God can’t employ these gifts in modern day any time he chooses.  Occasionally, I read of – and believe – stories of miracles & signs taking place around the world.  But, this would be the exception, not the norm.

In the FOX News article, Bolz confesses his prophecies are not always true:

[Boltz] “said most of his prophecies come true. But he’s quick to admit he’s been wrong at times.  ‘I told one family a diagnosis of a family member who had cancer and told them I thought God was going to bring healing, and she died a few months later. I took responsibility.”

No doubt, Bolz was forced to come to grips with a well-known passage from Deuteronomy:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously…”  Deuteronomy 18:22

God doesn’t make mistakes.  Ever.  If the spiritual gift of predictive prophecy was still in play it wouldn’t be hit & miss.  Rather, prophecies given in God’s name would be fail-safe, never being wrong.

Even in New Testament times, words from prophets were to be evaluated by the congregation:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  (1 Corinthians 14:29)

Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.  (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

God’s warns believers to be wise, never gullible.  As such, we must be careful never to swallow whole someone’s claim to be able to, in the name of God, predict the future without giving said prophecy careful biblical consideration.  To do so places us on dangerous ground, making room for crushing disappointment when the prophecy fails.

Whatever your conviction always be careful to weigh every word and action of another against the infallible Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

When & How Do I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

After speaking in public schools on this topic I am often asked by students and parents a number of  questions I don’t have time to address in my presentation.  I thought I would offer brief answers to one of those questions here in 2 parts:

When and How Should I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?


When and How Should I Talk to my Child About the topic of Suicide?

When: The topic of suicide normally doesn’t arise unless a family member, friend or celebrity takes their life.  When Netflix premiered their monster hit, 13 Reasons Why, in March 2017, much of the U.S. was talking about the show’s primary subject: teen suicide.  (You can read my blog on 13 Reasons Why here.)  While some choose to take advantage of such opportunities to talk about this difficult and uncomfortable topic, others choose to leave it alone – usually because they simply don’t know what to say.

In regard to our children, there are those things we like to call “teachable moments.”  Should an event prompt this particular topic, it would most definitely qualify as one of those moments.

The days of considering suicide a taboo topic are long gone.  Even the mainstream media has begun giving it quite a bit of press.  And for good reason.  From a 2016 article in the Houston Chronicle:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control‘s data from 2014, and is the 10th leading cause of death overall.

And from the New York Times:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found…”

How:  To borrow a slogan from Nike, just do it.  I tell students at every assembly, “We parents are deeply flawed.  We’re just ‘old teenagers.’  Just like you, we laugh and we cry; we have good days, and bad days.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we get things flat wrong.  But, no one on planet earth loves you more than your parents.” 

My point is this: as a parent, you don’t need a degree in psychology or counseling to talk to your child about suicide.  Just talk to them.  If they refuse to talk about it, this is a clear sign that they desperately need to talk about it.  (Refusing to talk is different than your child saying something to effect of, “I’m so hurt and confused.  I need a couple of days to process this.  Can we talk then?”Never force the conversation, but don’t sweep it under the proverbial rug either.

The suicide of a loved one or friend leaves us with endless questions.  A student approached me following one of my talks.  They said, “My friend took his life.  I was told if you commit suicide you go to hell.  Is that true?”  (I address that question at length here.)

Amidst all the questions regarding suicide, a cornerstone of truth I learned at one of the conferences I’ve attended on suicide intervention is this:

99% of those who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

No one enjoys talking about suicide (including me.)  But, should an event bring the topic into the public square, take advantage of it.


My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?

Because my own son took his life, I counsel people to always err on the side of caution when suspicious of a friend or family member being suicidal.  In other words, intervene immediately.   If you intervene and you’re wrong, at least they will forever know you cared enough to check on them.  If you don’t intervene, and you were right, you might well be soon attending a funeral.

I tell students in no uncertain terms, “Should you suspect a friend of yours of being suicidal, talk to them immediately.  Then tell them, ‘We’re going right now to talk to an adult (if at school, the counselor who will, in turn, notify the parents; if off campus, the parents; if the relationship between the student-at-risk and their parent is estranged, take them to the nearest adult whether that be a school counselor, teacher, coach, youth pastor, etc.).

Mental health professionals agree that communication is a key to helping “talk a suicidal person off the edge of the cliff.”  The Houston Chronicle – written due to a cluster of teen suicides – asserts:

The key to managing grief, mental illness and suicidal thoughts is communication. Often times, those who are struggling tend to isolate instead of communicate… Through it all, communication is key to breaking out of the cycle of hopelessness and connecting to a support system. Sometimes, [the person at risk is] at a place where they can’t communicate.  It’s then we must be their voice.

Regarding the quote immediately above – rather than “sometimes,” I would offer that “most times” the person-at-risk can’t communicate what’s going on – at least this would apply to the vast majority.  Simply put, they are unable.  Since they’re brain is “broken”, unable to connect with logic, the ability to intelligently articulate their crippling pain is out of cognitive reach.  Gradually losing all sense of reality, the individual begins to believe lies common to those considering taking their own life i.e. “my family won’t have to worry about me anymore, ” “the world will be better without me/I don’t matter,” “I’m a burden to everyone,” “the pain is too much to bear,” “there is no hope, no help,” etc.

If you’re reading this – and are presently suicidal – understand that the statements cited immediately above are complete and total lies.  You are loved.  You do matter.  Your family and friends love you and would be devastated at your loss.  The familiar axiom is: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  While your pain may seem to you beyond help, know that there is most certainly help and hope.  Should you not want to speak with a family member or friend, please call the Suicide Hotline at: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Lastly, a child who has a friend they suspect of being suicidal may feel like they will be betraying their friend’s trust should they tell an adult; or, that it’s their responsibility to carry their friend through this crisis.  This is nonsense.  As a parent, tell them, “It is not your job or responsibility to carry a burden of this nature and weight on your own.  There are professionals who’ve gone to school and worked all their life for the sole purpose of helping hurting people just like your friend.”  Again, always err on the side of caution.

I encourage students, “Your friend may at first be very upset, even angry, with you for telling an adult.  Let them be angry.  You may well be saving their life, and saving their family from unspeakable grief.”