Survivors Guilt


I wonder if the Apostle John when he was imprisioned on the island of Patmos, ever considered himself a survivor, battled compassion fatigue or dealt with survivors guilt?

Noah Webster describes “surviver” as one who outlives the other and “survivor” in the real estate terms as a joint tenant; and “In law, the longer liver of two joint tenants, or of any two persons who have a joint interest in anything.”

In her paper Guilt Following Traumatic Events, Kathleen Nader says regarding understanding guilt, “Following traumatic events, an individual may experience “real” guilt for acts of commission or omission that resulted in the physical or emotional endangerment or harm of others. “Imagined” guilt (e.g., survivor guilt, guilt with an element of wishful thinking about one’s ability to act) includes the types of guilt that occur in the absence of having acted harmfully. Both types of guilt include self condemnation, and either can result in harm to self or others (e.g., punishing acts to self or others; the action or elicitation of rejection, disdain and/or punishment).

The Apostle John along with many others was a survivor.  He outlived all the other apostles and was not put to death by being martyrd.

John was the only one of the original disciples not to die a violent death. Instead, he passed away peacefully in Patmos in his old age, sometime around 100 AD.

From what I can glean from his writings he did not suffer any sense of survivors guilt. Perhaps, he was so secure in his purpose and calling along with his relationship with Holy Spirit, that he truly understood this reality; Jesus and eternity were just moments away; just waiting on him to complete his assignment here on earth!

war in heaven

John wrote in Revelation 12:10-12 (The Study Bible):

The War in Heaven
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, he who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; and they did not love their lives so as to shy away from death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea; with great fury the devil has come down to you, knowing he has only a short time.”…


When someone suffers Survivor’s Guilt, there is always one culprit on the scene. The kingdom of darkness and the accuser of the brethren.  Satan and his dominion will use even the noblest of causes to attack the minds of those who are spared in the most vilest of attacks. God is not the author of evil, war, murder, suicide or even the loss of a beloved spouse who dies before you.  If you are suffering from guilt that is not the direct result of a sin you have not confessed and given over to the Lord, then you are taking on something that is a false burden.  Jesus can and will set you free from this type of pain.

Heart no fear

I suppose John used the crisis’, traumas that he witnessed as a lifeline to pull him closer into the bosom of Jesus.  John wrote about Jesus’ love, the perfect love that casts out all fear, guilt and shame.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

I John 4:18 NLT


Rays of sunshine breaks through the clouds
And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.


 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  I John 1:5-10 ASV

john and jesus

John stood firm in his relationship with Jesus. He remained empathetic and spiritually in tune to his fellow apostles and fellow believers.

When we study the Apostle John,  nicknamed “the one whom Jesus loved”,  we see multiple qualities and personalty traits of those who have the gift of mercy, empathy and are called to pastoral and crisis and trauma care. They are often the ones left behind to “tell the story” and bare the burden of helping others who are left behind.

Secure, Compassionate, Caretaker, Rescuer, Abolitionist, Faithful, Discerning, Prophetic, Confident, Spiritual, Good Listener, Declares Truth, Obedient, Humble

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God [a]gave him to show unto his [b]servants, (which are those who believe) even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified [c]it by his angel unto his servant John; who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Revelation 1:1-3 (italics mine)


Even while exiled on the island of Patmos, John continued to express the beautiful love story of Jesus.  At the crucifixion John was charged by Jesus to care for his mother Mary and later he records many interactions about Jesus who was constantly ministering to those who were in crisis and trauma. John relates how Jesus used the losses, physical sufferings and grief of others to help them redirect their focus from the hard times to the love and mercy that only God can provide during traumatic times.

John continued to love and support his fellow disciples, standing firm in his faith, but always humble and retreating to a position of prayer and intimacy with Jesus.  John, the one whom Jesus loved was a writer, truth-teller and a witness to the glory of Jesus Christ and awaiting the things to come in the future, that were given to him to write for our ears to hear and our Spirits to bare witness to Jesus, encouraging us to wait with joy and expectancy, the Holy One who will come again.

John outlived all of the other disciples, witnessing the horrific acts of violence toward those whom he loved, in the name of Jesus.

Revelation 2220.jpeg

Rather than be filled with anger, doubt and guilt as he watched and heard of his brothers and sisters who were martyred for the sake of Jesus; he pens the following words given to Him as a promise for us all, that we don’t have to wait for Jesus to return to save us.

We can experience His love, His healing and His presence in the Person of the Holy Spirit right here and right now.

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17

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2 thoughts on “Survivors Guilt

  1. I don’t think John suffered from survivors guilt either. I am a bit surprised that some people might think so.

    John and his fellow apostles were in the Presence of God. Whether they lived or were martyred, they were in the Presence of God. I have heard and read accounts of Christians being killed for their faith and their deaths were absolutely glorious (and they probably felt no pain). Scripture says that Stephen was put to sleep by the Lord as he was being stoned to death.

    If people truly know the Sovereignty of God, they know that, if they are killed for their faith, then it was God’s will all along. The Lord’s Name is glorified in our being a living witness (martyr) or a dying witness (martyr).

    The world system banished John to the Isle of Patmos because the world system got sick and tired of his preaching the Gospel. The world system was convicted of sin because of John being a powerful witness: he was dead to the world and alive to God: he was a savour of death unto death to those who were perishing. Since John was a man of God, he was honored to be banished to Patmos.

    We should also be honored for being banished to our Patmoses because our witness offends worldly churchianity. Sometimes I think that my hitchhiking all over the United States is my Isle of Patmos.


    1. Tim, thank you for your comments.

      Treasures from the Fire by William Desloge, Principles of Triumph from Communist Prisons is a really good book to read about how individuals respond under extreme persecution. I have spoken with survivors who have gone through battle, grief, loss and also persecution. There is a difference between accepting responsibility for a loss or death our actions have caused others and having the emotional and mental battle of surviving when others we know and love have perished. I believe grief and survivors guilt is not necessarily a weak or wrong thing but can help a person process through difficult circumstances if we allow Holy Spirit to come and minister to us during this. It can be an instrument of drawing us closer to the Lord. Peter denied Christ three times and was full of grief until he was able to process through it and received forgiveness from the Lord. All of the disciples except for John were brutually martyrd along with many of their family members. I wonder how John felt about this? This was the question? I wonder if John suffered survivors guilt?

      Watchmen Nee who spent the last twenty years of his life in prison has this to say:

      Verse 9

      Verse 9: “I John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.”

      John did not call himself a member of Christ nor did he call himself an apostle. He called himself their brother and joint partaker. How gentle and sweet this is! Even though he was alone on the island of Patmos at that moment, his spirit was with his brothers, suffering together with them, enduring with them, and waiting with them for the coming of the heavenly kingdom. This is the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to suffer together with the saints in every place. Because he had a very deep sympathy with them and a very intimate union in life with them, their suffering was like his own suffering. When they suffered, he was even by their side as their joint partaker. May the Lord give us a bigger heart to receive all the brothers in the Lord so that they will know that we are always joint partakers with them in all things. Those who truly have the work of the Lord’s cross in them will surely know how to be united with all the children of the Lord. The cross unites sinners with God the Father. It also unites all Christians who trust in Him. The cross separates us from sinful living, but unites us with those having God’s life.

      Tribulation, kingdom, and endurance—these three things indicate the present and future journey of the saints. This kingdom is the millennial kingdom in chapter twenty. However, it does not refer to the citizens in the millennial kingdom but to those who will reign together with the Lord Jesus Christ for a thousand years. In the future, the saints will have no other kingdom except their reigning together with the Lord. Reigning with the Lord is the purpose for the coming heavenly kingdom. This kingdom is the believers’ common hope and reward. This kingdom is the believers’ future glory and honor. God has called all the believers into His kingdom to gain His glory (1 Thes. 2:12). Have all the believers, however, heard this calling? Are they all able to meet God’s demand? I dare not judge, but I am afraid many will lose God’s reward!

      The kingdom is indeed glorious, but what comes before the kingdom? It is tribulation. The way to the kingdom is tribulation. Tribulation paves the way to glory! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 5:10). If we take sides with the world, how can there be persecution? If we were “of the world, the world would love its own” (John 15:19). If you leave the world, not only the world’s “world” but also the Christian “world” will persecute you. However, it is by this way that we walk to the realm of glory.

      “If indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). The present suffering will be the determining factor of the future glory. The more we suffer, the better prepared we will be to gain the glory, because “if you are reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:14). The Holy Spirit prepares us for the glory of the kingdom through tribulation. Before things come to pass, He forewarns us. He will not let us suffer tribulation without warning. He wants us to be willing. He wants us to sit down and count the cost. He told us long ago, “In the world you have affliction” (John 16:33), but by granting a reward He comforts our hearts. He told us, “He who overcomes, to him I will give to sit with Me on My throne” (Rev. 3:2)—to reign together in the kingdom. Oh, may the future glory be displayed before us! May the Lord help us to realize that we are “granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer on His behalf” (Phil. 1:29). Nevertheless, this suffering is not in vain because the one who suffers will have the reward.

      Although “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), if we follow “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2), in the future we will be able to sit together with Him on the throne. The more we think about the joy of the coming kingdom, the less we will care about today’s small cross. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed upon us” (Rom. 8:18). God makes glory the strength of our suffering. May the Lord grant us spiritual insight so that we can see the future glory.

      Liked by 1 person

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