Some thoughts on despair and hope

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Amidst the avalanche of bad news that arrives into our phones, computers and TVs on a minute-to-minute basis, there has been a sharp increase globally, but particularly in Western countries, in “deaths of despair.” Briefly, the term “deaths of despair” describes the way many people come to the end of their lives prematurely due to factors such as drug and alcohol abuse and more direct forms of suicide, as well as diseases which they might have beaten or avoided altogether if they had taken better care of their health. Such diseases include diabetes, asthma and heart disease but also many others which can have environmental and psychological as well as physical causes.

Generally speaking, the “despair” people report feeling which results in contracting one of these diseases and/or a pattern of alcohol and/or drug abuse is a result of people not having good job prospects, not being married and not believing they ever will be and just in general not believing that the future will be any better than the present. Disorientation and confusion over the rapid pace of change in social norms, technology, politics and the economy also play a part. Taken together, these changes create a sense among many people that they have little control over their lives and that the people who DO have control over their lives don’t respect them or care much about what they want and need.

By 2018, the latest year for which such statistics have been published, the number of victims of “deaths of despair” was close to 160,000 in the US alone. The prevalence of it is partially responsible for the lowering of the average life expectancy in the US. However, amidst the multiple, overlapping and reinforcing crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a sharp uptick in suicides generally and “deaths of despair” more specifically has already been reported all over the US as well as other countries, although the US is the country which seems to have the most severe problem.

To read a recent study on this subject, click HERE (PDF).

This epidemic of premature deaths with a root cause being people lacking any hope about what the future will hold for them and their children has many causes, but we must confess that it is a stinging indictment of the Church. It represents a failure of the Church in the West to communicate to people that, as a T-shirt I saw once said “there is more to life than here and now” but that there is in fact an ETERNAL destination for every human being once this physical life is over. You hardly ever hear a sermon preached on that topic anymore, and the idea has become VERY unfashionable in many churches, including even in Evangelical churches.

Of course, it’s not just our own flocks that have suffered because the churches have failed the test of 1 Peter 3:15, in which we are commanded “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”

A large volume of our conversation, especially in recent months, has consisted of fearful wailing and moaning about all the things going on in the world, from the lingering pandemic and its fallout to the breakdown of law and order in the US to the threats of war in Israel , political instability, etc. 

That really needs to change.

I have written several times here at KNI about the necessity of letting the USA decrease in our hearts while letting the Kingdom of Christ increase in our hearts. Frankly, if “the hope that is in you” is the continued economic prosperity of the USA and its attending geopolitical dominance and military power, especially here in the Middle East where Israel is located, than you’ve made a big mistake. Those things were NEVER going to last forever, and the fact that they are now in very serious peril is NOT a cause for any Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to fall into despair.

On the contrary, this is an occasion for rejoicing for the hope that we have in Christ for a GLORIOUS future and for giving our neighbours, who are fearful and/or despairing over what is happening and what it all might mean for them and their children, an occasion to ask us why we’re so hopeful.

Brothers and sisters, think about the people you’re friends with on Facebook, or the people you ride the bus to work with. Think about the people who live in the house next door to yours, or the apartment across the hall from yours. Think about the people at the grocery store where you do your shopping. Think about ALL the people you see every day as you go about your business.

Chances are, those people are afraid, anxious and hurting. Some of them might very well be on the verge of ending their life because they just don’t think they can go on any more, or they might be sick unto death with a disease that is partially caused by the effect their state of mind is having on their physical health.

You’ve got something to tell them that will allow them to overcome these feelings of anxiety and despair. Have you tried telling them about Him? Have you tried to tell them why you’re not anxious, afraid and despairing?

Maybe you can’t tell them any of that because you ARE afraid, anxious and in despair. If that’s the case, than take some time to dive into the Word, pray and fast and seek fellowship from your community until you have renewed your own hope and restored your own peace of mind. Then you can help others.

A character in a movie I watched once said “to despair is to turn your back on God.”

I think that’s true, and I think the opposite is also true, to turn your back on despair is to embrace God, because He gives us the only thing that offers real hope and a real future. It’s up to all of us to internalize that so we can pass on our hope to others in this lost and dying world. 

May God give us all the love, faith and courage we’ll need to do this.