In 2017 the suicide rate in the U.S. was the highest it has been for at least 50 years, as reported by CBS News. Some experts after reviewing the data attribute this to an “epidemic of hopelessness”, which has lead to more drug related deaths and suicide.
Last month the L.A. Times reported on a study that shows in 2017 the suicide rates for American teens and young adults were the highest on record. In 2017, 5,016 males and 1,225 females between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, lost their lives to suicide.
Finally, studies show, “Major depression is on the rise among Americans from all age groups but is rising fastest among teens and young adults…” reported by NBC News. This article goes on to talk about the issues of hopelessness, and a lack of community as a major factor in the rise of depression and related mental illnesses.
These are just three articles among hundreds you can find that discuss the rise of depression, suicide, and drug abuse that are connected to the mental health crisis we are facing in our country. There are many causes for this crisis, but one that has been identified is a loss of hope, hopelessness.
I think that the connection between suicide and a loss of hope makes sense, as human beings we function through faith and hope. Every day we hope that we will accomplish our tasks for that day. When you get into a car to drive, you have a hope you will reach your destination. We have a variety of hopes for our own lives and the lives of those we know and love. Parents have hope for their children, spouses for each other, and friends for one another.
When we talk about everyday hope, we are basically desiring something to happen in the future, with some belief that it will occur. When I say that I hope everyone arrives to Shema safely today, it is a desire to see that happen, and I have some belief it will occur. When we hope someone feels better, we want them to be healthy.
But everyday hope is based on uncertainty. I have no guarantee that everyone will get here safely. When I step into my car to drive to Shema, I have no guarantee I will survive the trip. We also have no guarantee that when we get sick, we will get better, many people pass away from illnesses every day. Our frail fallen bodies fall apart and we pass from this life.
The people and things we place our hope in are uncertain because they are imperfect and broken. If you place your hope in people, eventually it will hurt you. People we love, like our parents, friends, and spouses will inevitably disappoint us. We break our promises, lie, and just generally miss the mark throughout our lives. This is even more true for politicians of every kind. Governments, businesses, even congregations, will let us down because they are filled with imperfect fallen people.
I believe suicide and depression are on the rise, in part, because the hope we try to have in the society around us is being exposed to the reality of how dark this world really is. When everyone seems to be lying and cheating, it is hard to have hope. When it seems like everything and everyone is falling apart physically and emotionally, it is hard to have hope.
Our information rich age we live in has exposed us to many uncomfortable truths and chief among them is the darkness that surrounds us, especially when we believe we are anonymous and hidden.
Hope is necessary for our lives, it allows us to live through the suffering we face now and endure to a future time that will be better. If we have no hope, if we have no belief or faith in things getting better, then what is the point of living? It’s this kind of thinking that leads many of us down dark paths of drug use, dangerous behaviors, and unfortunately in some cases suicide. For those of us who are followers of Messiah Yeshua, Christians and Messianic Jews, we too can lose hope. We can become overwhelmed in our present suffering and feel lost in sadness and despair. We can feel trapped and alone and begin to walk down dark paths ourselves.
Just as dangerous as losing hope is also false hope. If we place our hope in this world and people of this world it will lead us into serious problems. False hope comes in the form of false teachers, some teach a prosperity gospel different than the actual Gospel in God’s Word.
They promise the hope of wealth to those in desperate need but only steal from people. Others promise false hope in the form of fake or demonic healing. They sell the modern equivalent of snake oil to those who are very ill and preach a gospel different than the true Gospel.
Even in modern Judaism we see the dangers of a false hope. Most Jewish people today do not believe in a personal Messiah. It is the position of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in America, that there is no singular messiah, but the Messianic Age will be brought about by human beings. That we can heal the world ourselves and bring peace to it. But this is also a false hope because no matter how hard we try to fix things we inevitably fail, and corruption occurs. No philosophy or religion based in the power of people can give us lasting hope.
If a lack of hope leads us to depression and false hope leads us to depression and serious problems as well, where do we find true hope? We find true hope in God’s Word, based on the promises of God.
The hope contained in Scripture is different than the hope we encounter in our daily lives. Biblical hope has no uncertainty, it does not have the potential of failing. The reason I can say that with such certainty is because true hope, biblical hope, is based on the character of Adonai. The Lord is the source of truth and life, what He says will happen does, and there is no power than can overthrow His. There are many places I can go to illustrate the character of our Great Creator, but I’d like us to consider the words of the wicked prophet Balaam, compelled by the spirit of the Lord to speak these words as part of a blessing to our people. They are found in Numbers 23:19:
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
There is only one thing in Scripture we are told God cannot do, He cannot lie. Unlike people the Lord never lies. We change our minds every day about how we feel about someone, or what we might do, or whether we will keep our promises.
But the Lord is unchanging, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Balaam’s rhetorical questions in this verse are for us as well. The Lord does speak and then act, He promises and then fulfills.
The Lord promised Abraham by an oath on His own name, that Abraham’s descendants would inherent the Land he spent his life wandering in and it did happen. When the Lord promised to deliver our people from the most powerful nation on Earth, Egypt, it also happened. When the Lord promised judgement on our enemies and on us it also occurred. Every prophecy the Lord has delivered to our people has come to pass in His timing. Any that have not yet happened will in the future. This is more than just a matter of logical truth, it is rooted in the very nature of Adonai. The writer of the letter to the Messianic Jews, the book of Hebrews, calls our hope in the Lord an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” In the secure and anchoring hope of the Lord we can have faith, trusting in the future hope God has promised us.
Faith itself is an expression of hope. Hebrews 11:1 gives us the clearest definition of what faith and hope are, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
When we say we have faith in God what we are saying is that we have confident hope in what He has promised us. Even though we cannot see it with our own eyes right now, we know that what He has promised will happen. But what has the Lord promised us? What are we hoping for when we talk about biblical hope? In Titus 3:3-7, Rabbi Paul helps define what it means to have true hope.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
We all are born to the same issues. Throughout human history we have acted badly while being hurt by others and hurting back. This is the condition our world is in and there is nothing we can do in our power to save it.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Messiah Yeshua our Savior,
To save us from our brokenness the Lord sent His Son to fulfill the promises He had made through His prophets like Isaiah. The punishment of death that we deserved fell on Him and He became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. But the grave could not hold Yeshua and He rose from the dead and promised us that if we have faith in Him, we would as well. The promise of this hope was given to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, to give us the certainty of our eternal destination, living with Him forever.
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
We inherit this hope when we put our trust in the Lord. We then have been judged and spared through God’s undeserved goodness to us. This is the biblical hope that we have, that this world is not all there is, and that we will find complete peace, true Shalom, when the Lord returns and judges the world in His righteousness. It is a hope that isn’t based on our present circumstances but the future we long to see.
We have a future hope of peace and joy found in living forever with the Lord through Messiah Yeshua. But while we live in this fallen world, we will experience suffering. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can have peace and joy not dependent on our current circumstances. It can be easy to accept this intellectually with our minds, it is another to accept this emotionally with our hearts. It is normal to feel sad in this life, to feel hurt and upset. But it is what we do in those moments that defines our lives in the Lord. Lashing out in anger at the Lord or those around us can unfortunately happen. Or life can become so overwhelming that we sink into depression and escapism. All these actions can make us lose our hope and lead us to suffering alone until the unthinkable becomes reasonable.
When, not if, but when, we find ourselves hurting and suffering, we need to turn to the Lord in prayer and lay on Him the burdens of our hearts. To cry out to the Lord, sometimes very literally. Scripture doesn’t teach us to repress or bury our sorrow, but to work through it and find peace through God’s power. Messiah Yeshua taught us to give Him our burdens and find real rest for souls. He also gives us an example of Godly suffering, when we read how he prayed in the garden before He was to be arrested and crucified. We must lean on God’s strength and not our own because His strength will never fail or change.
But we are not called to walk alone through this world. It is the Lord’s desire for us to not only walk with Him but also with those who share our same hope. One of the purposes of congregations and churches are to build up and encourage each other. To share our burdens and pray for our brothers and sisters.
Typically, when we experience despair and depression, we isolate ourselves. Hiding from the world around us and even trying to hide from God. It is in these moments we must push past this desire and instead seek out trusted people to share our burdens with. This is something that takes discernment and wisdom, which is why we need to build our relationships hopefully before a crisis happens. Depending on what is going on we may also need to seek out believers with professional experience in counseling as well. This is what the Lord wants us to do and through our faith we can endure in the face of all of life’s troubles.
Besides sharing our burdens with the Lord and one another our hope gives us something positive to remember and think about. To remember how the Lord appeared in our lives, just like He has with every other believer. To remember what it was like before we encountered the living God, dead in our sins, and the experience of having our lives transformed by Him. Can you remember right now what that was like for you? Can you remember right now all the ways God has blessed you in your life?
Finally, it is essential, and I cannot stress this enough, to regularly be in God’s Word. Besides good Bible studies and Shabbat messages we need to be in God’s Word throughout the week. These last few weeks I have been going through suffering of my own. Besides praying and sharing with people I trust, I have been reading my Bible, especially passages that fill me with hope and joy, like 2 Corinthians 4. I also remember the reality of the New Heavens and New Earth that is part of our future hope. I have been reading passages like these in Revelation 21:1-5:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This is my hope, this is what I trust in, that despite how dark this life may be, that there is an unshakable firm hope for all those who have put their trust in Adonai. That Yeshua will return and all the promises the Lord has made through Scripture will be fulfilled. I believe in this not just because of logic, but because the Lord has been faithful to keep every promise He has made up until now. Because I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness to me throughout my life. And because I have seen and heard about the Lord’s faithfulness in many of your lives as well. As we read earlier today in 2 Corinthians 4 we need to look at what is unseen, the hope of the Lord which is eternal and not base our hope on things that are passing away in this world.
Wherever you are right now I hope you share in the hope of God’s promises. That you have put your trust not in false teachers, false philosophies, or society, but in Adonai, the only real source of hope and joy. I pray you have accepted the saving grace of Messiah Yeshua and if not that this would be the day you can discover real hope in Him. I pray that whatever suffering you may be going through right now you can be encouraged by God’s Word and those around you. I also pray that the Lord would remind you of all the ways He has blessed you and kept you until this moment right now. I’ll end this time with a prayer I find encouraging, and I hope it will be for you as well, found in Romans 15:13, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.