Chris Castaldo is director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at the Billy Graham Center.
The Urgency of Hope
In the United States, where self-esteem and self-indulgence have been force-fed for a generation, suicide rates are growing once again, especially among young people. The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is a serious public health problem >>, the third-leading cause of death among youth.
Suicide claims more than 4,400 young lives each year. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. A nationwide survey found 15% of students in grades 9-12 (from public and private schools) in the United States reported seriously considering suicide, 11% planned their death, and 7% tried to kill themselves in the preceding 12 months. Every year, about 149,000 young people receive emergency medical care for self-inflicted injuries.
But the problem transcends our shores. Europe is facing its own crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz >> has called the current financial situation dire. "I think Europe is headed to a suicide," he says. In countries such as Spain, youth unemployment is 50%.
Literally and figuratively, "The economic downturn that has shaken Europe for the last three years has also swept away the foundations of once-sturdy lives, leading to an alarming spike in suicide rates," according to The New York Times >>. "Especially in the most fragile nations like Greece, Ireland and Italy, small-business owners and entrepreneurs are increasingly taking their own lives in a phenomenon some European newspapers have started calling 'suicide by economic crisis.'"
The tsunami of financial hardship is leaving a valley of despair in its wake. It has been said that "man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope." If that's true, we can spend a few moments considering the nature and function of hope.
Hoping against Hope
The great English journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge, reflecting on forms of despair in the twentieth century—particularly among proponents of Stalin in Russia and Western nihilists devoted to materialism and abortion—said modern man has a "suicidal impulse," a type of self-hatred. This impulse has spawned a bewildering number of proposals to cure, or at least curb, the problem. Unfortunately, varied as they are, these remedies share a common thread: their ingenuity and power are limited to human resources.
For many, "hope" is an emotion or positive outlook excavated from the depths of one's soul. It often comes in the midst of calamity and disappointment. In spite of misfortune, we "hope" things will go well. The actor Josh Hartnett captured this notion >> when he said, "Hope is the most exciting thing in life, and if you honestly believe that love is out there, it will come. And even if it doesn't come straight away there is still that chance all through your life that it will." Thus the phrase, "hoping against hope!"
Among the Sioux living at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, suicide rates exceed the national average. So students at the nearby Oglala Lakota College are launching a campaign for hope >>. They have provided disposable cameras for elementary school students to photograph "things that gave them hope." Some of the photos show other children. One shows trees and rocky cliffs; another shows three dogs; still another depicts a basketball falling through a hoop.
Although well-meaning, this attempt is a long distance from the biblical vision of hope, which God grants to his people as a gift, often in the middle of painful circumstances. Biblical hope is all about what God has done for us in Christ. It is not a matter of achieving liberation for ourselves, about "hoping for the best." Nor is it wishful thinking or blind optimism. Rather, hope enables men and women to look through our windows at the biting, grinding, violent world, red in tooth and claw, and know that we belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken (1 Pet. 1:4).
The Hope of God
God offers real hope, and he does so through the nail-scarred hands of Jesus. The salvation Jesus purchased upon the cross before rising victoriously from the grave is the only power strong enough to lift men and women out of despair.
How does it work? Paul writes, "We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 3:5; emphasis added).
The blessed progression of the Holy Spirit makes hope accessible. We don't pull hope out of a religious hat or somehow conjure it up by the strength of our wills. Nor does it come from within us; rather, it travels from afar to illumine our darkness. The Spirit brings hope as a byproduct of his very presence, which is poured into our hearts. We don't generate hope any more than we generate divine indwelling. It is God's gift.
And given the heart-breaking despair all around us, it's a gift we must share with others.
How have you experienced the hope of Jesus? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted July 16, 2013
Paul Ericksen is director of resources at the Billy Graham Center.
Starting Over With Change
Change seems abundant at the Billy Graham Center these days, especially with several colleagues retiring or moving to other work. And there are the changes in those other domains of my life, too.
Actually, when I try to think of a sphere in my life where there isn’t change, I come up empty or uncover a stagnant pond. Maybe I love a change because the big improvement I’ve been waiting for has finally come. Or I chafe at it because I feel like I’m losing something. But with a lot of changes, I’m not really sure what it means and whether it’s to my advantage or disadvantage, so often I’m left feeling uncertain and ambivalent.
How we respond to change can have huge effects too, especially in our mission to share Jesus with those around us. I know that change is an opportunity to grow and that God is with us. Milton Berle even said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
I tend to associate change with something bad and I don’t want to repeat the past experiences of being overwhelmed by it. But even good change can destabilize me. What I need is not less change, but the growing capacities to experience joy and quiet in the midst of change (loss, new relationships, negative emotion, chaos, trauma, etc.) The reality is that even though God does not change, my capacity to encounter change doesn’t grow overnight. That’s right, establishing inner confidence and maturity is a life-long task.
Even the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect” (3:12). He then proceeded, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-8).
That means I will still be vulnerable to the effects of change for the duration of my journey, and will depend on all that God has for me. That doesn’t sound so bad when I join my voice with the apostle as he says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (4:11).
What does contentment look like to you in the midst of change? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted July 9, 2013
Diane Swierenga formerly managed our Billy Graham Center Scholarship Program. She is now retired, and enjoying a well-earned, more peaceful season of life.
Nothing Fits and Everything Changes…except…
Remember, girls, when you had to take home economics in school? The whole class would either cook or sew the same item? Well, I still remember we had to make a simple “shift” dress. You know, the kind that is not tight-fitting and more-or-less straight up and down without many challenges for girls learning to sew?
Well, I worked very hard on my dress. It was brown and I just knew it was going to be wonderful. Finally, the day came to try it on for final alterations like length, etc. Excitement filled the air as I carefully slipped out of my clothes and put my new garment over my head. So far so good. It went down over my head. Now it was at my waistline and it was looking good. All of a sudden the garment sat upon the hips. I tugged a little, but the dress would not budge further down my body. I turned and looked into the mirror. Yes, it was true. I was too big for the dress. Or was the dress too small for me?
This past year, I was not “fitting” into my life in any area any more, just like when I was growing up and made my brown dress. Nothing was the same as before. Every area of my life…
…were changing at incredible speeds this past year and threatened my emotional and spiritual equilibrium. I married, carried a heavier load at work, welcomed a new husband and his daughter into my small house with two additional cats, became a grandma, and worked with my church in talking with another church group about merging.
Whew! Hold on! One thing has not and does not change. My Lord. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has been my anchor, my north star in the loads of transitions, alterations, adjustments, and modifications this past year. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” It was just like when I was growing up and that silly dress that did not fit. In the strength of the Lord I will prevail!
How have you experienced the unchanging love of Jesus? We'd love to hear about it! Let's continue the conversation on our facebook page!
Posted July 3, 2013