Ten days ago there was an article in The Wall Street Journal that was titled, “Is God the Answer to the Suicide Epidemic?” It was written by Erika Anderson, a journalist in Indianapolis, who wanted to address the epidemic of suicide in our country. She shared from a 2016 study published in JAMA Psychiatry that found American women who attended a religious service at least once a week were five times less likely to commit suicide. The findings—based on data from 90,000 women from 1996 to 2010—are consistent with 2019 Pew Research findings that regular participation in religious community is clearly linked to higher levels of happiness. It’s true that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but there’s strong evidence that people who attend church or synagogue regularly are less inclined to take their own lives.
Though it was a short article, she concluded with these words:
People living in our increasingly secular culture are hungry for spiritual wisdom and transcendent purpose. For the already vulnerable, this drought of meaning and connection can have deadly consequences. For thousands of years, practicing a shared faith was a principal way to meet these spiritual needs. It can be again.
Ms. Anderson made some excellent points in the article, but I think there is more to this than attending religious services. In April of 2016, there was an article in The New York Times about the rising suicide rate in America. Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard put his finger on what appears to be part of the problem. It is one word. “Hopelessness.”
We are clearly hope-based creatures. We can’t live without hope, and hope is about the future. The life you live today is powerfully influenced by the way you perceive your future. Every time I meet with a person who is struggling with depression, I ask them: “How do you see your life in the future?” The answer is always bleak. I have never seen an exception. Clearly it is a sense that the future is hopeless.
Andrew Delbanco is a historian at Columbia University and has written a book titled, The Real American Dream: A Meditation of Hope. He has written some profound words on the issue of hope.
He says that in order for people to flourish, we need to believe our lives are a story that is leading us somewhere significant. When our life stories lead somewhere, it gives us a sense of hope. He says, “We cannot bear life by merely living in the present, facing one disconnected event after another, pursuing only instant desires.” Delbanco says that we are clearly future-oriented beings and we must see ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere. So that we have a future and a hope.
Delbanco says that in the initial phase of our country’s history, hope was chiefly expressed through a Christian narrative, which he says gave meaning to pleasure and suffering, but also gave hope when facing death. However today, as a secular culture, he says we look to ourselves to produce hope. Yet this has failed us miserably as so many are finding life to be full of despair and without hope and we have this epidemic of suicide.
The Bible stresses repeatedly that our relationship with God is the ultimate ground for hope. The prophet Jeremiah tells us: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans for welfare, not calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Remember what Delbanco said, we are future-oriented beings, we need a future and a hope. We are being told by Jeremiah, that I have a plan, a story that leads somewhere. Where you will have a future and a hope.
In the New Testament, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says this about Jesus: “We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19) I love that phrase “anchor of the soul.”
The big question is, “What is the anchor of your soul? What do you put your hope in?” If your ultimate hope is yourself and your success, wealth and prestige, you will find there will be a great deal of insecurity and fear in your life. The reason is because you have no ultimate future and your story does not lead anywhere significant.
C.S. Lewis says that if you look to yourself you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage and ruin. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in. When he says, “everything else thrown in,” he is saying you will find everything you have been searching for; meaning, purpose, joy, peace and ultimately, hope, which is the anchor of your soul.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.