Suicide is now one of the leading causes of death in North America. The figures are staggering — in 2016, more than twice as many people died by their own hand in the USA as were victims of homicide — and experts are calling it an “epidemic”. Suicides cross social and economic lines – from mixed-up kids, to poor people, to celebrities who seemed to “have it all”.
People wring their hands, trying to come up with solutions. I’m not an expert in this subject, but when you add in the trends in drug overdoses (another “epidemic”), one common thread becomes clear:
Loss of hope.
Intense sadness, depression, feelings of guilt, self-condemnation, inability to “measure up”; the overwhelming sense that there is no way out.
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.
Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Josabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the meaning.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
— Nehemiah 8:1-3, 7-9
When people are severely depressed, it’s like their lives have been gutted: like Jerusalem, their world has been sacked, burned, all the things they hold dear have been carried away and they are held captive by the forces we mentioned above.
The Word of God is a lifeline in times like that, especially the fact that Jesus Christ killed those same forces. Jesus restores Hope and helps us to focus our lives on something other than the world.
But somehow, what should be a source of Hope has been portrayed as a tool of oppression and no alternative at all. Secular humanists disparage people who believe in God (“talking to their ‘imaginary friend in the sky'”) and dismiss the Bible as “written by men to control others”. Many churches and religious zealots still speak words of condemnation on the less righteous and there are even some churches that preach some parts of the Bible but ignore or reject other parts because they “can’t believe God would say that”.
The Word itself, one way or another, gets left out in the cold, and it appears we’re now paying the price for letting that happen.
The people at Jerusalem heard the Word — many, for the first time — when Ezra and the priests and Levites read and explained it to them, and they wept. Why would they weep? Perhaps, for the same reason people break down, sobbing, when the Holy Spirit touches them; I’d also suggest they felt condemned and inadequate; but also because a missing piece had been restored to their lives.
Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”
And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
— Nehemiah 8:10-12
Let’s look at the parallels between the Ezra-Nehemiah account and our own lives. We are burnt-through and gutted; Jesus lays the foundation of our new temple; our friends and loved ones are there as our protective wall is rebuilt — ever watchful for those who would knock us off the track.
Now, the last piece of the puzzle is the Word of God, which we can read for ourselves, with solid teaching to help us understand it. And while it’s heavy in places, there’s cause to rejoice.
- We now have direction
- God loves us so much, He wants us to be clear on what’s right and what’s wrong
- We understand that: what had been mysterious to us is a mystery no more
- God promises to heal us so long as we keep His Commandments
- God is there to protect us and give us strength to face what the world throws at us
And we have one more thing that the people at Jerusalem didn’t: redemption for our sins. We can thank Jesus Christ for washing away our sins with His blood and we can move forward, unshackled by the chains of our past and free to accept the life God wants for us!
In other words, we have Hope. We have a reason to keep living, even when everything seems to be falling apart around us, because we know God has something infinitely better in His plans for us — not just in the next life, but the one we’re in now. We have reason to REJOICE!
Lives are at stake: let’s share this good news with others!