Attawapiskat, a reserve up near James bay, had seven teens brought in who have attempted suicide.This was a bad night, but not an uncommon night in Attawapiskat. The small town of 2000 people has a hospital of about 15 beds, but it sees nearly 30 attempted suicides a month. Most of these are kids under the age of 14.
The result is that this has gathered national attention, and something like a state of emergency has been declared.
I don’t know what do say or do about this state in Attawapiskat. I can’t imagine how bad it must be for those kids to be in such a level of despair.
This is not to diagnose the problem with life on reserves. I don’t know enough about it. I can’t judge it. In assuming we know enough has caused non-native Canadians to try to fix the problem, which in turn has made the problem worse.
The government throws millions of dollars trying to fix these situations, but money is not going to do it. But my thought is not about the politics, my thoughts go to the kids. Whatever they are going through, it must be terrible.
But, what is happening to these children is the same thing that happens to all humans that face despair.
According to the Canadian Children’s Rights Counsel:
“Suicide has accounted for about 2% of annual deaths in Canada since the late 1970s. Eighty percent of all suicides reported in 1991 involved men. The male:female ratio for suicide risk was 3.8:1. In both males and females, the greatest increase between 1960 and 1991 occurred in the 15-to-19-year age group, with a four-and-a-half-fold increase for males, and a three-fold increase for females.”
Two in every hundred. That seems steep doesn’t it? I ask myself, why have I never been to a funeral for a person that committed suicide? The answer is I probably have. This kind of thing is kept silent. Or often people who commit suicide have no family. They are buried without a funeral.
This situation reminds us that we are facing a pandemic of despair. Many people feel like life is pointless. Their lives are too painful for them to want to continue. They feel like God, if there is a God, has forsaken them.
More tragically, I know a lot of Christians that face these feelings too.
So, we are going to go through some ways to understand despair and hope in the Christian life.
1. God wants us to be honest about our feelings
There is this inaccurate, stupid, destructive, assumption that if you are a Christian, you have to be happy all the time.
I remember someone actually arguing that if they are sad, they have not actually put their trust in God. You can imagine that guilt that can put on someone who is clinically depressed.
Not only is that unhelpful, it is also biblically inaccurate. The Bible records the laments of the great saints who walked before us. Believers, even and especially the best believers, can feel like God is not there sometimes. In fact, look at the Psalms. Psalms were written by David and other great holy men. It was the hymn and prayer book of Israel. About 50% of all the Psalms (75 out of 150) are sad, lament songs. This is what Walter Brueggemann called the worship in “disorientation.” Often the Psalms cry out, Where are you God? Why is this happening? Have you forsaken me? Let me give you some examples:
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Ps. 22:1)
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:3)
Why, my soul, are you downcast? (Ps. 42:9)
You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning? (Ps. 43:2)
Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? (Ps 44:24)
O God, why have you rejected us forever? (Ps. 74:1)
Lord, where is your great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Ps. 89:49)
Psalm 88 is the low point of the Psalms. It is the Psalm expressing the full lament of the people to God. The people are being sent into exile, their homes have been destroyed, and so, all they can do is weep, feeling God has judged them. Here is a selection:
1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths…
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief…
13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbour—
darkness is my closest friend.
This is in the worship book of Israel. Can you imagine singing that song on a Sunday morning? It almost sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it.
Then we read a Psalm like this, and we don’t know what to do with it.
It shocks us. Why is this in the Bible? Perhaps God wanted us to know he is listening when we feel hurt, confused, discouraged, even angry at him. He cares so much about us that he will listen to us even when we are angry at him.He wants us to know that we can be honest. That is what love demands.
I am reminded of a time when I was the coordinator of a soup kitchen down in Toronto. I knew a homeless person that came in week after week. In the winter, since he was too messed up to receive shelter, the man would pan handle for enough money to buy really strong alcohol. He would down it before a night where it went down really cold. He learned that if he consumed enough alcohol he would not freeze to death, his blood would be basically anti-freeze, and he would be too drunk to care about how cold he felt as he slept in the streets.
You wonder what brings a person to that low? How much abuse and despair?
I inquired about him to the other drop-in centers. One, a Church ran center, told me that one night they had an open mic, prayer night. Anyone could come up and pray. After a few people, this man, wanted to come up.
He walked up to the microphone, and said, “God if you are there, F*** you, I hate you.” And carried on from there. I was shocked. I asked if they escorted him off the premise for that. The manager of that soup-kitchen said, “No, I realized that he needed to tell God that. He needed to get that off his chest.”
It is odd but true: one of the great gifts I experienced in that ministry was hearing the hurts of others, their hatred for religion and God. I encountered gay people that were badly abused and abandoned by pastors. Women abused by priests. Children assaulted by parents and friends. It seems odd, but one of the greatest gifts was sitting and listening, allowing them to vent their anger at a pastor that cared. Many of these people after they did that started to heal. They stated to heal because a person of faith was Christ to them, a person that listened and recognized their hurt, feeling broken for their brokenness.
That person came to our soup kitchen a few times, as I said, but then I did not see him. I worry the cold got him one night like so many others in Toronto. I have asked God where he was for that person. I have not gotten an answer, but I trust one day I will.
So let me ask you. Is there pain in your past or present? You might not thankfully be as hurt as this person, but hurt is still hurt. Are you ready to ask God those difficult questions: Where were you? Why did that happen? Did you forget me? It is okay. God wants you to be honest. Love demands honesty. God loves you too much for him to want you to put on a face for him.
If you feel hurt by God or abandoned, tell God that.