In his book “When God Was Taken Captive,” Willard Aldrich quotes a story by James DeLoach, senior pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Houston, about a painting he came across many years ago.
The picture depicted an old, burned-out mountain shack. After the fire, the family’s sole possession was destroyed, and the picture shows that only the chimney remained standing. In front of the devastated home stood an old man, dressed in his underclothes, with a small boy by his side. It was evident by the boy’s distressed face that he had been crying. At the bottom of the painting, the artist added a caption with the words he believed the old man was saying to the boy. This simple sentence described the man’s faith and hope for the future, despite his dire circumstances:
“Hush child, God ain’t dead!”
DeLoach recounts his reaction to the painting: “That vivid picture of the burned-out mountain shack, that old man, the weeping child, and those words ‘God ain’t dead’ keep returning to my mind. Instead of it being a reminder of the despair of life, it has come to be a reminder of hope! I need reminders that there is hope in this world. In the midst of all of life’s troubles and failures, I need mental pictures to remind me that all is not lost, as long as God is alive and in control of his world.”
I thought about this story after a conversation I had with my oldest daughter, regarding the increase of suicide among young girls. She was troubled by the number of teenagers and young adults she encounters, who bear scars in their arms and wrists, evidence of their profound despair and hopelessness.
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The conversation prompted me to do some research on the stats of suicide in America.
According to a report released by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming the lives of almost 45,000 Americans every year. Furthermore, after a steady decline in the ’80s and ’90s, statistics now show that the suicide rate has increased steadily in the past several years, with one group standing out — girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Although they make a small portion of the total of suicides, the rate for this group has increased more than any other, tripling over 15 years from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.
Hopelessness is the feeling at the center of each suicide attempt. Despaired souls look at their past and present, and lose the faith to believe that there can be a better, brighter future. Their hearts become anchored in the bleakness of current circumstances, and thus death seems to be the only answer to end their agony. They leave behind baffled family members, who were often clueless of the measure of their pain.
To most of us, the idea is unthinkable — suicide does not even cross our minds. But as a new year begins, I can’t help but wonder how many of us feel hopeless, nevertheless. We look at the year that passed, realizing that our problems have not ended with the old year. Addictions were not overcome. The job offer was not extended. Marriages were not improved. Prodigal children are yet to come home.
We may even become cynical toward God, secretly doubting the words that our lips proclaim at church. “There is no way that this situation will work out for my good,” we may say to ourselves.
But the old man in the picture reminds me of a truth that has been tested and proven in my own life, each time that outwardly hopeless circumstances threatened to steal my future, and every time I chose, against all odds, to trust and believe: So long as there is a God in heaven, there is hope for his creation.
Indeed, this belief has sustained my soul through many a trial: If only we can give God one more day, seek his help and the help of those around us; if only we can remind our hearts that “God ain’t dead,” he is faithful to lift our lives from the ashes, or sustain us until the storm passes by.
Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author, blogger and international speaker. Her book, “Twelve Inches,” is on sale at Barnes & Nobles, Amazon and retailers worldwide. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com.