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The Valley of the Shadow

It has been nearly five years since the fateful night that I received a phone call from my parents. Their voices were sad and monotone. They told me that a family had committed suicide. I was numb in my disbelief. After what felt like an eternity, the disbelief began to wear off and the reality of what happened began to sink in. Since then, many days have been marked by feelings of sadness, loss, and grief.

More recently, I received another phone call, this time from a close friend. Over the phone, I heard a voice that I did not recognize. It was quavering, muddled, and starkly sorrowful. My friend just found out the terrible news that her neighbor had just killed himself. At that very moment, a host of police and emergency vehicles were parked on the street in front of their house, and the man’s wife was crying in the driveway. The wife had come home to find a sign taped to her front door that instructed her to call the police because by the time she was reading this note, her husband was already dead. He was in his mid-50s with his only child starting her first semester in college.

Sadly, these stories are not merely anecdotal but represent a growing trend in our country. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 47,000 individuals who committed suicide nationwide last year.[1] To give you the full impact of this number, Kansas City’s NFL stadium holds approximately 38,000 people at full capacity. To add to this tragedy, unlike many of the leading causes of death, suicide is completely preventable.  Statistically, the rates of suicide are nearly the same from ages ranging from 15 years old to those in the mid-60s. Another particularly vulnerable demographic to suicide is the military. According to Army Times, suicide rates among active-duty soldiers have risen by 20 percent, and for Marines the rates are the highest they have been in a decade.[2]

It’s as if a veil of hopelessness and despair has overshadowed us, but how did we get here? The Bible has a lot to say on the matter.

After sin is introduced in Genesis 3, the world is now marked by “jealous and selfish ambition” which inevitably leads to “disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16). In short, sin of all kinds and varieties brings forth death (James 1:15). Due to this, temptations, struggles, and suffering are now part of the human condition (Matthew 9:20; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:12). If this isn’t bad enough, we have an enemy who constantly seeks for our destruction. Peter warns believers to remain on the alert because our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

What can we to do to address this epidemic? Those outside of the church, and many within in it, have turned to modern psychology for the answer. Pursuits of mental health, mindfulness, and self-care have become familiar themes within Christian literature and has only grown more popular over the last several decades. These therapeutic approaches to life’s problems are often limited to coping mechanisms and techniques that emphasize self-esteem, self-love, and self-sufficiency. At best, they only offer a momentary distraction in the face of life’s troubles and afflictions…they are woefully insufficient.[3]

Perhaps the church can provide something more? Perhaps the church has the answers to what ails man? Instead of offering a chance to cope, the church can offer actual hope in the face of the shadow of death!

The Bible teaches that even though pain and suffering are to be expected in this life, we are not left without help or hope. While we the reality of suffering and pain is stark and common to us all, Paul reminds us that we do not have to be overtaken because we have been provided “the way of escape” in order to “endure it” and we can live content, peace-filled lives by pressing into the strength of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:14; Philippians 4:13).

To the churches in Galatia, Paul wrote that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4). Notice what Paul says? We are rescued from the “present evil age.” This reminds us that our hope is not just based in future glory but grounded in a present holiness. On the other hand, we should also be remined that when present circumstance become dire, our ultimate healing if found in the eternal hope of Heaven. John wrote about this promise in the New Testament.

and He [Jesus] will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:4-5)

ACBC is committed to equipping the saints of Jesus Christ to meet the hopelessness of the world head on with competence, confidence, and hope. This year’s annual conference is dedicated to addressing and meeting the reality of human suffering, suicide, and self-harm with the power of Scripture. If you are interested in learning more about bringing biblical solutions and truth to bear upon the problems people face, we invite you to join us!


[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml

[2] https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2019/02/04/suicides-among-active-duty-soldiers-are-up-about-20-percent/

[3] http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/

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Sam Stephens
Samuel Stephens has served in local churches and various para-church organizations relating to collegiate ministry, counseling, and discipleship. After earning a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Stephens has become a certified member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and is currently engaged in counseling ministry along with contributing to various writing projects. He and his wife Hannah were married in 2014 and have two daughters.
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