What on earth is Jesus doing in the world? Commentary on Jesus news.

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Location: Irondale, Alabama, United States

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Despair and Hope in a Merciful God

Seventeen year-old Roger Holyfield stepped into an intersection in Jerseyville, Illinois, clutching a Bible and shouting, “I want Jesus!” Approached by two police officers, he refused to respond, and became combative. A stun gun intended to subdue him resulted in his death. There is speculation that he might have died of excited delirium, which may be brought on by mental illness or drugs.

Any way you look at this story, it is a tragedy.

Tragic death has been on my mind lately. A little over a week ago, my friend Perry took his own life. I was shocked and sad. I knew that he had suffered from depression, but I apparently didn’t know how unbearable it had become for him.

I know firsthand how things like depression can change your thought processes if untreated, because I also have battled depression in my own life. I know that because my brain does not produce serotonin, medication is the only thing that stands between me and despairing thoughts. This is in spite of the fact that my life is good, and rich, and fulfilling. I am surrounded by a loving family, co-workers and church family.

The mind is a mystery.

When I was in graduate school, I worked at a local mental hospital as a course requirement of Abnormal Psychology. While there, I met Effie. Effie was probably about 70 years old, and she had been hospitalized for about 50 years. She would look at you with despairing eyes and say, “I’m going to hell, aren’t I?” If you tried to engage her in any discussion, she would keep repeating, “I’m going to hell… I’m going to hell.” I felt helpless in the face of her despair.

I don’t understand what happened to Roger, or Perry, or Effie. I am thankful that I believe in a God who is far more merciful than we could ever be. A God who loves us more than we love ourselves. A God who hurts with us, cries with us, and offers us the gift of hope. That is the God I want to spend eternity with.

I’m writing this on All Saints’ Day. Today, we remember those we care about who have died, and we commend them again to God.

I hope Roger has found peace.

I hope Perry has found peace.

I hope Effie has found peace.

I hope you and I will someday find that peace “that passes all understanding.”


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