Hope Without Words
Can hope be silent?
This question has consumed my mind for the last few weeks due to the fact that the month of September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States.
I have heard it said that "you cannot silence hope" and "hope cannot remain silent."
While I do believe that both of these statements hold truth, if my college years taught me anything (and they better have because I am still paying a lot of money for them), it is equally true that words—even words meant to offer hope—can inflict a great deal of pain too.
Job knew this to be true more than anyone else. He is the man who lost everything. The Book of Job in Scripture is widely considered a "masterpiece" of world literature due to the fact that it wrestles with two complex questions—"Why do bad things happen to good people?" and "Why does God allow for bad things to happen?"—but I am not here to address these questions. No, as I've already stated, the question that has burrowed its way into the back of my mind this month focuses more on whether or not hope can remain silent when bad things happen. In Job's heartbreaking situation, the answer seems to be no.
When Job's friends first hear of the atrocities that have befallen their friend, they put their lives on hold to be with him in his despair:
"Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great." (Job 2:11-13 ESV)
If you know the story of Job, however, you know that his friends do not remain silent for long. Job's friends were passionate—maybe they were even hopeful that life could get better for their friend—but they were also curious. They could not help but wonder why all of this heartache had come upon Job—what had he done to deserve this? The tone of the story changes with one verse, "Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:" (Job 4:1 ESV). When Job's friends open their mouths, their hopeful comfort quickly turns to condescension. I fear many of us do the exact same thing today too.
Why is it that we humans feel so inclined to spend more time talking about people, politics, and pain rather than actually grieving with the people around us who are experiencing deep pain?
On September 9th, a pastor from California named Jarrid Wilson ended his life after a long battle with depression. Jarrid was the founder of a Christian mental health organization called Anthem of Hope. I learned about Jarrid's story in South Korea through an Instagram post that I came across on September 10th, which is World Suicide Prevention Day. Jarrid's wife, Juli, and their two boys have especially been on my heart & in my prayers this month. In one of Juli's Instagram posts about her husband, she wrote, "Suicide doesn't get the last word. I won't let it. You always said, 'Hope gets the last word. Jesus gets the last word.'"
I have read numerous posts now in response to Jarrid ending his life from many different perspectives—some helpful and some most definitely not helpful. At the end of the day, though, the words that have struck me the most are the ones from Juli's Instagram post, the words she quoted directly from her husband—"Hope gets the last word."
Although these words certainly shifted my thinking when it came to my question of whether or not hope can be silent, the answer to my question was not found in them. If anything, I found more of the answer in the pictures that Juli posted of her husband "in his happy place"—while he was fishing and spending time in nature away from the loud noise of this life. I found the answer through a group of students in one of my classes, too, who silently work together to make sure that their classmate who has special needs is included in all of our classroom activities each week as well. I also found it in a beautiful, silent sunset in Seoul & through countless people who I come across each week in this country who I cannot fully communicate with yet, but who are still able to offer a bit of hope to a foreigner through their silent, kind smiles.
Hope will get the last word, my friends, but I do not think they will be the words that we expect just as the words that God offered Job in response to his questioning were not the words that Job expected. I am not even convinced they will be words at all—maybe more of a silent, comforting hope like the kind that can be found in a car ride shared between two people who love each other and feel no need to fill the silence with conversation, or a loud, magnificent symphony that requires no words to express emotion, or even a quiet sunrise that turns night into day and darkness into light.
Hope can be silent. Can you take the time to stop for a moment and be silent with it?
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.