Our soldiers are having great difficulty in handling the great stresses that they must endure in the present day. It has been reported just recently that suicide in the American military was at an all-time high in 2010, and reduced a small amount in 2011 after intensive efforts by the military in taking actions to identify those at risk, but the rates are still higher than the general population. For the first half of 2009, suicide claimed the lives of more American soldiers than did combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There have been various studies done in an effort to explain the higher rates of suicide. Economics certainly explains some of the problem because suicide rates do correlate with the economic situation of America. Nevada has been hit hard economically especially with the decline of the housing market, but it’s also a major center of gambling. The suicide rate in Nevada for veterans was 250% of the state’s rate for non-veterans from 2008-2010, but almost 400% of the national non-veteran rate. Economics is only part of picture although. The amount and type of combat seen by veterans plays a role along with the amount of rest available between times of combat. Availability of mental health services is a factor, too, and has been greatly increased for veterans.
An analysis of this subject brings one common variable to the forefront; that variable is the presence, or absence, of hope. Aldous Huxley wrote in his book, The Doors of Perception, “Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.” The presence of an inner hope kept alive some in Nazi concentration camps while the absence of hope can and will result in suicide in circumstances not near as comparably dire. The obvious next question regards the object of hope.
The beginning words of The Object of Hope (1862, James Smith) sum it up well: ” ‘For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for what we do not see—we wait for it with patience.’ [Romans 8:24, 25] Some have no hope, being destitute of the very form of religion. To them . . . there is no God; the Bible is no more than a book of fables, hell is a fabrication, and heaven is but a dream! Millions have a false hope, having only a form of godliness—but being destitute of its power. Some have a good hope through grace—a hope . . . wrought in them by the Holy Spirit, excited and drawn forth by the everlasting gospel, and fixed upon invisible realities. This hope always purifies the heart and regulates it; for they hope to be like Jesus when He comes, and to be with Him forever—and every man who has this hope in Him, purifies himself, even as He is pure. This hope prompts the soul . . . to expect great blessings, to aspire to lofty privileges, and to attempt the most difficult duties. This hope protects the man from many dangers, and preserves him from many evils. This hope is well-grounded, on . . . the oath of God, the blood of the covenant, and the pledge of the Holy Spirit. This hope is well-tried . . . by Satan and the world without, by unbelief and corruption within, and by God in the dispensations of his providence. This hope is well-supported, having for its support . . . all the promises of the Word, the experience of the Lord’s people, and the glorious character of God. This hope is a lively hope—being full of vigor, buoyancy, and energy, so that it rises above all that opposes its progress, and enables its possessor to reach the goal. Well, then, may the apostle say, ‘For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it’ [Romans 8:24, 25].
The object of hope is the source of true hope. In the America of today, where Christianity is under constant attack, the source of true hope is also under attack. Hope is talked about just as much as faith and love are discussed. A neutral “faith” is politically correct, but is as dead and powerless as a created idol set on a pedestal. If we are going to get serious about what is ailing not only our military, but our country, we must realize that what is wrong in our military is a reflection of what is wrong in America. When the stress of storms hit, the homes with a good foundation and solid construction will stand. What looks good on the outside can be found to be hollow on the inside when extreme stress tests how the building has been made.
Too often in “successful” churches, God is portrayed as nothing more than a cheerleader. Dallas Willard writes in his 1997 book, The Divine Conspiracy, “When this cheerleading approach to the ‘real world’ triumphs among those who profess Christ, they may then have faith in faith but will have little faith in God. For God and his world are just not ‘real’ to them. They may believe in believing but not be able to rely on God—like many in our current culture who love love but in practice are unable to love real people. They may believe in prayer, think it quite a good thing, but be unable to pray believing and so will rarely, if ever, pray at all.” Christians have the source of real hope and it’s not just an ideal that should be left at home, or relied upon when nothing else seems to work. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world.” The health of our military is a microcosm of the real health of our nation under stress. Do we dare keep playing games and watch our nation collapse? What would heal our land would heal our military as well and that is a revival in His Church.