01 February 2013
Opening the future
"Tell them I was happy
And my heart is broken
All my scars are open
Tell them what I hoped would be
While James Arthur topped the charts with Impossible - a song about dashed hope and an impossible future - the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released figures showing that suicide rates in the UK are on the rise. In Wales, there is an increase of about 30 per cent in two years. In England, the highest suicide rate was among men aged between 30 and 44. This rise may be linked to financial and work-related problems, as well as loss of employment and limited emotional, practical and social support from other people. Commenting on the issues raised by these figures Samaritans trustee Stephen Platt spoke about the "perfect storm" these men are facing.
In the midst of such storms an increasing number consider the future to have closed in. Life with multiple open scars and hidden wounds becomes too fragile. The question why, how or whether to live seems to have the answer 'impossible' written all over it.
In his book On Religion, the philosopher and theologian John Caputo portrays the future as the domain of the possible. He makes the distinction between the relatively foreseeable future - the future for which we are planning - and the unforeseeable future that will take us by surprise "that will come like a thief in the night and shatter the comfortable horizons of expectation that surround the present".
"We say that we want the future to be 'bright', 'promising', 'open'. The force of the future is to prevent the present from closing in on us, from closing us up. The future pries open the present by promising us the possibility of something new, the chance of something different, something that will transform the present into something else."
The news coverage following the publication of the ONS statistics generated valuable debate on the government's funding pledged for research into suicide prevention; the need to invest in the support services for those most at risk and those affected by a loved one's suicide; the significance of the public discussion of mental health issues; and more. But as Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "Suicide prevention is everyone's business."
Opening the future is God's business in particular. His compassionate heart beats throughout the scriptures for those thrown out into the world, the sheep without a shepherd. And so is it our business. To be the people who come alongside, contribute to the (relational) structures for life, and compassionately speak about the One who holds the domain of the future.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). In destructive scenarios such as job loss, relational breakdown and storms in the mind, he has come to transform both the present and the future.
As Caputo concludes: "For the relative future we need a good mind, a decent computer, and horse sense, those three; for the absolute future, we need hope, faith, and love, these three."
Marijke Hoek, Forum for Change coordinator