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Wednesday Word: Hope

November 4, 2020 | Jay T. Smith

Hope: A Cure to the “Epidemic of Pathological Grief”

In a recent online news article, Dr. Charles Marma, Dr. Naomi Simon, and Dr. Glenn Saxe of the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, asserted this claim:

“This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders. This imminent mental health surge will bring further challenges for individuals, families, and communities including increased deaths from suicide and drug overdoses.
(“Mental Health Disorders Related to COVID-19–Related Deaths,” JAMA, Oct. 12, 2020)

I not only agree with Drs. Marma, Simon, and Saxe, but I think the second wave is already “lapping” at the front door of our reality. The writers call this second wave the “Epidemic of Pathological Grief.” The cases of substance abuse are already rising, with larger numbers of men, women, and children suffering from chronic anxiety and depression. Hospitals are not only being flooded with patients, but mental health providers are experiencing a veritable avalanche of new patients. In the midst of this crisis, where is the church? How are Christians surviving this difficult situation?

How Is the Church Responding?

My short answer to this problem is, “I don’t know how the church is coping, and I don’t know how individual Christians are responding.” I have yet to see a coherent response from churches in regards to this psychological pandemic. It seems that in many cases churches are ignoring the problem and hoping that simply gathering together will solve it. However, ignoring the root of the issue does not make it go away. Let me suggest another approach: hope.

Be Hope for Others

During the most difficult times, people of faith have turned to the most powerful aspects of the Christian faith in order to endure: faith, hope, and love. Most Christian spiritual leaders—pastors, theological scholars, and the like—will tell you that the “church” is formed by the Spirit, through faith, and becomes living hope for the world.

When Christians live in and by the love of God every day two things occur. First, Christians personally experience the certainty and security of God’s love. In knowing God’s love, we experience God’s wonder-filled future for us in the present. Second, the church is able to become hope, literally, for those around us. You see, the hope of God is not purely the possession of the church; it is to be shared with the rest of the world, especially for the suffering—those who are wounded, sick, grieving, imprisoned, and impoverished. As a Christ-following, Spirit-filled, evil-defeating, love sharing human being, I challenge each of you to start enacting the love of God in your lives. Share the most powerful gift that you have with each neighbor, each co-worker, and each relative: the truth and reality of hope.

Be Love

But how? Start sharing those baked goods you’ve been making and hoarding since the pandemic began. Check on neighbors you haven’t see for a while, and share a smile and a fist-bump with them. Look around the office and see who needs a smile, or maybe stick your head in the door of their office (at an appropriate social distance!) and just ask how they are doing. Let them know that you are there if they need someone. Make post-pandemic plans with these folks. Learn some new jokes and try them out.

The truth and reality of hope starts with love, and the willingness to be that love in the lives of others. When Christ healed a person, whether it was a physical or spiritual disease, He ultimately poured out the Father’s love into their lives and with that came hope for their future. Be love. Give away hope. Change your life, and that of others, in the process.

Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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