Suicide is the most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 19 in Japan. Major contributing factors seem to be related to school: bullying, high stress entrance exams and intense social pressure. That’s why September 1st, the first day of a new school semester, has the highest rates of suicide (Click Here to read a recent BBC article). Have you ever said something like, “I would rather die than ______.”? Many young people in Japan literally choose to die rather than go back to school.
The emphasis we place on joy is not arbitrary. Everything that we’ve come across tells us there is a particular need for joy in Japan, a perceptible lack of happiness rooted in real hope.
The emphasis on joy is also personal. Happiness in Jesus matters a lot to us, because I (Jamison) wouldn’t be alive without it–without Him. I remember years of preferring death over going to school. Though I didn’t face the same pressure as Japanese students face, I wanted the same result.
I know I’m not alone. Most of you have fought or will fight some form of depression, either your own or the depression of someone you love. Maybe your neighbors are not as happy as they look. Maybe your favorite barista didn’t want to get out of bed this morning–maybe she’s not as excited to serve you coffee as you think. Maybe you spend so much time on your smartphone, because the numbness of depression sets in when your mind isn’t sufficiently distracted.
In my experience, depression is terribly deceptive, making death (or perhaps withdrawal) seem more appealing than facing what’s in front of you. Depression distorts desire–it puts frosting on a razor-blade and then tricks you into believing it’s actually a cake. Don’t eat it. Jesus is the Bread of Life; whoever goes to him shall never hunger, ever. He reorients desire, so that you hunger for what gives life, instead of what takes it.
I don’t want to be simplistic or overly spiritual. Depression and suicide are complex; they should be addressed from multiple angles. God gave us bodies. The condition of our bodies affects the condition of our souls. Thus, we should not be surprised that various physical causes of depression have seemingly unspiritual remedies. I’m told medication is necessary for some forms of depression, and I believe it. Personally, I find that sleep, exercise and a single cup of coffee go a long way in preventing depression.
At the same time, I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks powerfully to the particular type of depression that wreaks havoc among Japan’s young people. Many of the lives lost to suicide shared the common threads of shame, fear and relational brokenness. They are ashamed about who they are or what they’ve done, feeling that they have failed in some unredeemable way. They fear facing others who look down on them or openly ridicule/bully them. They lack strong relational bonds and support systems. And, they have no hope for things improving in the future.
There is hope in Jesus Christ. I have found that the sweetest, most powerful remedy for my depression is knowing that, in Christ, the almighty God is 100% for me, not against me. I know of nothing else that can so comprehensively remove the sting of shame, fear and relational brokenness. The Lord’s undeserved and sovereign favor has delivered me from many dark nights.
I have heard a pastor say that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter of the greatest letter in the greatest Book ever written. I am inclined to agree, especially for the depressed and hopeless. Here are a few brief thoughts:
Shame: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” -Romans 8:1. In Christ, you are free from shame. God does not condemn you for who you are or what you’ve done. Instead, he gave up his Son to be shamefully treated, beaten and murdered in your place. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” -Romans 8:32. There is no greater act that God could have done to make a way for you to come to him without guilt or shame. Yes, you have done shameful things. No, you don’t need to be ashamed any longer, if you go to God through Jesus.
Fear: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” -Romans 8:28. Is there any promise in Scripture more universally applicable for the people of God? All. Things. Similarly, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” -Romans 8:38-39. Nothing. In all of creation. The Lord has bound himself to the Believer in love. As long as God’s word is true, you need not fear. All must work for your good, bullies and entrance exams included.
Relationship: “…You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” The average “salaryman” in Japan spends 17 minutes/day with his children. But, there is a Father in heaven who never leaves, nor forsakes his children. He takes us to himself, calls us his own and is eternally with us. Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows who is well-acquainted with grief, is also well acquainted with you in your sorrows, by His Spirit. He knows how to comfort and counsel. He is a Brother and a Friend who will carry you through.
Hope: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” -Romans 8:18. A day is coming when God will glorify all those whom he has already justified in Christ. Things will not be the way they are forever. All that is wrong will One Day be made right, including your depression. You always have hope.
Almost ten years ago, Jesus provided me with hope that sustained my life, even when I didn’t want it to be sustained. And, we believe He can do the same in Japan. We are excited the team we are joining, Christ Bible Institute (CBI), is starting a Christian counseling ministry. Read more about it by Clicking Here. We believe this ministry has the potential to “help bring real, personal, healing of Jesus to hurting Japanese.” Pray for the CBI team as they launch this important ministry. And, please pray for the joy of Japan in Christ.