By Erich Bridges
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) --- Several years ago I wrote about my friend George. Nice guy. Sincere. Loved to joke around and play basketball. Deeply depressed.
Eventually, he hanged himself.
On the last day of his life, the only words George managed to utter to his father, who later found his body, were these: "No hope. No hope. No hope."
By the year 2000, suicide had become one of the major causes of death worldwide among men and women ages 15-44, according to a World Health Organization report. Many suicides, the report stated, occur "during periods of socioeconomic, family and individual crisis."
It's hard to live, in bad times or good, without hope. You certainly won't find it on the shiny shelves of postmodern culture. Phony substitutes and countless distractions, yes. Real hope, no. Most hopeless people keep struggling without taking their own lives, but they see little light in their darkness.
Medication and treatment can help the clinically depressed. At the end of the day, however, no therapy or drug, no self-improvement program, no political or social movement, no philosophy, no economic plan or number of possessions can bring hope to someone who has none.
Only the resurrection of Jesus Christ offers real hope -- not just to His followers but to all the hopeless people of the world.
The pop atheists of our day want to bury the idea of Christ's physical, historical resurrection once and for all, along with its impact through the ages. The world would be much better off, they say, if the "legend" of Jesus rising from the dead had never gotten started. That would mean no churches, of course, but also no schools or universities for the masses, no books or literacy, no hospitals or charities, no freedom for slaves, no great classics of Western music and art and literature.
More than all these put together, it would mean no hope for humanity.
Handel's "Messiah," originally an Easter event, celebrates Christ's birth, death and resurrection. After conducting it for the last time in 1759, the ailing and nearly blind composer acknowledged the ovation by saying, "Not from me -- but from heaven -- comes all." He expressed the desire to die on Good Friday "in the hope of rejoining the good God, my sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of His resurrection." He died on Saturday.
Some years ago, a woman who had never been out of China attended a performance of "Messiah" on her first trip abroad. As the last triumphant notes faded away, she turned to her hosts, trembling with exaltation and urgent curiosity.
"I must know," she pleaded. "Who were they singing about?"
"Messiah" is a monument of Western music, to be sure. But if Christ is a part of only the Western cultural tradition, why are many of His most ardent followers in the East? Why are the fastest-growing church movements found in Asia? Why have Koreans become the world's most determined missionary senders? Why are Muslims in many places around the globe seeking out the Gospel after having dreams about a man they identify as Jesus?
At Easter, local believers in a part of the Arab world celebrate the risen Savior and seek to share Him with their families and friends. They ask Him to soften hearts and minds to the truth that God not only gave His Son as a sacrifice, but raised Him from the dead and conquered death. They pray that gifts of Scripture, Easter parties, even dreams will open the door to sharing hope with unbelieving Arabs.
And they do this in places where persecution -- particularly of Muslim-background followers of Christ -- is increasing daily. They know something many of us in the traditional centers of Christianity have forgotten or rejected: The risen Christ is the hope of ages, the only hope for the world.
Lift up your eyes to the hills from whence cometh your help -- and your hope.
"Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through," sang Bob Dylan after his resurrection encounter with Christ. "Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground. Take off your mask. He sees your deeds. He knows your needs -- even before you ask.
"How long can you falsify -- and deny -- what is real?"
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.