By Dr Martin McNeely
Minister of Ballykeel Church, Ballymena for 12 years.
“I’d just buried a young man, not even 30 years old in Ballee Cemetery.
“He was the second young man under 30 I had buried, barely a week from Christmas Day.
“A mourner stood by the graveside. She is an intelligent, hard working local mother and grandmother.
“I had buried her younger brother. She had years earlier lost her own husband. “There’s no hope in this town” she said. “No hope at all. None.”
“The forces conspiring against hope in our town are wide ranging.
“Without question the ready availability of drugs fuels hopelessness.
“Suicidal pressures and the wider use of drugs are so often linked.
“The narcissistic world of social media, promotes a culture orientated around questions of “how I should feel” or “what image should I promote?”
“Such a contrast to an older generation which asked “How can I serve?” or “What is my duty to others?”
“Or as we Presbyterians are want to ask “What is my chief end?”
“Significantly, traditional parameters of dying and death have changed. God is not viewed in the traditional sense of an eternal Deity to whom humans must give an account.
“Somehow, God should bless us if we die. We will not be judged. Life on earth is valueless. Why should life in eternity be a place of condemnation?
“There is no hope in life and no sense of account eternally.
“It took me a moment to come to terms with the cold truth of these matters, as my friend by the graveside perceived it.
“Is there no hope? I considered what an indictment it served on me as a Christian minister. “May the God of hope, full you with all joy and peace in believing” writes St Paul to the Church in Romans 15v13.
“Are our Churches and communities offering hope?
“I do know young people who have broken free from the drugs and despair. Certainly the hope of faith is foundational.
“But this is built on by trusting, loving relationships in which right choices are promoted.
“This leads to good health habits, committed mentoring, accountability, the encouragement of education and achievement of goals.
“It requires sacrifice, self discipline and a deep wariness of one’s own self. We are sinful people, with a propensity to make wrong choices as well as doing good.
“Life therefore works best when hope is channelled through structures: family stability, work, love of neighbour and worship.
“The despair at present is tangible. This is multiplied by the under resourcing of psychiatric care services.
“But fundamentally all of us outside of the health system have a responsibility to create a context in which healing can flourish.
“People have to want to change. We must work with them and their families in offering hope. “