Jeff Kennett the former Premier of Victoria commented in a recent article on a trip he made to the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, saying how he:
“was again impressed by the happiness and well-being of the Papuans we met along the way. They are village people, with no phones, televisions, cars and, importantly, no alcohol. Their villages are huts on cleared earth, of which they are very proud. There is no litter. Both the adults and their children are all happy. No depression, no suicides.”
There is something to take serious note of in those “no suicides”. Contrast this with Australia where the suicide rate in 2012 (Australian Bureau of Statistics) is twice, yes twice, the national road toll. The actual figure is 2535 suicides per year (49 a week) as against 1310 road deaths. Further, and this is the point of this article, suicide is the leading cause of death of Australians between 15 and 24 years of age. It should also be noted that the figures for 2012 were an increase on the previous year. So our young people, teenagers and young adults are deciding to ‘stop the world’ and get off at an appallingly disturbing rate and children of professing ‘Christian’ families are not excepted.
In the reams of comments following the article (I stopped printing at 6 pages) there was only ONE, yes one, that actually asked the key, fundamental, diagnostic question—WHY? All other comments were about ‘How’ we might help people with depressive illnesses, a good thing to do but it doesn’t deal with the core issue. However Jesus did!
The children of Papua New Guinea have little to nothing in the way of material goods, live in a country without decent medical and health care facilities, and in a society that has more problems than you can poke a stick at—yet they are happy and there is no suicide. Compare this with Australian young people who have every material, recreational and pleasure-providing thing possible yet are killing themselves at an increasing rate. Why?
Jesus does give us the answer to that question:
“Man cannot live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
by which he meant by material things alone.
It is possible to unpack the implications of Jesus’ statement by paraphrasing it as:
“Children cannot live by stuff (material things) and hedonism (being
entertained, having a good time etc) alone.”
In fact children do not need bread (material things) at all to live ‘eternally’. Someone can die of starvation but go to heaven, whereas someone can be well supplied and fed with all the material things possible and go to hell. The bigger tragedy, the eternal tragedy, of this issue is how many of the materially well fed young suicides actually have a ‘saving’ faith in Jesus?
So, what we have in Australia is a growing epidemic of children, well fed, supplied with smart phones, computer games, X Boxes, taxied along by parents to meet their every sporting, recreational and good time wish, but growing up into ‘Anomie’ i.e. a life-destroying emptiness. To paraphrase Marcellus in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “there is something rotten in the state of Australian child raising.”
As I said earlier children from ‘Christian’ families are not spared this disease and really it is not surprising because observation of children in church families, including many at CrossRoads, doesn’t indicate that as a generalisation they are raised much differently from children of non-Christian homes, a point supported by a number of surveys in recent years.
So how are we to seek to deal with the growing epidemic of youth suicide? The answer is to take Jesus’ words, and the words of the Bible seriously.
“A man’s (child’s) life does not consist in how much ‘stuff’ they’ve got or activities they are involved in.” (Luke 12:15)
“Man (children) does not live by bread alone” (or eternally by materialistic things—at all!)
Children as all humans are tripartite beings—Psychological, Physical and Spiritual, all three of which need ‘feeding’. The observation is that what Christian parents (and it is our children we have primary responsibility for) need to do far more is to make sure that they heed Jesus’ completion of the statement:
“Man does not live by bread alone” with “but by every word that falls from the mouth of God.”
i.e. Children need to be fed Jesus, the Word of God, every day. Failure to do that is to risk that our children will ‘grow up empty’ or spiritually starved—indeed tragically this means that many children (even from ‘Christian homes’) are ‘starved to death’ by their own hand.
We starve our children when we allow “desires for other things” (Mark 4:19) i.e. pleasure, recreation and family activities to absent them from being with their Christian fellowship on Sundays or Fridays or whatever time. We starve our children when we (parents are responsible to God) do not model prayer time and Bible reading with them in the family home. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Children do not live (and eternally not at all) by sport, dancing, physical culture, nippers, martial arts, computer games, hobby clubs, parties, sleepovers, non-Christian family activities or any ‘other things’ that diminish their being fed with Jesus. My fear (and my pastoral responsibility to raise it), is that many children of CrossRoads are experiencing just that, ‘other things’ are in serious danger of causing them to ‘grow up empty’, which is the growing epidemic of Australian society.
Let us make sure we allow absolutely nothing to deprive our children of the only food they ultimately need—Jesus. The consequences of failing to do so may well be that they ’grow up empty’ with extremely dire results.