The New Zealand Herald started running a series called “Break the silence” from the beginning of July to address the topic of teenage self-harm. In the opening paragraphs, the reporter writes, “We want to encourage people who need help to ask for it; and we want to let them know there is hope. We believe it is time for a national conversation about the matter. Are we doing enough to help? Are we doing the right things? …”1
What is prompting this reaction by the media? Well, the statistics around teenage mental health issues in New Zealand are rather alarming2. You may even know a young person who has been affected by mental health challenges. The question that comes to mind is why do people engage in acts of self-harm?
There is no easy answer and anyone that wants to give a simplistic answer is not treating this issue with the respect it deserves. Self-harm is motivated by a complicated confluence of spiritual, psychological and physiological factors. However, I do believe that Scripture provides us with some help on this topic and we can be agents of hope to people who feel hopeless. I hope to offer a response that will enable the Tyndale Park Christian School community to have a meaningful platform for dialogue about this sensitive, complex and important topic.
We see from the account in Genesis that God created human beings for a relationship with Him, in His image3 and for His glory4, and we know that He didn’t do it because He needed us. He created us in an act of pure love, a love rooted in the perfect love relationship that exists between the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The word for this love in the original language of the Bible is “agape”, which means “goodwill, benevolence, and wilful delight in the object of love”5. So, Scripture teaches us that we are made from love. We are not cosmic accidents. There is loving intention behind the existence of each one of us.
We are made for love. We read in 1 John 4:9-10 that “in this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”. We exist for a loving purpose! Michelle Tepper6 states “understanding and accepting love as the origin and purpose of humanity radically redefines how we shape our identity, how we search for meaning”. I believe one of the major reasons New Zealand young people engage in self-harming behaviour is that their lives lack meaning. They are bombarded by messages in secular media that are devoid of real meaning and often contrary to the way God has designed human beings to live this life.
It follows that if we are made in God’s image, we are made to love. Unfortunately, we lack the natural ability to love God and humanity in the perfect way God loves us. This is where Jesus’ atoning sacrifice comes in: when we believe that Jesus is the only “way, the truth and the life”7, it makes it possible for us to have “agape” love for God and the people who are part of our lives8. It also enables us to be the stewards God wants us to be9.
So, can our young people have hope? Yes, they can! Lasting hope is a fundamental component of a Biblical worldview. Does it mean that Bible-believing people never struggle with mental health challenges? No. In fact, when you read the Psalms you see that David is often troubled by the dark nights of the soul, e.g. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God”10. Notice how David finished that thought: he knew that God was faithful despite how he felt at that moment. So, he held onto that faithfulness and God eventually restored his joy. May God grant us as followers of Jesus the ability to live with this kind of transparency and integrity and to be bearers of hope to the teenagers in our spheres of influence.
If you know of anyone that may need help, please start by interceding (praying) for that person. Contact a professional, Christian counsellor to give you advice on how to support the person. If you don’t know who to ask for help, please get in touch. I will be able to refer you to someone.
- And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. – Genesis 1:26
- …: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. – Isaiah 43:7
- John 14:6
- … the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. – Romans 5:5b
- And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. – Genesis 1:28
- Psalm 42:11