Sadness grips me as I trace these lines. For the second time in a week, the world of fashion and television has been struck by the tragedy of a self-inflicted death.
Earlier this week, Kate Spade—fashion designer, businesswoman, and founder of Kate Spade New York—was found dead in her Manhattan apartment by her housekeeper, hanged by her own hand. Her surviving husband, Andy Spade, reported that she had long suffered from depression and anxiety (1), despite her abundant fame, wealth, and success. But most of those who knew Kate insist they are in total shock by this turn of events. One of her business partners reports that when Kate had heard of a celebrity’s suicide on one occasion, she stated several times that she “would never do that” (2).
Then, not long after, the news broke that Anthony Bourdain, host of CNN’s weekly program “Parts Unknown,” was found dead in France by his friend, French chef Eric Ripert (2). Both Bourdain and Ripert were at work filming an upcoming episode of “Parts Unknown” (3). So far, neither the means nor the cause of Bourdain’s suicide has been reported.
I confess to being a big fan of Bourdain’s show, as many of my close friends know. For those who aren’t aware, “Parts Unknown” depicts its host traveling to various parts of the world, many of them exotic and obscure—sampling local cuisine, meeting the local people, and exploring local issues. Though Bourdain’s culinary tastes were hardly those of a faithful Adventist health reformer, often to the point of amusement (I’ll always remember the monkey stew he ate on a train trip through Madagascar!), I always enjoyed his adventurous spirit and evident compassion for the striving yet downtrodden people of the world.
Several weeks ago, Bourdain’s program visited the state of West Virginia, where it was my privilege to be hosted recently while conducting a month-long evangelistic campaign. Despite the vast cultural and political differences between them, Tony and the West Virginians with whom he socialized immensely enjoyed each other’s company, with Tony and his hosts together wishing out loud that more intimate contact and mutual understanding could take place in America between its warring cultural factions.
I don’t often get emotional about people I know only from the TV screen. But I will miss Tony a lot!
In case some of us don’t know, suicide is on the rise here in the United States, quite dramatically in some areas. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a survey this week showing suicide rates increasing by 25 percent in America over two decades ending in 2016 (4). Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by nearly 30 percent, the report finds (5).
Many reasons could be given for this, we can be sure. Most assuredly one of these is the fact that our world has become increasingly chaotic, with confidence fraying in the various institutions and relationships many once trusted for comfort, fulfillment, stability, and a positive future. But without question, when wealth, fame, and pleasure are relied upon as substitutes for faith in transcendent truth and a purpose greater than our mortal, tangible existence, despair is the sure result.
Having myself lived for seven years on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (where Kate Spade and her family also lived), and having had the privilege of interacting with many of the residents in that neighborhood, I know what Andy Spade was talking about when he spoke of the depression and anxiety from which his wife suffered. Many people I met in that community were experiencing similar struggles. Money, pleasure, power, summers in the Hamptons and winters in south Florida, trinkets and lovers at their beck and call—none brought (or bring) meaning or true joy. The words of the wisest of kings came frequently to mind during my years there—words which describe vanity and vexation of spirit as the result of amassing vast possessions and pursuing limitless self-indulgence (Eccl. 2:1-11,26). Ellen White tells us how, during Solomon’s years of apostasy, “His faith in the living God was supplanted by atheistic doubts. Unbelief marred his happiness, weakened his principles, and degraded his life” (6).
On one episode in last year’s season of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain confessed that he didn’t believe in God. It broke my heart to hear that; I found myself wishing I could have been his friend, and that I could have said to him, “You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.” We may have had different philosophical and dietary proclivities, but I think we would have been great pals, sharing a common love of adventure and cultural diversity and a common passion for justice.
Conclusion: We Have This Hope
I am so glad God is the Judge of everyone’s eternal destiny. The words of the following passage from the book of Romans come to mind as I ponder the two self-extinguished lives the world has lost this past week:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.
Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel (Rom. 2:14-16).
Let us ever bear in mind that God winks at the times of human ignorance (Acts 17:30), and holds men and women accountable only for the light and truth they possess (James 4:17). Ellen White writes as follows regarding God’s mercy and understanding even for the heathen, who follow truth and justice according to the best of their knowledge:
Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness: before the words of life have fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God (7).
In these final moments of the great controversy, the enemy of souls is on a tireless rampage, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). The despair and hopelessness we see in this postmodern age was foretold in the following passage by the prophet Isaiah, but whose bookends contain both a summons and promise to those who submit to, and cooperate with, the forgiveness and transformation made possible by the grace and power of our Lord:
Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising (Isa. 60:1-3).
According to the apostle Paul, the world is awaiting this demonstration:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-19).
Whether they realize it or not, those in our world who languish in despair, be their outward circumstances adverse or ideal, are waiting to see a consistent and unbroken portrayal of godliness from those claiming to be followers of Jesus. It is foolish to pretend that the ubiquitous disbelief and contempt for religious faith found in certain circles of our society is not connected to the flaunted hypocrisy and lack of integrity they see in so many who call themselves Christians.
Like others for whom classic Adventism is their cherished worldview, I adore the lyrics of the hymn, “We Have This Hope.” This morning, as I find myself mourning the loss of one I never had the chance to know, I have thought of the following lines from the second stanza of this song:
Love for the waiting people of the world.
People who need our Savior’s love.
Waiting indeed! Like the apostle says, the world is waiting to see Jesus in the lives of His saints. And one day soon they will, as the following assurances from the modern prophet make plain:
The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them.
The light of the Sun of Righteousness is to shine forth in good works—in words of truth and deeds of holiness (8).
The church, being endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depository, in which the wealth of His mercy, His love, His grace, is to appear in full and final display. . . . The gift of His Holy Spirit, rich, full, and abundant, is to be to His church as an encompassing wall of fire, which the powers of hell shall not prevail against. In their untainted purity and spotless perfection, Christ looks upon His people as the reward of all His suffering, His humiliation, and His love, and the supplement of His glory (9).
May the Lord cause this light of hope and glory to shine from the hearts and choices and witness of us all, into the dark chambers and thoroughfares of the despairing and hopeless ones far and near, is my prayer this sad day.
6. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 58.
7. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 638.
8. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 415-416.
9. ----Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 18-19.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
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