Upon returning from a short vacation, I found so many things to do, I decided to delay checking my phone messages until later; it was a decision I would regret.
Finally, about 10 o'clock that night, I pushed the "play" button on my answering machine and started jotting down phone numbers of callers, as well as the reasons for their calls.
Most of the messages I logged that night were quite routine, until the final one a shocker that raised me to my feet to rewind and play again the tortured words of an angry man who said he was going to end his life.
He had made the call at 6:17 that morning, according to my not-always-reliable answering machine, and he gave no hint of where he was or how I could reach him.
In an earlier call, he had mentioned the name of a restaurant, which I now hurriedly tried to phone, but received no answer.
"Too late," I sighed, hoping those words wouldn't describe my efforts to prevent a suicide.
My next move was to make contacts in the area where this suicidal man had been living.
I wanted to know why he was in this state of mind and where I might find him.
Friends said he had been out of money and had started hitch-hiking south, probably heading toward an area that had once been his home.
But why this fierce anger, and why was it directed toward God and all churches, as his phone message had made so clear?
Did he blame God for his problems?
If so, he wouldn't have been the first to do so.
Nor would he have been alone in blaming churches and their members for not offering to help him in his time of need.
I had heard this disturbing phone message late Thursday night and for the next three days I tried to find the depressed caller who was clearly bent on his own destruction.
In my search, I contacted police departments, missions, shelters, a church and a family I thought might have a clue to his whereabouts, all to no avail.
My wife, Pauline, and I kept praying for this desperate man to be found and with each passing hour, I became more desperate, causing unwanted questions to surface: "Why had I waited so long to check those phone calls? How would I handle the death of this acquaintance if we were unable to find him in time to save his life?"
Then, on the fourth day, a call came from a police dispatcher bringing good news.
"I've found him," the dispatcher said.
The man who had been angry at God and all churches had been picked up by a Good Samaritan and taken to a church shelter where praying, caring people were providing for his needs, encouraging him and helping him find a reason to live.
"You're under great stress when you are the only one who knows someone is considering suicide," I said, trying to justify my small faith during this ordeal.
"You weren't the only one who knew," Pauline replied.
She was right, of course ... again.
"The Lord is good," said a prophet, long ago, Nahum 1:7. Remembering his words will keep us from blaming God and his people when trouble gets us down.
Most of the problems we'll face this year will be of our own making. In spite of this, our loving Lord will meet us in them and in response to faith bring us safely through.
Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich. He has written more than 20 books and has had articles published in most major Christian magazines.
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