Sunday, May 23, 2010

Antidote to Despair

Wrote this the other day for some reason. It's my personal exploration on this issue of hope and despair, not really meant to convince anyone, just express what I think on the subject. Maybe it will be useful, maybe not, figured I'd better put it out there just in case it is.


I was thinking today about why I have so much hope.

I've never been one to despair. Even during the most trying
circumstances of my life (thus far) it has been nearly impossible for
me to release myself to the flood of blackness that seems to lurk
outside the hatch of every human heart, just waiting for the dweller
to open the hatch and let the icy darkness swallow them whole. I'm
not necessarily talking about suicide (one possible conclusion), but
the belief in the overwhelming emptiness of a life apart from God's
goodness, and the acceptance of that belief as reality. Of course,
I'm only speaking from my experience, but it is that kind of despair
that I fear more than any other, and I believe it is the root of all
of its forms.

Obviously, the opposite of despair is hope, and if there is a root of
despair, then there must be a root of hope. People hope in all kinds
of things, and it seems to work for a while, but then the hope fails
and all you are left with is contemplating the embrace of despair.
This leads to another futile hope, and another, and another. In other
words, addiction. It is no wonder that addicts begin their recovery
by facing their own despair head on and accepting it. Once you accept
the despair as real (i.e. I *am* an alcoholic), then you can begin to
hope that there is another way to deal with it, and you can begin to
recover. But this is man made, and useful only in so much as the
human continues to find other "hopes" to keep them going. But deep
down is the truth, the root of all their despair, that has not been
truly faced. They may be able to lead what passes for "normal" lives,
but it will just be a more socially acceptable form of addiction.
Religion, relationships, sex, success, money, fame, honor, family,
entertainment, power, violence. All of these can become socially
acceptable forms of hope that people use to keep themselves from
facing the gaping truth they suspect...that life is meaningless and
God (if He exists) is fickle at best or evil at worst, and powerless
to help. The fools who believe they can face this truth down
eventually find that the human heart cannot survive in this vacuum.
They use the same "hopes" to tell themselves they have something to
live for, but when these hopes vanish, the have nothing left but their
own will to live, and it is ultimately powerless to protect them.

So what is the root of all hope? The Hope that when properly
understood under girds all other "hopes" and gives them meaning? I
believe it is this: God is good, faithful and in control. A good God
loves me. A faithful God does not abandon me. And a sovereign God is
omnipotent. Of course, resolving this belief with our own experience
is the difficulty. Some would call it wishful or magical thinking.
If I believe hard enough...I can make my problems vanish in a puff of
logic! Well, that is the problem isn't it? How can we possibly
believe hard can we apply ourselves to this problem and
*make it go away*? We lose track so quickly of who really matters in
this it us, or is it God?

What I am talking about here is faith in the biblical God and His Son
Jesus. This God gives us the faith to believe what he tells us is
true. You cannot force it. I believe AA is right in one sense. You
do have to face the truth. You need to confront the fear of emptiness
of a universe without a loving, omnipotent and faithful God. Allow
the despair to begin to fill up your heart and then cry out to the God
you don't even know if you can believe in to give you the faith you
need. This is a visceral experience that cannot be forced. And you
may not be ready for it yet. But I believe that this deep sense of
helplessness before your situation is necessary to enter into a
genuine life of dependence on God instead of substituting "hopes" for

But you may not believe. Not yet. That's ok...there is time before
you die. My advice is...try not to act out in your despair too
destructively. Common grace is given to the world that somehow
prevents it from imploding or exploding daily from its own critical
mass of despair. And pray. Even if you don't believe...if you wish
you *could* believe...then that is (I believe) enough faith to pray
on. Tell God you don't believe, but you really want
*need* to. You aren't sure how long you can hold on to the splinters
of wood left in the sea before you slip under. Send a lifeline now!
If you have enough faith to pray that prayer, then I know God will
answer it. If you don't...then keep an eye out for may be
there sooner than you know. Ask any friends you have to pray on your
behalf, even if you can't bring yourself to do so.

When you do believe that God is good, faithful and sovereign, it
changes everything. It becomes impossible...unthinkable to despair.
Despair is recognized as the great act of disbelief that it is. A
sin. is. I didn't start with that because it wouldn't mean
anything to someone in despair to hear it called a sin.
Great...another reason to despair!

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention sin and repentance. For
those who come to faith later in life, you've had plenty of time to
become aware of your own sinfulness. It is built into our souls, and
often part of what leads us to despair in the first place. It makes
belief in a good, faithful and sovereign God a bit difficult in the
first place, and we often find ourselves believing despite our innate
knowledge of our own repugnance to such a being. That He could love
us, die for us, remove the stain of sin and give us his own goodness
in return...can be a bit of a shock. Some refuse to believe it...and
end up back in despair. Some don't think about it much, get used to
the shock, even complacent, and need to be shaken up now and
then...reminded of how much they were forgiven of. But ultimately
what is needed is repentance. Acknowledgment of our sinfulness, and
dependence on God for ongoing strength to be good. Ultimate
dependence is hard, and it takes a lifetime of practice. Good thing
He doesn't wait for us to get it right first!

There are also those of us who were never shocked by God's grace for
us in the first place. This was my problem. Growing up as a
Christian, I was always aware that God had forgiven me...and you would
think that would be a good thing! Turns out for me it wasn't. Grace
is meaningless unless you have something that needs forgiving. And if
you don't have a sense of your own sinfulness, why do you need grace?
I think this is becoming more of a problem for Western Culture
generally as more people are raised without reference to values or
morality. If there is no such thing as "wrong" then you hardly feel
the need for forgiveness. But usually even those of us with this
problem live long enough to screw up badly enough to start to get the
picture. We are all evil...deep down inside...and we need help. That
help is only found in Christ.

Back to how this faith makes despair impossible...think about it...if
you genuinely believed that God is good...really, deeply, a bit
scarily...Good...what would that imply? That all things, no matter
how painful, nonsensical, or evil...*can* be used for good. How? I
don't know. That's where the faith bit comes in. Sometimes it is
given to us to see the how of a real life situation unfold and we can
say things like "That experience prepared me for this and I praise God
for it!". But often, it remains only for us to say "I don't
understand how God can use that for his glory, but I believe that He
will." Of course, God's goodness without Faithfulness would be
pointless. A fickle God who is sometimes good, but often distracted
wouldn't be much help. And a powerless God might have the best of
intentions, but be unable to deal with all these crazy free agents he
created. No...all 3 qualities become absolutely necessary to
re-orienting our minds such that despair is impossible: Goodness,
Faithfulness, Sovereignty.

But what about our free will? Won't this lead to fatalism? What
happens happens, and that's all there is to it. It would if that's
what God told us to be like. But that's not the impression I get from
the Bible. God simultaneously claims his absolute power and authority
but then tells us to go out and evangelize, or to believe, or to feed
the poor. This is the simple truth. We are the agents of His change
in a fallen world, but it is His power that changes, not ours. Even
in the hearts of those who believe or do not, if we are honest...
When I am tempted to think I am responsible for my faith...I think
back to the the hopelessness...and my anguished cry to
God to give me the faith I needed to believe in Him. And He answered.

But what about those who do not believe? However God chooses to deal
with those who do not believe, He will be good, faithful and
sovereign. The Bible says those who do not believe will be condemned
for their unbelief. Some people cannot reconcile this with a good,
faithful and sovereign God, but that's where faith comes in. For
me...primarily in the "good" part, even if I can't understand it
sometimes, I still have to believe it. Regardless, I think this is
usually a distraction from the real issue. What matters here is not
other people. What matters is you. Are you going to act on what
faith you have or not?

So that's it I guess. That's the gist of what I was thinking about.
None of it original of course, but I was just re-thinking it
again...almost as if for the first time. And it just makes so much
*sense* to me from this side of despair. I don't know if it will help
anyone, but I felt like I had to write it all down right now for some
reason. So here it is.

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