The Joy Of Despair

Breaking Up With Nostalgia
December 29, 2018
EMPTY
April 7, 2019

The Joy of Despair

By Pastor Vinnie MacIsaac

Despair is one of those words we use haphazardly. It’s a word used and often misused, by many of us as a wannabe synonym for sadness. But it is a very serious noun with a much deeper definition then meets the eye. Despair is an utter loss of hope.[i] It is being in a state of complete despondency. It is to be beyond despondency.  It is more than being scared or helplessly trapped. It is more than being full of grief or even anguish. It is to be in a state of hopelessness. It is to know you want to give up, yet suddenly realizing giving up won’t even help, but only make it worse.  It is to be past done; it is to be undone!  It is to be completely in doubt and crippled by the certainty of no possible escape to meaning.

What does it even mean to live without hope? It is insanity. It is, to borrow a word from the Philosophers, absurdity. It has no meaning, no purpose to move forward, no place to go. When hope is dead, there is only despair left.

Philosopher, Albert Camus

The Nobel Prize winner and existentialist Philosopher, Albert Camus, put absurdity of despair this way:

“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” [ii]

In a dark world, we stumble at the crepuscule.  We see glimmers of what we think it is that brings satisfaction, and maybe even delight, but in the end, they are only shadows that we struggle a lifetime to reach out to grasp. Then, on arrival, they shatter into shards that tear and rip like thorns in a flowerless universe. We are always reaching, yet never arriving, at this elusive “nirvana.” So what is the point?

The Greeks explained this conditions in the mythology of Sisyphus who was, in their mythology, condemned by the Greek “gods” to roll an immense bolder to the top of a steep hill. If Sisyphus reached the top he’d find meaning and be released from the curse. However, for an eternity, every time, just before the bolder reached the top it fell back to the bottom and Sisyphus would have to start over and over again, with the same, never-ending results.  That is the absurdity.  That is the hopelessness.  That is true despair. It is to know there should be salvation for you, but to never be able to reach it, no matter the attempts.

It is like the old wise King once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”[iii] How odd that this Biblical wisdom writer knew the conclusive truth of the philosophers long before their births or their immortalized words were ever written.

King Solomon wrote;

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

 vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

 at which he toils under the sun?”[iv]

Fascinatingly, the word Solomon uses for Vanity in Hebrew, Hebel, which is even more clearly translated as Vapor![v] All you do is like vapor. All you seek is like vapor.  All you reach for is like vapor.  You almost touch it, but it evaporates right at your fingertips! You just can’t hold onto it. This is why he says:

“And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity (vapor) and a striving after wind.”[vi]

Stop chasing the vapor

People who find themselves in despair are not people who are insane, after all. In fact, they may be the only sane ones on the planet if you ask me! They have come to understand that finding meaning, in an ailing, failing world of deterioration is about as likely as chasing vapors in the wind! It is a worthy sport of pathos but, in actuality, it is complete nonsense.[vii]

The Bible is full of people who had despair. If that is not shocking enough, I’d like to point out that Hebrews, Chapter 11, which is the Hall of Fame of Hope, is filled with people who only found Hope at the bottom of Hopelessness.

  • Abel’s faithfulness was repaid by murder.

  • Enoch found no meaning in this world, so God took him away to another.

  • Noah was perhaps the most famous alcoholic in the Bible.

  • Abraham did unthinkable acts of desperations in seeking an heir, including seeking to sacrifice his own child.

  • Sarah was so undervalued her husband sought to trade her away twice. Then he had a child with another woman. And Sarah was wrecked wit the brand of despair we call jealousy.

  • Isaac discovered his son lied to him on his deathbed.

  • Jacob was that liar, not to mention a man who stole his brother’s birthright and fled for his life in despair.

  • Joseph was sold as a slave, by his very own family. Falsely accused of a sex crime, and spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

  • Moses was a one-time Prince turned hen-pecked leader of a group of ungrateful followers who literally nagged him to his death.

  • Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah where all Judges who could never clear their land of the warring Philistines.

  • Samuel, the last of the judges, gets to anoint and establish two kings to succeed himself, but could not even save his own children from evil but had to stand is depair and watch thier sins consume them.

  • David, declared by God, Himself, as a man after His own heart, yet he could not keep his hands off another’s man wife. Then his desperation, it literally, drove him to murder. And he sat in his sackcloth and ashes while his baby failed in it’s struggle for life.

Sisyphus

Hurt, agony, misery, torment, and yes even despair, are not the exception to life on a diseased planet; they are the rule! The unhappiest people I know are people who refuse to accept that reality. Such nonsensical refusal is the seed of dismal disappointment and destruction of faith, fullness, and meaning.  Our world has a dreadful cancer that is terminal.  We are but passengers on a Rock of Death, hurtling through space together, to eventual, self-imposed annihilation and eradication.[viii] This is the only possible end for a planet in rebellion against its Divine Creator. The mere fact that babies are born, children still sing, and people ever laugh at all, is a sheer miracle in and of itself, each and every time it happens. But my point is they (miracles of joy) do actually happen! It is the middle of despair where most of humanity lives, the godly and the ungodly alike. God’s great gift to humanity[ix] is that in the midst of such absurdity,  mankind may still live, breathe, and find glimmers of joy, even if we see it in a mirror dimly[x], and sometimes  all too rarely

The man of wisdom himself, King Solomon, therefore concludes, find your joy among the toils of life and partake, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.“[xi]

Kierkegaard

The Christian Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, famously said, “to have faith is precisely to lose one’s mind so as to win God,”[xii] which merges beautifully with the words of Jesus, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”[xiii] And now I say to you, lose your mind. Lose your life. Lose your sanity.  Accept the absurdity of a fallen world as a reality you will contend with until, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound… we shall be changed[xiv],”  leads us through to the emerging reality of the Apostle John’s words, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.[xv]

The Bible declares, with absolute clarity and assuring certainty, “Joy comes in the Morning!”

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”[xvi]

That is not to say that there are not glimmers of joy at night, for even the night casts shadows of things to come. But ultimate Joy, complete Joy, fulfilled Joy comes in the morning!

At the end of despair, is the morning. At the end of the night is Joy! The Morning rises in the heart of the believer at the dawn of each new day, every time he or she accepts, anew, the reality that, according to Kierkegaard, “to have faith is precisely to lose one’s mind so as to win God.” In other words, the beginning of all eternal joy is knowing you are forgiven and in the saving hands of the infinite Divine who loves and cherishes you!  That, alone, is enough! It is enough intellect. It is enough wisdom. It is enough beauty. It is enough passion. It is enough proof. It is enough answers. It is enough religion. It is enough JOY!  Still our God is so good, oh so good, that in bottomless, unfathomable, keen favor of His mercy– as if being owned by the Divine was not enough– He still sprinkles showers of joy amidst the drought of despair, upon both the godly and ungodly alike;  glimmers of images, in a dirty mirror,  as to what is to still come!

Oh yes, I loathe living with despair!  Yet, oddly enough, I owe it everything; even my joy! The joy of despair is this: it drives you to the “Cliff of Madness.” It engineers pictures of the bleak reality that cannot be undrawn. It pushes and pulls me to the absurdity of there being nothing remotely resembling sanity, without the Divine. There is no going back to seeking meaning from the falsehoods of a broken world; “Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all.”[xvii]  Despair robs me of my childhood and forces me to grow up. I must now plunge to one of two possibilities. Either there is no meaning, no purpose, no joy because there is no God. Thus, I will die on the Rock of Despair having never meant anything to anyone that lasted.  Or I plunge into the eternity of the Divine where I was created for the very purpose to share in the eternal joy with Him! Some may say that such faith is simply flipping the coin of Pascal.[xviii] But, I’d say I’ll take a 50/50 bet any day since despair has already made a near empirical case of certainty that the other way is only, ever, empty madness. As the philosophers insightful saying goes, “People settle for a level of despair they can tolerate and call it happiness.”[xix] As for me, No! I cannot settle into a self-governed, accustomed level of despair out of the fear of not being able to push forward. The only real honest action is found in leaping— full speed ahead in what Jesus called the better life, “life more abundant!”

It is in the backdrop of having slogged through the Storm of Despair that I can, even now, fully experience joy. It is true that God, “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.”[xx]  That as a good farmer trying to save his crops in a season of drought, God has, as often as was reasonable, sprinkled me with glimmers in the shadows, of joy;  if only in dirty mirrors. But this level of joy, I now know, is so sweet because I have bitten the bitter, chewed the fire, and consumed a steady diet of struggle and hardship. Despair has done its sinister service in tormenting me to get off the proverbial fence. Yet, in doing so, it has increased my capacity to hold out for, seek for, and experience the fullness of joy; to accept no compromises, to never settle, and to find no comfort in the phony festivity that cannot satisfy. I trudge on through the darkness because each night brings a new morning.  And, in Christ, the Morning Star shines in my night. Joy brought morning into my night!   Joy brings the dazzling dawn into Despair’s darkness!

 Related Articles:

Prayer: Why Even Bother?

MORE! The Bionic Believer.

The Reserve Of Courage

Kierkegaard: A Single Life [Reflective Review]


Footnotes: 

[i] Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/despair

It can also be used as a verb. To lose or being losing all hope or confidence.

[ii] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

[iii] Ecclesiastes 1:9

[iv] Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

[v] Hebel/vanity/vapour see: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H1892&t=KJV

[vi] Ecclesiastes 1:13-14

[vii] Also known as an absurdity by the philosophers.

[viii] Ultimately at the end of the age when Christ returns.

[ix] See the implications of  James 1:17

[x] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[xi] Ecclesiastes 8:15

[xii] Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological

[xiii] Mark 8:36

[xiv] 1 Corinthians 15:52

[xv] Revelation 21:4-5

[xvi] Psalm 30:5

[xvii] Søren Kierkegaard, Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1843

[xviii] French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal presented to the world philosophical simplistic mathematical bases for the acting on the belief of God. Read about it here, https://simplyvinnie.com/all-bets-are-on-god

[xix] Kierkegaard’s Writings (Book 25), Princeton University Press (March 1, 1979)

[xx] Matthew 5:45

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