Rational Despair, Mysterious Hope

by Justin Lonas

Perhaps the most persistent outflow of the Fall is despair. It creeps in over time, manifesting itself in ways we don't expect; influencing our attitudes and decisions. As Kierkegaard put it, "The specific character of despair is this: it is unaware of being despair." It is because the human heart is so easily mired in anxiety that the unwavering theme of God's Word is hope.

Rationalism, more than anything, opens the door to despair. We depress ourselves by thinking about our problems, our challenges, and things that are beyond our control. When we try to solve our problems on our own, they overwhelm us. It is only when we accept our finite understanding and God's omnipotence that we can grasp hope.

Scripture is clear in presenting God's unfathomable majesty as the fire that burns away despair. In the last four chapters of Job, the Lord thunderously blasts Job's misconception of His power. "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth" (Job 38:2-4a). Job had sought comfort from the Lord without considering that his suffering may be a part of God's larger plan.

When we finally submit to the Lord's direction, our response should be as Job's in 42:2-6. "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You and You instruct me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."

In Christ, the fulfillment of the mystery of hope is found complete. The words of Charity Bancroft's Hymn "Before the Throne of God Above" offer a Christological interpretation of Job's response to the Lord's ever-present provision.

"When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,

My sinful soul is counted free,

For God the Just is satisfied,

To look on Him and pardon me."

In this incomprehensible fact of Christ's atonement, we see that God's ultimate plan is better than anything we can ever conceive, even (or especially) when we don't understand the details. Our suffering is given to us in His wisdom, and through hope-healed despair we learn to trust Him more fully. Only when we take our eyes off Him do we begin to see our circumstances as inescapable.

The Lord draws me back to Job whenever I find myself buried under the cares of this world and can't see how I'll ever come through. He leads me to repent of my sin of distrust, and repeatedly takes care of all my problems, until I begin to understand just how inconsequential they are in the broad view. Truly, nothing is out of His grasp (even things that I somehow assume He's too big to care about).

As George Mller once said, "The beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety." It is an infinite comfort that the Lord's good pleasure is to give us hope beyond comprehension.

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