Monday, May 8, 2017


I want to write about two kinds of despair and the good that they accomplish. The first form of despair is the despair of life. I don’t want to suggest that life does not have its pleasures. It certainly does. However, life disappoints. It is never able to measure up to our hopes and dreams. Even our attainments are not able to satisfy for more than a week or two.

I love the scent of flowers. Their scent is even able to transport me to another realm of beauty and peace. However, have you noticed that after a few moments, you are unable to enjoy their scent any longer? It is like life. It teases us. It allures and then drops us flat.

It also seems that love and attraction are also able to also draw us by the dreams it conjures, but eventually, it leaves us wondering “what happened?” (Nevertheless, I have grown in my adoration for my wife but not in the form of a wildly compelling attraction.)

How then can these forms of disappointment be a gift? They prevent us from becoming infatuated with life. Well, why shouldn’t we permanently enjoy infatuation? Because infatuation will impede maturity! Wild infatuation can also lead to wild anger and jealousy.

Besides, disappointment with life can cause us to search out the meaning of life. The Christian professor of English Lit., C.S. Lewis, had reasoned that disappointment can direct us to what will not disappoint. He observed that our basic human needs are curiously addressed by life – We hunger and there is food; we thirst and are satisfied by water; we tire and are satisfied by sleep; we grow lonely but have friends and family. However, we are never satisfied. Lewis therefore suggested that, since our temporal needs are met, there also exists a satisfaction for our existential needs.

Lewis argued that this realization should lead us to seek for the Source of all satisfaction. The Apostle Peter taught that our dissatisfaction with this life should cause us to long for the next:

·       Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Peter revealed that our present hardships serve to prepare us for the future glory.

I think that the next form of despair is even more difficult to bear. It shakes us to the core of our being. It is one thing to despair of life; it is another thing to despair even of ourselves. The first represents a despair of our dreams; the other is a despair of both dreams and our very ability to obtain them. It attacks our self-esteem and sense of worthiness and significance. It afflicts us with psychological vertigo and thrusts us to the ground, leaving us to wonder whether we will ever be able to get back up.

We are broken, but unless a field is broken apart by the plow, it remains too hard to receive the seed and bear fruit. Unless we are plowed, we become too hard and self-confident to receive any fruitful seeds of growth. Jesus used the metaphor of pruning:

·       “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

If we are to be fruitful, we too must be pruned. The old growth has to be cut back. Otherwise, our vineyard will not produce. Our own vines will suffocate us, preventing a fruitful yield.

Besides, we cannot do the pruning on ourselves. Instead, this task must be performed by the Master vinedresser. It is inevitable that we feel that He is cutting too much away, leaving us with our nakedness and inadequacies painfully exposed.

The first number of years as a Christian, I only read the Bible to find the verses that made me feel good about myself, not the verses that would cut and prune me back. These were painful and I avoided them. They would make me feel unworthy.

However, the Master vinedresser would not allow me to avoid them. The more I would try to build myself up to convince myself of my own worthiness, the more He would prune back my self-trust in my own worthiness. Later, I understood that this process is inevitable. Before He would build me up, He first had to humble me by showing me that my only hope was in His mercy. Jesus explained:

·       But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:10-11)

I needed to be humbled, and it is the most painful thing in the world. I also needed to understand that it’s all about God’s gift of worthiness and His Word. Consequently, when I now read Scripture, I just want to know what God thinks, and it turns out that His thoughts are more comforting than any set of thoughts that I would construct about my own worthiness and entitlement.

He has given me a great gift, a gift that far outweighs the painful pruning. King David also thanked the Vinedresser:

·       It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Psalm 119:71-72)
I too thank Him, even as the pruning accompanies each new season of growth.

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