Despair should be a scary emotion. An intruder: rattling like a cold wind through the mental living room, upsetting the furniture and knocking over the lamps. But instead of showing it the door, I sometimes invite it in. I create space for it at the table and even seek it out. It’s a shadow – but it’s familiar and reassuring too.
What’s really scary is not despair. It’s actually Hope.
With despair, you think you know what you’re getting. It promises you safety – but this is a lie. You’re used to its habits: impossible to imagine life without it. But instead of protecting you, it closes you down. It isolates you and moves in for the kill.
Hope on the other hand, seems risky and uncertain. Insubstantial, a dandelion ghost that’s just out of reach. But this too is false. Instead hope is as solid as its object. If I hope for example, in myself or my circumstances, I’m lost – because these things can be shaken. But if my hope is in Christ, then it’s outside of me. ‘It’ is a Person: and He is an anchor, firm and secure.
Despair should be an enemy – but it feels like a friend. A best friend, who won’t share you with anyone else. That hugs you close and whispers in the darkness: ‘Life is pointless: but that’s not all bad. At least you know where you stand – and you know what’s coming too. You’re in charge. If you don’t put your heart on the line, then it can’t be crushed. You can protect yourself from risk and unpredictability. From surprises: good or evil’.
Hope however, is the true friend that can feel like a threat – the friend who won’t give up when you push them away. The friend who loves you and who dares to speak the truth. This friend won’t let you withdraw. It engages you and brings you into community. It tells you, ‘Keep going, keep trusting. You’re not in charge – but you’re not alone. God can be trusted.You haven’t reached your goal yet, but listen, can you hear it? Can you feel it? You’re nearly there and the best is yet to come. ‘
Despair tells you that you can’t change. It’s too late. Your mistakes can’t be forgiven. You’re a victim or a perpetrator, but never both. Despair feels like a duvet, but it smothers you instead. It promises to protect you – from daring to dream, from taking risks, from engagement with the world and from failure and success. What it really does, is cut you off from life itself.
Gospel hope however, never gives up. In Christ, there’s forgiveness for every sin. New mercies, every morning. Redemption, even in the greatest suffering. A new identity, independent of our people or place. Gospel hope is risky – but it never disappoints. It’s frightening, glorious and beautiful. It’s life – in all its fullness.