When We Suffer With Despair


Text: Psalm 42

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Despair – it is a horrible feeling. It can feel like a heavy and overwhelming emotion that consumes your thoughts and emotions. When despair sets in, you may feel like there is no hope for the future and everything is pointless. To make things worse, when despair takes root, you can feel isolated, lonely, and disconnected from the rest of the world. With despair, people may struggle to find motivation or interest in activities they once enjoyed. Fatigue, loss of appetite, and restless nights also come from despair. Perhaps the best way to describe despair is when you cry the blues or are down in the dump. 

But what exactly is going on when we have despair? 

In our reading from Psalm 42, we hear that the Psalmist has despair with the apparent victory of the godless and his separation from God’s merciful presence at the temple. In other words, despair happens the most when a person feels like they have no control over a situation and their efforts are useless. Despair becomes even more of a problem when your enemies succeed and shut out all opportunities from your face.   In a word, despair is when you are stuck in a very bad place with no way out. 

Now, there is no doubt about it that you and I will experience despair often in this life, just like the Psalmist of Psalm 42. However, many well-intentioned Christians will not want you to acknowledge or talk about your despair. For example, I can remember a particular situation when I first began as a pastor. A young boy – let’s call him Noah – had stage 4 cancer. The prognosis was not good. However, at that time, there was a group of people in the church that would not allow anyone to say anything negative about Noah. In other words, they insisted that we could only be positive and optimistic about Noah. They went so far as to say that showing any signs of despair was a sign of the church not having enough faith. According to them, the church had to believe that Noah could be healed. We had to be optimistic, full of faith, and only use positive speech.  

I remember one day when the news came in that things were not looking good for Noah. The cancer was winning. Despair was upon everyone. However, this well-intentioned group of Christians – instead of going to compassion and sorrow- attacked the church, the family, and even the pastors for not speaking positive affirmations and declaring God’s promises of healing over Noah. They accused the church of sinning with despair.  

This brings us back to Psalm 42. How are we Christians to suffer with despair? The Psalmist in Psalm 42 most definitely expressed his sorrow during his trials. The Psalmist had despair over the fact that the pagans were living in victory while he was separated from the temple of God. And so, on the one hand, the Psalmist had despair, and on the other hand, the Psalmist did not have despair but certainty. How do we make sense of this, though?  

When the news came in about Noah that death was coming, despair set in.  And rightfully so. Medically, there was no way forward. There was no way out. All avenues had been exhausted. The proper response to Noah was indeed despair. But, as it has already been stated, that well-intentioned group of Christians did not want to allow the church and family to be given to despair. The reason was, they were too narrow-minded. They did not properly consider the resurrection.

Dear friends, it is completely possible to have despair in this life over the trials of life and yet not have ultimate despair. This is exactly what we read in Psalm 42. The Psalmist despairs over his situation. He confesses that his soul is down in the dumps and crying the blues. He has despair in this life under the sun, yet he does not have ultimate despair, for he has certainty that despite all appearances and all circumstances, the Lord has salvation for him.  

And so, again, it is quite possible to despair over the events of this life while simultaneously clinging to the certainty and hope that the Lord God will make all things right in the very end.  

I remember talking to Noah’s dad one day in church. He said to me, 

“I just wish these people would let me grieve my dying son. Why won’t they let me cry?”

The harsh answer was that these people were narrow-minded and failed to see beyond this present life to the hope of the resurrection. It is often said that some people are so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good. However, these well-intentioned Christians were so earthly-minded that they were of no heavenly good.

Baptized Saints, if you find yourself in despair, it is important for you to know that your situation may change for the better. If so, God be praised. However, your situation may not change for the better. It may get worse. And if it does, you are free to acknowledge this despair, for this life and world we live in do not work the way they are supposed to. 

This world is marred by sin, death, and the devil. This world does not offer much hope, but more often than not, it will rightfully lead us to despair. However, you need not be given to ultimate despair. You see, if there was no God and no resurrection of the dead, it would make sense to have ultimate despair. If we had a dead god, like dead idols, it would make sense to give ourselves over to the treachery of ultimate despair. However, because there is a God who loves you, dies for you, rises for you, and will come back to you again and take you to glory, you can have hope amid your earthly despair. Indeed, faith is not the absence or denial of despair. Instead, faith is expressing sorrow and lament during the trials of life while simultaneously having certainty in a God who will make all things right.  

With Noah, his dad just wanted to be left alone so that he could acknowledge the despairing situation – his son was dying.  The father needed to face the fact that it was the end for his son, so that he could get to the point of recognizing that the Lord Jesus would resurrect his son to newness of life at the end of all days. The father needed to grieve, lament, and suffer because that was reality. 

And yet, at the same time, while the father had no certainty of his son being healed in this life under the son, he had a profound certainty that his son, Noah, would be healed at the great resurrection of the dead – when the Lord Jesus would call Noah out of the grave to newness of life. The father knew that there would be a time beyond his current tears when there would be no more tears but laughter, joy, and life in Christ at the great resurrection.  

And so, dear friends, lament and have sorrow over this life, for often this is reality. Yet, amid your sorrow and trials, do not lose yourself to ultimate despair with a narrow-minded view of seeing only this life under the sun and not the bigger picture of the resurrection.  Never forget, your Lord God loves you, forgives you, and will resurrect you on the last day when there will be no more sin, suffering, injustice, and pain. 

We indeed suffer with trials – trials that will often bring despair, but not ultimate despair, for you and I are not alone, and this life is not all there is. You have Christ, and Christ has you in this despairing world and will have you at the resurrection unto eternal life. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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