The Fathers say that despair is a great danger to spiritual life. Once you fall into it, it is very difficult to climb out. It frequently comes up in confession, and as a spiritual advisor, it is one of the most difficult spiritual states to cure. The Fathers called it “acedia.” (Pronounced “ah see dee ah”) Today, we call this passion “despair.”
How does this passion work in us? The first temptation is disappointment -we feel with certainty that nothing has gone as we wanted. The second temptation is irritation and anger- we wonder why has God done this to me? Disappointment comes upon us and turns to a sorrow that deepens into despair. This entire process is fueled by an inner voice that says, “I deserved better. If God really loved me, he would not have let this happen. ” Profound sadness convinces us that there is no hope. When hope is gone, there is only despair.
I have rarely met anyone who, once they came to know Orthodoxy fully, abandoned it because their theological studies proved the Faith to be wrong. However, I have known Orthodox people who have lost their faith in God because they felt cheated of the things that they had wanted. In their despair, they quit their spiritual disciplines and soon the light of faith and hope was gone, and they left the church
Obviously, the cure for despair is hope. Hope and despair cannot exist in the same space. Yet, you might protest: “How can I have hope? After all, I’ve been profoundly disappointed and how can I believe that it will be any different in the future? Hope, like all things important, is something that is gain and not simply given to us.
We all experience disappointment, tribulation, tragedy, and loss. No one is exempt. We are like the Three Children who stand in the midst of the hot fire. The Bible says that when they came out of the fire “not a hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.” How is it possible to go through such tribulation and not even smell like the smoke of bitterness?
St. Paul who experienced all of these things, tells us how these difficult life experiences can be transformed. Above all else, we must understand the power of our salvation. Grace brings us peace with God, and it is this grace that transforms our life experiences. St. Paul even says that because of this grace, we glory in our tribulations. How can anyone glory in disappointment, tribulation, tragedy, and loss?
Glory and joy are possible because Grace can transform these bad life experiences so that they produce something quite valuable. Let’s follow St. Paul’s words carefully: “tribulation produces patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” With Grace, each difficult life experience produces something stronger until we finally obtain the prize of hope. This hope is not wishful thinking, but is the result of Grace transforming the difficulties of life. With hope, we know no shame and no despair because the love of God is shed into our hearts.
Tribulations and tragedies will always come. The winds and waves of tribulation beat against everyone’s house. Will the house stand or fall? It all depends on the foundation of the house. If the foundation is hope then no wave or blast of wind will bring it down. We will know this hope if we realize that salvation is not just some state that we have attained. The grace of salvation is a transforming power that even turns the tragedies and tribulations of life into hope. With hope, nothing can prevail against us.