Source: The Online journal of Father John Moses
If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness. Matthew 6:23
The Fathers say that it 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.” Truly, when the only light in you is despair, how great is that darkness.
Despair attacks the will and this is how this passion gains its power. With the will weakened, it is difficult to be healed. After all, to pray requires will; to fast requires will; to read or study requires will. It is a bad situation when “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”, but when both the spirit and the flesh are weak, it is a dire situation. Despair begins to strengthen as it feeds upon itself. When despair is strongest, hope is lost. We feel separated from God and begin to wonder if God even exists. We are dead and lying in the darkness of the grave. Life without hope is hell on earth, and a foretaste of eternal life apart from God. It is with great insight that Dante wrote about the sign that hangs over the entrance to hell: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
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. Somehow, they forgot the old joke – If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
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 will be any different in the future? Hope has to be based on something, so what assurances do I have?”
The best assurance we have is love. Let me ask you, how do you know when someone really, truly loves you? Would it be in what they say to you, or by the things they give you? Suppose that someone dies for you, would you believe it then? Most of us would die for someone we really loved. We ,might even die for a good person. But who would willingly die for an evil man? Would you die for Hitler, or Stalin, or Pol Pot?
Here’s the thing! Jesus died for Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.He died for you and me, even though we lived as God’s enemies. Do you understand this? Do you see the mystery of this love? Isn’t this the ground upon which all hope stands? No matter how you feel, and especially if you feel despair, you must be convinced of God’s love. It is only when you are convinced that you have a solid place to stand, a place that no passion can move or destroy.This solid conviction is called faith and faith is the energy of hope.
With faith and hope, something wonderful happens. The dynamic of life begins to change. Failures and tribulations are no longer meaningless events. Hope doesn’t mean that troubles will end, but when failures and tribulations come, instead of disappointment, hope creates patience. With patience, we begin to gain experience, so that new problems do not move us to disappointment. Hope is strengthened until we reach a level of hopefulness that will never make us ashamed. Hope is so powerful that we even hope to see the glory of God. (Romans 5)
Hope is one aspect of the presence of the life of Christ in our hearts. Consider this: if His death did so much for us, how much will his life accomplish for us? His death reconciled us to God and His life will save us. Honestly, I haven’t progressed so far in 15 years. Of course, I see improvements, buy I also see the passions that remain in me. I could despair, but I don’t because I have hope that His life will save me. After all, He brought me to faith, and He will finish me! His life has saved millions before me, and it will save millions after me. What makes me think that I’m such a hard case that God will disdain me and abandon me? I may be a wretch but my wretchedness is not beyond recovery. My sin is great, but His love and mercy is like an ocean that I cannot fathom.
If you are in despair, realize that your despair is based on untruth. Your situation is not hopeless, no matter how you feel. The way out begins with trust in the One who died for you. Trust is the essence of faith, and the evidence of what we cannot see. It is not about how you feel, but what you believe. It isn’t that you will never know sorrow again, but by faith and hope, your sorrow will be turned into joy. Jesus said that the storms of life will beat against everyone’s house. The house that does not fall before the storm is the one built on the right foundation.
After all, if God so clothes the grass of the field and feeds the birds of the air, will he not do even more for you? As Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.” Aren’t you worth so much more than grass or birds? And what do you accomplish by projecting your fears into the future? You Father knows what you need, so let you mind rest on today and forget tomorrow. (Matthew 5-7)
I have a suggestion. Let’s put a new sign over the door of our Churches. Let it say, “Abandon all despair, you who enter here.”