Dichotomy of Hopeless Despair
As I read Oswald's devotional this morning I found something that resonated with other things I have learned. It came to me that there can be times of amazing dichotomy in our lives that just don't make logical sense but can have a profound effect on our experience and relationship with God. First let me share part of the reading for today.
Whenever you obey God, His seal is always that of peace, the witness of an unfathomable peace, which is not natural, but the peace of Jesus. Whenever peace does not come, tarry till it does or find out the reason why it does not. If you are acting on an impulse, or from a sense of the heroic, the peace of Jesus will not witness; there is no simplicity or confidence in God, because the spirit of simplicity is born of the Holy Ghost, not of your decisions. Every decision brings a reaction of simplicity.
My questions come whenever I cease to obey. When I have obeyed God, the problems never come between me and God, they come as probes to keep the mind awake and amazed at the revelation of God. Any problem that comes between God and myself springs out of disobedience; any problem, and there are many, that is alongside me while I obey God, increases my ecstatic delight, because I know that my Father knows, and I am going to watch and see how He unravels this thing.
What came to my mind as I read these last few sentences is something that Jim Wilder spoke about when he was describing how to relate to one of the most intimidating emotions that most people are terrified to experience. He shares that there are six big emotions that we must all learn how to relate to and much more importantly learn how to recover from and return to a state of joy. These six emotions cover all of the emotions that create problems in our lives and that if not related to properly will prevent us from maturing in life. These six emotions are as follows:
The one that creates the most problems for many of us and that we tend to want to avoid at all costs is the last one, hopeless despair. Many people assume that this is something we should not allow ourselves or anyone else ever to experience. Some even believe that it is a sin to feel this emotion, but then, many people believe it is a sin to experience any number of these other emotions also.
But emotions, properly understood are not sinful in and of themselves. Emotions are simply symptoms or external indicators of what is going on much deeper inside, much like the gauges on a dashboard of a car can tell you what is going on under the hood. It would be ludicrous to claim that it is wrong for your oil light to come on because it tells you negative information about your car. And it would be downright crazy to try to suppress the function of the oil light while ignoring the fact that it is telling you about something urgently important that is happening somewhere else besides in the light bulb that is shining out at you.
Likewise, emotions if properly understood and appreciated are God-given indicators – warning lights if you please – that tell us the condition of our spirit and our soul and even of our body at times. Wisdom will tell us that it makes sense to respect these indicators but not to get too focused primarily on them as we need to seek to find out what is causing them to occur. If we learn to address the root causes of what our emotional indicators tell us then the indicators will soon change to reflect the repaired condition and will move to a more positive emotion that should be the normal state for us. And that base condition that we were designed to live in that should be normal for all of us is the state of joy.
Given that context, I now want to go back and reflect on this issue of how to relate to the feeling of hopeless despair. This has been very intriguing and instructive for me as I have learned that this is not an emotion that should be either ignored, suppressed or even necessarily avoided as is often how we tend to relate to it. Because we do not understand it or what causes it many times, we too often default to the immature approach and simply condemn it or try to make it go away without taking the necessary steps to address the roots underlying problem that is causing it in the first place. For to suppress it and force it to go into hiding or deny it only adds to the damage that is causing that indicator to come on in the first place.
What this quotation reveals to me is similar to what James Wilder explains in his seminars about how our emotions and brains are designed to work. Far from being something to run from, hopeless despair may actually be a camouflaged opportunity presented to us to see how God can work in amazing ways in our lives. God specializes in the impossibles, but until we are willing to think differently about impossible situations we may actually prevent God from doing many things for us that He desires to do. God is stymied most by the presence of unbelief in our hearts, and unbelief is often closely associated with the emotion of hopeless despair.
But hopeless despair itself is not unbelief. Unbelief is a choice while hopeless despair is an emotion – a very important and significant difference. Sin is always related to our choices, not our emotions. Experiencing an emotion therefore is not sinful even though many of us have been taught that and may feel that way many times. What we choose to do or how to react when we find ourselves experiencing some emotion determines whether we move through that experience toward greater maturity and spiritual growth or whether we dig deeper into the ruts that have held us entrapped for so long in old habits of thinking.
I love the way James Wilder relates to someone he is counseling who finds themselves in this emotion of hopeless despair. Like any other negative emotion that the right brain experiences, a person in this emotion needs someone to share that emotion with them who has a higher capacity brain to show them how to return to joy. The right brain, where most emotions are centered and dealt with, does not learn through verbal communications (unless it is couched in music). What the right brain needs is to watch and sense how someone else acts and responds in similar situations in order for it to learn how to “act like itself”.
So when a person is experiencing hopeless despair, they do not need someone else lecturing them about how they should not be feeling that way or trying to condemn or criticize them into avoiding feeling that way. They need someone to understand what that emotion feels like but that also can join them in the feeling while offering them hope that there is a way out of it. Jim likes to tell people in this situation that he is sympathetic with their assessment of their situation, that it really does look hopeless to him as well and they are right to feel the way they do. But then he adds something that reminds me of what Oswald is saying in the above quotation; he tells them that they have the grand opportunity in this situation to have a front row seat to watch how God is going to handle this hopeless situation.
I believe that this is where it is important to learn to trust God in spite of our feelings which may involve relying on our left brain temporarily during times of intense emotions like this. We need to remember that God is eager to come into any situation in our life if we are willing to believe that He is ready to help us. He needs our permission to get involved, but He does not need us to know how He is going to handle it – that is His prerogative. He just needs us to trust His heart even when we are feeling hopeless despair based on our viewpoint of circumstances.
Choosing to believe in God I believe is part of what Oswald talks about here as obedience. If our hopeless despair is happening because we are resisting God's convicting Spirit then we may indeed remain stuck in that emotion. But if we are willing to let God be sovereign in our lives then we can choose to believe that He is ready to address our situation no matter how hopeless it feels for us. And I love the way Oswald describes that here:
Any problem, and there are many, that is alongside me while I obey God, increases my ecstatic delight, because I know that my Father knows, and I am going to watch and see how He unravels this thing.
What a response for hopeless despair! Of course it also tends to make that despair melt rather quickly as our faith begins to heat up like a fire in our souls melting away the ice of fear and hopelessness. But we must be willing to go through this emotion and not try to run away from it. Going through things promotes growth. Running away from them or suppressing them fosters immaturity and stagnation.