The latest developments in our year-and-a-half dance with the Covid-19 virus are less than encouraging. Enter the Delta variant, and the world is again on shifting sand – everyday! It seems like a wet blanket is draped over our lives. If you are anything like me, you are tired, you are uncertain, you are grieving what might have been and what could be. It is all just too much. I don’t think that I am being over-the-top when I call this pall, this clinging cloak, despair.
Despair happens when we live in fear. We fear that we have lost or will lose something important to us. We all feel like we have lost a year of our lives in some way or another, I suppose. We fear that we will do the wrong thing. Stay home or brave the world? Mask up or resist? Trust vaccines and vaccinators or take our chances with the virus? We fear that we will be ridiculed or ostracized for our decisions in a culture that has manifested deeper and deeper divisions over lesser things. We fear that we are not in control of the situation, and that is perhaps the biggest fear. The sum of all these fears is we fear that we can’t go on, we’re just too tired.
The truth is that despair – what we are all experiencing to one degree or another – is birthed by our attachment to things that do not stand the test of eternity (possessions, pleasure, status, self-image) and by our inability to trust that God is in control and loves us. Despair leads us to lash out in anger at others fighting to hold on to what we think we are losing. It leads us to crawl into a hole and hide, hoping that the trials will pass without touching us. Despair leads to resignation that says, “Nothing can be done. Just live with it.”
Hope is the opposite of despair, and it grows when we can lay aside the attachments we have to our stuff, our status, our expectations of what we want and rest in the knowledge that God loves us and we are embraced by grace. Hope blooms when we can give up our desire to be in control (to be God) and let God be God.
Thomas Merton wrote in his book, No Man is an Island, “We are not perfectly free until we live in pure hope. For when our hope is pure, it no longer trusts exclusively in human and visible means, nor rests in any visible end. He who hopes in God trusts God, Whom he never sees, to bring him to the possession of things that are beyond imagination.”
You see, to endure and transcend the challenges wrought by the pandemic, we need something beyond what we can imagine, beyond what we possess. Avoiding the despair of our age does not happen be gaining something, but by letting go of the things we use to make ourselves feel good, feel powerful, feel in charge. It is a task of letting go so that we can be, and God can be. Merton again: “Hope deprives us of everything that is not God, in order that all things may serve their true purpose as means to bring us to God.”
My friends, my siblings in Christ, everything of ultimate importance has been given to us and it can never be taken away. The things we wish to control are beyond our control, but not beyond the providence of God. Our failures are forgiven, and our success is to the glory of God. The suffering and trials we face can only be endured and be redemptive, can only be part of the eternity of God when we face them with hope in what is beyond us – and that can only be the God revealed in the resurrection of Christ.
In one of the most soaring passages of hope in scripture Paul says it all this way: 1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Amen and amen.
Pax Christi, Tim Olson – Lead Pastor