Many among us feel hopeless.
We gaze into an election, a diagnosis, a downsizing… and we can’t see through to the other side. That’s because, at least in perception, there isn’t an other side. There is only this “thing” – this massive, destructive, blockade in the way of moving forward into the future. And when you feel hopelessness, one of the tendencies is to look away. To avert your eyes from the abyss. To pretend like that “thing” isn’t real, or isn’t happening, or isn’t the constant backdrop to all your thoughts and conversations.
But the Christian knows there is a beyond. There is a more. There is always a next step, even if that next step is with Jesus into eternity.
But ironically, the Christian also knows what it’s like to stare into true hopelessness. What’s more, the Christian knows what it means to do so unflinchingly. Listen to Paul, the Christian, as he does so:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
This is an unflinching gaze. It is a courageous stare. It is looking into the darkness, into true hopelessness, and not blinking. I suppose some might stare into hopelessness out of audacity and arrogance, feeling a sense of invulnerability even though the circumstances are completely dire. But not so with Paul. And not so with us.
We can stare unflinchingly into true hopelessness not because we are confident in our own courage, or our own power, or our own ingenuity, or our own resolve, but because of those same characteristics found in Christ. And for the Christian, there is actually good that comes from looking straight at the darkness and not blinking.
Not just in this passage, but time and time again, Paul looked down the barrel of the proverbial gun, and time and time again, doing so moved him to a greater exaltation of Jesus:
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
You look deeply into the darkness not because you are confident things will get better in this life or because this situation can’t last forever or because something in your circumstances will change; you do so because doing so forces you to a lower dependency on yourself and a greater and greater trust and praise of Jesus.
These are dark times, friends. And the darkest of times is not found in national politics or in economic conditions or in the affairs of the world, but inside our own hearts. But don’t look away. Don’t act like it’s not true. Stare, and stare deeply into the hopelessness within and around, and then let that unflinching gaze turn again and again to the Son of God who not only looked into the darkness but took it on Himself.