Blue on Blue, Part 2 – Despair

This is a highly personal post.  Like most abuse victims and many depression sufferers, I am well familiar with despair.  Having been grievously wounded, we cannot help but wonder whether God has turned His back on us, whether He exists at all.

There are Christian denominations which view despair as sinful.  Not all Church Fathers (influential early theologians) would, however, agree [1].  Neither do I, for that matter.  This post was written to demonstrate that the despair abuse victims experience is NOT sinful, even from that strict perspective.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps. 130: 1-2).

Depression sufferers often face condemnation from their well-meaning Christian friends.  Such condemnation is misplaced.  Depression should not be confused with despair.   And for despair to be considered “sinful”, certain conditions must be met.

Depression v. Despair

Depression can arise despite our circumstances.  Despair stems from our circumstances.  Depression is the manifestation of a medical condition.  Despair is the spiritual conclusion we draw about an eternal reality.

Both will make us unhappy.  Only despair, however, can be seen as “sin” [2].

Despair as “Sin”

When we despair – as most of us use the term today – we view our suffering as pointless, and God as powerless (or uninterested) to intervene.  This is situational despair.

For our hopelessness to qualify as “sinful”, we must have a genuine understanding of God; must be above the age of reason; must be in sound mind; and — in the strictest sense — must despair not about our circumstances, but about our Salvation.

Abuse victims (and depression sufferers) simply do not satisfy these conditions.

Judas and Suicide

Judas Iscariot’s suicide is often put forward as the classic act of despair.  The apostles had daily close contact with Christ.  Judas had experienced firsthand Christ’s infinite holiness, infinite power, and infinite love.

All these Judas is said to have rejected by his self-destructive act [3][4].  Judas viewed his betrayal of Christ as so heinous it was beyond God’s capacity to forgive.  He despaired, in other words, of his Salvation.

Abuse Contrasted

By contrast, the child who is daily abused and gives up hope is not guilty of the sin of despair.  For one thing, the child may not yet have reached the age of reason.  S/he may not, therefore, be capable of forming the necessary intent.

For another thing, a child who is abused is likely to have little or no understanding of God’s true nature.   S/he has no reason to believe in a just and loving God, so cannot be penalized for the failure to trust Him.  At worst, the child rejects a flawed image of God based on tragic experience with a hostile and painful world.

As important, the abused child despairs of his/her situation (not his/her eternal Salvation).  Hell is here and now.  If anything, unfounded accusations – in reality, out and out lies – about the child’s responsibility for the abuse and overall lack of worth may make death appear inviting.

Depression and the Will

Finally, adult or child, our capacity to sin is reduced when our will is compromised as, for instance, by the brain chemistry associated with depression.

God is hardly likely to condemn us for the sins committed against us, or the scars stemming from them.  That, at least, is the opinion of this lawyer.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15: 13).

[1]  Augustine believed that despair was not a sin.  Thomas Aquinas argued the point, seeing despair as a variant of pride.  Aquinas, however, distinguished hopelessness about our Salvation from hopelessness about our situation.  He explained that a physician might despair of curing a patient without committing sin.  Aquinas conceded that God could forgive despair, by way of a miracle.

[2]  It should be emphasized that not all Christian denominations view despair as equally sinful.  Unlike Catholics, Presbyterians and Baptists reject outright the concept of “mortal” sin, i.e. sin so serious it has the potential to cost us our Salvation.

[3]  Suicide has frequently been described as the “unpardonable” sin (Matt. 12: 31-32).  This though is an error.  According to Scripture, it is speaking against the Holy Spirit which will not be forgiven.  Since the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove when Christ’s divinity was revealed (Matt. 3: 16-17), the consensus now seems to be that the unpardonable sin actually signifies rejection of Christ’s offer of Salvation.

[4]  Even those who never publicly acknowledge Christ as their Savior may accept Him in their hearts, during their final moments.  “But do not forget this one thing dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3: 8).

ANYONE WITH THOUGHTS OF VIOLENCE OR SELF-HARM SHOULD SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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26 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Rape, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women

26 responses to “Blue on Blue, Part 2 – Despair

  1. good morning my friend.
    #socialmedia #SundayBrunch #greatpost

  2. As usual, you’ve packed a lot into this, Anna. I guess I somehow missed that “despair” was a sin…oh well, always something more to learn, and that’s good! I’m so glad you made it clear that suicide is not unpardonable–it compounded my misery and despair each time, ensconced in a psych unit with “Christian” staff (or so they claimed), they threw that at me as a possible deterrent for further attempts–if not a remedy for all that brings one to attempt suicide. Good grief, Charlie Brown… God bless you, Anna ❤

    • I doubt that there is an abuse victim anywhere who has not, at times, despaired of rescue, despaired even of life itself. Certainly, I have felt that way. In my view, however, the hope of rescue and the hope of Salvation are distinct. Despair is the voluntary abandonment of all hope of Salvation.

      This is how the Catholic Encyclopedia defines despair:

      “Despair…is the voluntary and complete abandonment of all hope of saving one’s soul and of having the means required for that end…[Despair] involves a positive act of the will by which a person deliberately gives over any expectation of ever reaching eternal life…[A] mere anxiety, no matter how acute, as to the hereafter is not to be identified with despair…Despair…as distinguished from…sinking of the heart, or overweening dread is always a mortal sin.” [Emphasis added.]

      You can find the full text at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04755a.htm.

      In other words, MIAs (who could well have been suffering from depression) may have despaired of rescue, while retaining their faith in God. Judas (who was NOT suffering from depression) despaired of his betrayal of Christ ever being forgiven.

      It sounds, by the way, as if your experience in the psych ward was miserable. It grieves me to hear that, Stella. ❤

      • Very interesting study on “despair”–thanks, Anna ❤

      • I hope you don’t mind me weighing in here, dear Anna, even with such a lengthy reply. 😉

        As I was thinking about the condition of despair a bit more closely, I was reminded of why God became man. The Good News that was foretold in the Old Testament was both read and incarnated by Jesus later, as it is written,

        “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Is 61:1-3 ESV)

        Also, I had to think about Jesus’ gentle invitation as He said,

        “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-29 ESV)

        If I had never despaired in my life nor reached the very end of my rope, I would have never come to know God’s mercy and love at all, either. God loves us beyond anything we could ever offer Him. He does not look at our sins when we despair of life itself, but He is close to us when we are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Ps 34:19). Furthermore, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Ps 147:3 ESV)

        Anna, I believe if someone despairs, God is very, very close to them since I sensed that yesterday when I was together with my daughter who, as you might know, has been suicidal for about five years now. I was sitting on the couch, quietly praying, while Sarah was lying there on the other side to my left, having had fever at that. And then, all of a sudden, God’s overwhelming peace began to spread in the living room where we were and enwrapped us both, no matter what!

        Although I do know that Thomas Aquinas is not really fun to read at times, 😉 I thought you might check out his (incl. Augustine’s) more intellectual thoughts on why despair is no sin – after my more spiritual take on this issue. 🙂 If you like, here is the link http://biblehub.com/library/aquinas/nature_and_grace/article_one_whether_despair_is.htm.

        As a last point I cannot prove, some years ago I had a both simple and striking revelation about Judas which really showed me God’s heart (it would be too long to write about it detailed here). It is clear when someone sins against God’s Holy Spirit, they will be punished as Scripture confirms. However, sinning against the ‘Son of Man’ (Jesus in His time on earth while not being seen as glorified yet), can be forgiven, even after death (‘the age to come’ in the last verse hints to this),

        “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Mt 12:31-32 ESV)

        Much love to you, ❤ ❤ ❤
        Susanne

      • Thank you for your thorough and well considered comment, Susanne. I am grateful for the clarification/correction. Clearly, it was needed. I seem to have done a very poor job with this post. As I attempted to explain to another reader, it was not my intention to assert that despair is sinful. Quite the opposite! My purpose was to convey that even by the strictest analysis — using, for instance, the definition of despair in the Catholic Encyclopedia — those suffering from the illness of depression and those (like abuse victims) who may lose hope about their life situation are not committing a sin. I’ll try to do better next time.

        Much love to you, too.

        A. ❤ ❤ ❤

  3. Thank you, Anna. God bless!

  4. Anna,
    I don’t put a lot of stock in the Catholic encyclopedia when it comes to their view of salvation when that religion defines salvation as partaking of certain sacraments in a timely manner. The nuns were teaching us that we would be saved by doing our religious works, but not not ever by faith IN Jesus Christ alone! Despair can come in many forms. I had despaired of ever coming out of my of my dark night of the soul God had me in for 14 years. I felt that God had forgotten me an did not even want to hear from me if I prayed. Am I going to hell?

    How about Paul?
    For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2Cor 1:8-9, ESV2011)

    Oh, I just read your humble reply to Susanne. Thank you for reconsidering.
    Michael ⭐

    • Michael, if you recall, this was the post you and I discussed. Thank you for your insight. ❤

      • Your are welcome, Anna. Somehow it did not come out the same with this condemnation about despair. That quote from the Catholic encyclopedia was not mentioned that I remember.

      • Exactly! Ironically, I intentionally left any mention of the Catholic Encyclopedia out of the post, in an effort to avoid the condemnation abuse victims (and depression sufferers, in general) so often encounter from church goers. Open mouth, insert foot (sigh). If you think the post is misleading, I will take it down.

      • For some of us at times it is “Open mouth and exchange feet.” 🙂 What you do on your blog should be led by the Spirit, dear sister.

        Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,” (Ps 146:3-5, ESV2011)

  5. Anna,
    Thank you for this post. As one who has suffered in ways similar to yours, it is hard to sift through what well-meaning Christians say. It is hurtful when they throw all the reasons at you for why you should not feel like you do, especially when the depression is so overwhelming you can barely breathe.
    I appreciate your clarification and understanding. I truly treasure and value what you have to say.
    Thanking God for allowing me to find your blog!
    God’s Blessings!!!
    Robbie

  6. Thanks for this. When I was younger, I lived in what I referred to as my “deep, dark pit of despair”. It wasn’t until I started reading my Bible, and relying on God, that I was able to be happy, instead of waking up crying. God Bless 🙂

  7. Thank you, Anna. Wonderful insights. I am learning much from you.

    • As you can see from the other comments to this post, I am just feeling my way, too! 🙂 I try hard to remain biblically (and doctrinally) correct, as I have no authority of my own. That can be a challenge w/ a hotly-contested issue like despair, where denominations differ.

      I am, by the way, enjoying your book The Mind of Christ. I apologize for taking so long about a review, David. I haven’t forgotten.

  8. Thank you very much Anna, God bless you
    Kisses back to you

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