I Don’t Have The Luxury Of Despair

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I like Martyn Joseph a lot. My dad has been a fan of his music since the late ’80s, and his songs have meant a lot to us both over the years. ‘The Luxury of Despair’ is a song from his 2015 album ‘Sanctuary‘, and was apparently inspired by a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp:

As the sun rises in my children’s eyes
I don’t have the luxury, the luxury of despair

Until now this seemed a strange concept to me, but today as I was driving along the A38 with my two-year-old in the back and this song playing, something sort of clicked.


For no particular reason my anxiety has spiked a bit in recent weeks, manifesting itself in a number of irrational yet unsettling thought patterns, and mild-to-moderate existential crises. This happens from time to time, and although it’s not easy, I’m learning not to take myself too seriously when my mind is in this over-thinking mode. The unpleasant effect of this particular period of excessive brain activity is that I have been acutely aware of the depth of human suffering and the bleak reality of much of human experience. Heavy stuff.

When you’re tuned into it, suffering and death is everywhere. And the more you notice it, the more it weighs on your heart, and ‘despair’ starts to seem a fitting description.

I think everyone experiences this to some extent, at some point. Whether facing suffering directly or becoming aware of situations in the lives of others, it can so easily become overwhelming. Lots of people lose their faith as a result of being unable to reconcile their understanding of God with the suffering they see in the world.

Stephen Fry expressed this with passion and refreshing candor in a 2015 interview in which he was asked what he would say to God if he had to confront him:

“How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? Yes, the world is very splendid but it also has in it insects whose whole lifecycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us?”  Stephen Fry

When faced with so much senseless suffering in our world, I – like many others – can struggle to see a deeper meaning or purpose behind it. Despair can sometimes seem like the only reasonable response.

That is, until I notice all the other stuff.

The light in my daughter’s eyes as she laughs; the exquisite beauty of a sunset over a calm sea; the fierce love of a father fighting for his family; the glorious sound of a community choir singing at full pelt… the incessant and intrinsic goodness in humanity that reveals itself again and again in even the most unlikely of situations. The enduring strength of love.

Because when you’re tuned into it, hope is everywhere.

Faced with so much light and love in our world, I struggle not to see a deeper meaning and purpose behind it. Faith seems like the only reasonable response.

So no, I don’t have the luxury of despair either (if despair can ever be described as luxurious).

These glimmers of light don’t answer my troubling questions. But they do keep the flame of hope burning in my heart. They keep me searching for something more, hungry for a deeper existence. And that in itself is strangely nourishing.

“In…absence there is an icon to presence, in seeking there is evidence of having found, in questioning there is a hint that the answer has been given, and in hunger there is a deep and abiding nourishment. Faith…can thus be described as a wound that heals.”

Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak Of God

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Dear God, help me to believe in you.

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Dear God,

Today I am not sure you exist, but I’m praying anyway.

It seems as though the older I get and the more I learn, the less sure I am about anything.

I never used to doubt you, not really. I was taught that I could have absolute confidence and certainty in my beliefs, and I did. I was taught that there were clear explanations for everything if I was just clever enough to understand. We had the answers, others needed to hear them before it was too late. I suppose we thought we owned you, in a way.

Now I look around and see how this sort of “strong faith” so often leads to a closed-minded, blinding arrogance that causes people to justify oppression, violence and destruction of our planet, and I find myself siding with the atheists.

I was taught that you always answer prayer, and that if I fully trusted you and prayed with faith, all would be well.

Now I see images of boats crammed full of desperate families in life-jackets, surely praying harder and with more faith than I could ever possibly muster, whose cries for help apparently go unanswered. If you don’t answer those prayers, how can I be so arrogant to think that you will answer mine?

I was taught that I could have a relationship with you, but how do I silence the voice in my head that tells me you are a figment of my imagination, a kind of Santa Claus for grown-ups? How can I trust and rely on you as my closest friend and Father when you might not exist?

I suspect I am never going to stop asking these questions, but I know I will never give up my faith. The Jesus story (although not the penal-substitution-soaked, exclusive, it’s-all-about-avoiding-hell one) remains the best, most beautiful, fascinating and potentially world-changing story I have ever heard. Whether or not it’s factually true, I still believe it could save us. I am clinging to that.

The uncomfortable truth is that none of us can ever really know what all of this is about. But I would rather live with hope and be wrong than become a nihilist and be right.

So I will continue praying, even when I am convinced I am deluding myself. And maybe, just maybe, that is what faith is supposed to be about.

Maybe “strong faith” doesn’t mean having absolute certainty in my beliefs. Maybe it means refusing to let go of hope even when it seems entirely implausible that there is any deeper meaning to life.

Maybe faith is more like floating on the surface of a deep ocean than standing on a mountain top.

So God, if you are there, help me never to doubt you so much that I lose hope, but never to be so certain about you that I lose faith.

Amen.

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith.”

Søren Kierkegaard

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