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