The Death of Despair
Officials from the American intelligence community recently told a Senate hearing that computer networks across the United States face a threat of cyberattack from hostile governments, hackers, and terrorists.
"It's hard to overemphasize its significance," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said. "These capabilities put all sectors of our country at risk—from government and private networks to critical infrastructures."
And cyberattack is far from the only threat, according to the annual intelligence review. Other reasons for angst:
- Terrorism and organized crime from decentralized enemies;
- Nuclear weapons in the hands of hostile regimes from North Korea to Iran;
- Attacks on interests in outer space vital for communications, surveillance, and navigation;
- Pandemics caused by mutating pathogens;
- Threats to our supplies of food, water, energy, and minerals;
- Economic deterioration caused by a crisis in Europe.
Despite our relative prosperity, our emphasis on self-esteem, our investments in personal and financial security, our boundless expenditures on health and fitness, our industries of fun and entertainment, we are a nation gripped by fear, angst, and uncertainty.
As the poet W. B. Yeats said nearly a century ago during a time of similar upheaval,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Deliver Us from Darkness
Followers of Jesus Christ, of all people, have reason not to despair. On the night of the Lord's impending departure, however, despair was in the air.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace," Jesus told his disciples in the upper room. "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
Have peace. Take heart. In the world. Amid tribulation. Don't fear or despair. Why? Because Christ has overcome the world. How?
In the garden, he let anguished drops of blood fall to the ground. He endured betrayal, arrest, and desertion. Before the Sanhedrin, he withstood mockery and slaps in the face from those who ought to have worshiped him. He was silent before the self-indulgent foolishness of Herod Antipas. Before Pilate, he allowed the unjust sentence of death to remain. With the Roman soldiers, he absorbed the crown of thorns, the whipping, the loss of his clothing. On the cross he endured exposure before the vulgar masses, the agony of nails through his wrists and feet, the torture of asphyxiation, the catcalls. In his soul he experienced the shock of his Father's withdrawal and wrath.
That scene doesn't seem like the kind of overcoming that will enable us to take heart. But it is. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Death, it turns out, is not the end; it is the entrance to life, the passageway to escape sin, fear, and despair. We must die so that we may live.
Christ died, paying the penalty for our sins, and was raised three days later, demonstrating our forgiveness with God. Now united through faith with Christ, we too are called to die to all that enslaves us, all that tempts us to despair. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, revealing the entrance to a new life for believers, where the forces of fear, decay, and despair can never have the last word. We too, because of Christ, can overcome this tribulation-filled world . . . even as we await the next one.
No wonder, then, that the message entrusted to the church is called gospel—literally, good news. The church has been given the good news that liberates men and women from despair . . . providing daily freeom and eternal hope, no matter the fear du jour.
It is a joyful task, but it can be a difficult one, as well. The same forces that drive our neighbors to despair can block our best efforts to share this good news: issues of ignorance, access, economic and political barriers, persecution, cultural clashes, and more. We live in a tribulation-filled world that sometimes chooses despair over good news.
Things may seem to be falling apart now; the center may indeed be crumbling. Yet because Christ has overcome, we can take heart. We can also take his good news to the ends of the earth with confidence, knowing that despair can never have the last word.