March 6, 2011
Ashes and Anguish
“And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:27-29).
There is a certain hopelessness that often precedes the hope that can be found in God. Until we’ve been driven to despair concerning our own “gods, the work of men’s hands,” we are hardly ready to appreciate the God who is truly God.
As long as we remain “here” in the realm where life seems to be working tolerably well, we’ll probably do very little seeking of God. Self‑confidence keeps us from looking for anything outside of ourselves. But hopes built on self‑confidence have a way of crumbling, and the time comes when we have to go over “there” to a realm where nothing we can do has any hope of securing our survival.
“From there,” Moses said, “you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The sooner we go from “here” to “there,” the sooner we’ll seek God with all our hearts and all our souls.
Some people have the wisdom and humility to see for themselves the truth of Solomon’s conclusion: “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered” (Ecclesiastes 1:14,15). Most of us, however, have to have help. We have to be “broken” by circumstances painful enough to destroy our proud dream of self‑sufficiency. We have to be driven to despair. The impossible hopes of human self‑rule have to be torn from our grasp.
The good things that await us in God are things that require trust.
To the extent we’re not willing to let go of the created things we’ve been clinging to, we’re not ready, or able, to receive what the Creator has for us. If it takes ashes and anguish to destroy our worldly hopes, then these are not bad things. Exactly what it is that should follow our despair may be a matter of disagreement, but the philosopher is our friend who forces us to look, without blinking, at the utter hopelessness of naked human existence.
“Life begins on the other side of despair” (Jean Paul Sartre).