This is an important question: Why are you in despair? To despair means to lose all hope or confidence. At times we may despair over certain people or circumstances around us. But those instances of despair are a reflection of a deeper despair that is brewing in our souls: To lose hope is to question God. Those people or circumstances that we have “lost hope with” are only tangible indicators that we have lost hope with God Himself, or at least our hope is greatly diminished in God. When we despair of things we call into question God’s power. If God is all-powerful could He not straighten things out according to His will? When we despair of things we call into question God’s wisdom. If God is all-wise is He not right in all He does and skillful in how He leads you to glory? Additionally, we call into question His sovereignty and goodness. Scripture teaches God is both totally good and totally in control. When we are battling despair we must by faith believe these two truths in relationship to each person and circumstance that we face. To despair is to put God on trial. And who are we to do such a thing?
And yet, each of us at various points struggle with this temptation to despair: some of us at a very deep level, some of us in particular instances that come and go. God’s Word acknowledges this struggle and records instances of His children working through these struggles. Psalm 43 is just one example:
Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! 2 For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 3 O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God. 5 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God (Psalm 43:1-5).
In his despair the Psalmist feels the need for vindication in the face of wicked people (v. 1). But more devastating in the Psalmist’s despair is the fact that he has a feeling that God has “rejected” him (v. 2) in the face of those enemies. And yet, there is great evidence that the Psalmist truly is one of God’s children, for he simultaneously knows that God is His true joy: “God my exceeding joy” (v. 4). Such is the bewildering despair of a true child of God in the face of persistent overwhelming difficulty. There is a deep sense of need that is couched in the two parallel and contradictory experiences of having a sense of neglect from God and yet knowing that He alone is the fountain of all joy.
So how should we respond in such a dilemma? Psalm 43 does not disappoint in giving us counsel here.
First, do you notice what the Psalmist is doing? He is praying. In times of despair we must simply talk to God about our despair. Often we trick ourselves into thinking that we are in fact talking to God, but many times we are talking about talking to God in prayer regarding the trouble in our souls. Satan loves to encourage us to speak of prayer, but to not actually pray so that he can then convince us that God is not truly listening. Are you in despair? Pray and keep praying.
Second, the Psalmist is very honest with God about his feelings of despair. In times of despair we must honestly communicate to God our despair. God knows our hearts, in fact, He knows our thoughts before they even are formed into words (Psalm 139:4). He knows that at times we think He has “rejected” us (v. 2). Which would be better? Superficially hide the particular thoughts of despair or to go to Him about them? In any relationship if a misunderstanding is to be cleared up, there must be honest communication between both parties. In this case, we know that God already knows, and we know that He is good and right, but we need to communicate what has cropped up in our minds that He might lovingly deal with it in our souls.
Third, in the middle of this frank prayer the Psalmist is holding on to something with all his might. In times of despair we must tenaciously hold onto who we know God to be as revealed in His Word. What knowledge does the Psalmist communicate about God in the middle of this despair? (1) That God hears prayer and can deliver those who call out to Him; (2) That God is his strength (v. 2); (3) That God guides His children (v. 3); (4) That worship cures the soul even if the soul does not know how to get there (v. 4); (5) That God has been his exceeding joy (v. 4); and (6) That God is his God (v. 4). Your knowledge of God may be dim and confused during times of despair, but hold onto any shred of true knowledge of God in times of despair and by faith live upon that knowledge.
Fourth, not only is the Psalmist talking to God in his despair, he is also talking to himself (which in this case is a good thing!). In times of despair we must by faith talk to our souls with the knowledge we have of God, not listen to ourselves doubt that knowledge of God. Notice how the Psalmist does this in v. 5.
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God (Psalm 43:5).
Do you see what he is doing here? The Psalmist is questioning his questioning! By faith he is arguing himself out of despair. He is acknowledging what the problem is and striving to see it rectified. The problem is the same problem for all of us in the middle of despair: We have ceased to hope in God. Notice the fight of faith that the Psalmist is waging and that we are called to wage in the middle of despair: “hope in God, for I shall again praise Him.” In other words, “I acknowledge I am not where I need to be, but to get there I must have a restored hope in God. So I am going to preach at myself until I hope again because ‘I shall again praise Him.’ I am going to preach to myself because I know that my God is the One who alone can help my countenance.”
Are you in despair? Pray honestly holding onto what you know to be true of God all the while preaching truth to your soul rather than listening to yourself. If you are in the middle of despair right now then it may seem that there is little knowledge of God in your soul to hold onto. Let me encourage you to start with a renewed glimpse of the cross of Jesus Christ.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Soak your soul in such gospel truths and ask the Spirit of God to rekindle your hope in Him. Do not listen to the lies of your own heart, look at the cross and see a God you can trust, even in despair.