The Mistress of Despair

[Note: this is a continuing part of a series reproducing a sermon. An explanation can be found here.]

Pride is not the only danger when obedience becomes our mistress. When we put too much weight on the second half of this ‘equation’, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” the word ‘commandments’ will loom large to us. Next to the standard of obedience that represents, we will see the countless ways in which we do not measure up, and we will despair.

We will conclude that we have nothing to be proud of except our consciousness of failure. And we despair. Reformed and Presbyterian churches tend to foster this response. We will emphasize how unworthy we are of Christ’s favor, and that emphasis finds a resonant chamber in the heart of the sensitive conscience.

This leads to what I have called the Linda Ronstadt Effect. All the music of our heart is drowned out by the constantly looping refrain:

“You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, Baby, you’re no good.”

It is a song we can’t turn off, and the longer it plays, the more we despair. We come to the Bible, and all we can see is the Law, and the Law exposes our sin, and we despair. We’re no good.

And the more we despair, the more we avoid others. The more we despair, the more distant and elusive becomes joy. We become somber and dull (oops!) and our testimony disappears into negativity. Who wants to become a Christian if it means the weight of despair? We become the Eeyore’s of the Christian menagerie, when we should have the exuberance of Tigger.

Eventually the despair can become so great that we give up. Grateful for the grace of the gospel, we move slowly and slyly to put the weight on the first half of the equation. “Jesus loves me; I love Jesus.” Anything more, we conclude, is just TOO hard to figure out, and so we don’t. I can’t keep the commandments and so I’m not even going to try.

Such is the path of pride and despair. But somewhere, somehow, we know there must be something better.