Finding hope in despair


The end of June was marked by horrific happenings, and Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 on 28 June was a live service, so could reflect these. Rev David Bruce’s sermon has been greatly shortened for our thought for the month: for the whole of what he said, go to this link, where you can listen to the service or read the script.

The Psalms don’t sanitise suffering. Nor do they dodge the issue of believing in a good God, especially when, most of the time, the weight of evidence appears to be against such a belief. The families with relatives in Tunisia today, and people in Kuwait and France, reeling with news of their bereavement, must wonder where God is in the horrific events which have unfolded.

The theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the language of Psalm 13 as a “limit expression”, a statement of anguish limited by the horrible horizon of human distress. “O Lord, how long will you forget me?” It’s genuinely liberating for us to discover this language is sacred. That it’s OK to express the bewilderment, anger, outrage and fury at how life works, because God knows it already.

Psalm 13 has six verses. The first four are limit expressions, but the poet is somehow able to say, after everything that has happened, “But I trust in your unfailing love …”. Walter Brueggemann describes the journey through the gap from v4 to v5 as having three stages:

  • Orientation. Human life is fine. Things are going well. There is stability. It’s easy to be grateful to God for the consistency of his blessings to us. Life is good. But then comes…
  • Disorientation. Human life is not fine. We are in anguish. This is a season of hurt, alienation, suffering and death. Life is a mess. But then comes…
  • Re-orientation. Human life is renewed. We are surprised, overwhelmed with new gifts from God. Joy breaks through the despair. Life is deeper.

It might take a day, or it might take a decade – but in the gap, at the limit, God does a work of unfathomable mystery.

The mobilisation of God is the antidote to despair. This is not wishful thinking. This is not just singing praise songs to make us feel better. This is living by faith – an audacious act of defiance, which says, “I am not going to fall over – I will stand”.