Against Despair in a Time of Trouble

We are reeling from the violent events of the past few weeks. The school shooting in Florida, the mail bombs in Austin, and the most recent school shooting in Maryland are all sad and painful reminders of the broken and often evil world in which we live. What is going on? Is this too complex to understand?

Mental illness. The boy crisis. The raging gun debate. Video games. Isolation. The lack of stable communities. Family breakdown. Just plain old evil.

There is something in all of this to consider in light of the Church season we are about to observe. That something is called “nihilism”. That’s a big and heavy word describing a view of the world that says “traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

There is great despair in nihilism and also great capacity for what we call in the Christian tradition “evil”. The great work of literature exploring nihilism and God was, of course, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The anti-hero Raskolnikov commits a horrendous act in testing out nihilism, only to be dogged by conscience, civil law, and divine judgment and grace throughout the rest of the book.

When I was in my twenties — long before I discerned a call to ministry — I began noticing the first generation of those who had left the Christian Faith. The reasons they left can be explored later. The point is, they still had a point of contact — they had been raised in the church — and their lives still reflected that point of contact. (At the time, I called this “running on fumes”). Succeeding generations, however, no longer had even that point of contact. And, life divorced from true hope gives rise to baseless sentimentality on one hand and nihilistic despair on the other.

This is a big reason why the day-in and day-out of church is so important — not only for our children but also for ourselves! How tempted are you to wonder just how much value your work or life holds? Who defines that? Further, how much value does another person’s work or life hold?

The answer will be given to us as Holy Week culminates in the greatest news ever told to the human race. We, even at our worst, are so valued and valuable that God’s own Son bled and died to return us to the embrace of the Father. We are of infinite value. We are heirs of a King.

One day, all of this violence we see will end. Every tear will be wiped from our grieving eyes. Evil, despair, futility, and brutality will be cast down, never to rise again. All because our Savior Jesus Christ was cast down and did rise again.

Spreading this news in our little section of Southwest Houston is the strike from which nihilism can never recover. Every sermon is a blow against nihilism’s sway. Every taste of bread and wine breeches nihilism’s gates. Every word of Scripture read and every act of love performed in the name of Christ is a body blow to nihilism’s meaninglessness and senselessness.

What we do on Sundays is organized, spiritual, material, metaphysical resistance to our greatest nightmares. It is resistance with substance and power because of the One who has come and conquered on the cross and through the empty tomb. Let us enter into Holy Week with respect, awe, and gratitude for the gift that we have received — the gift of a hope built on powerful truth.

— David Browder