The Evil of Despair

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Christ's temptation in the wilderness
Christ’s temptation in the wilderness

“In the growth of despair the devil plays a particularly important role and by means of this condition can provoke in the soul catastrophic consequences. ‘The devil’, St John Chrysostom tells us, ‘has no greater weapon in his hands than despair; we also give him less pleasure in sinning than in despairing.’ In this condition the individual basically despairs of God and cuts himself off from Him. As a result he leaves the field free for the devil’s action, and, bound hand and foot, yields to his power and is given up to spiritual death. As St Paul teaches ‘the sadness of the world worketh death’ (2 Cor. 7:10). Under the effect of despair (and sometimes even simply from sadness), man often comes to embrace corrupt passions, thinking that they might bring him a remedy for his condition. Thus the Apostle states, ‘having lost all hope they are free to embrace licentiousness, unto the working of all uncleanness; plunged in impurity’ (Eph. 4:19). Following him St. Gregory the Great tells us that the end result of sadness is ‘the straying of the spirit towards forbidden things.’ (Jean Claude Larchet, Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, pp 98-99)

While despair can be a temptation of the devil, it is possible to bring ourselves to despair – to bring our selves into the wilderness where Satan will meet and tempt us.  Some despair we experience is situational, we react to events going on over which we have no control.  Time and patience can at times bring us out of this funk.  Some despair is the result of body chemistry, which can be treated by psychiatry and/or psychological counseling.  Some despair is demonic and torments us, needing spiritual, physical and mental healing.   Some despair is chosen – the sadness of self-pity, which Chrysostom thought worse than sin.  We choose not to get out of it.

We often need help when in despair, whether from a supporting community of family, friends, parishioners, or from the mental health and medical community, or from our Lord Himself.

“… tribulation produces perseverance;and perseverance, character; and character, hope.Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

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