Hope and Despair
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Philippians 1:21-23
During the disastrous consequences of my addiction, I experienced utter despair. The life I’d previously known was over and it appeared that I’d wrecked things in such a way that I’d never be able to put my family or career back together. In that despair, I didn’t want to take my own life, but at times I wished God would. My life was such a complete disaster that it seemed it would be easier if it was simply over. Unable to do it myself, I’d have been OK if God would have struck me down. Death wasn’t a pleasant option, but my life was a calamity. Life or death? Meh. In my despair I didn’t really care.
In today’s passage, Paul too expressed a tension between life and his death, but for very different reasons. His motivation wasn’t despair, but rather hope. He knew that for him to go on living meant that he would continue to serve the God he loved. He knew that to die, meant that he got to go live with God in heaven. He was torn between two options, but he deferred always to God’s will. It wasn’t yet time for him to go. He still had work to do.
In my despair, I was apathetic about life or death. In Paul’s hope, he was exuberant about both. In my addiction, I experienced a living death. Paul experienced authentic life. The difference between us is that I followed myself to destruction, misery, and pain, while Paul followed God to life, joy, and peace.
This is the daily choice we all face. Today, we can continue following our own way. It may not lead to the obvious disaster that my drug addiction did, but following our own plans, appetites, and desires will never fulfill us. In seeking our purpose and meaning in ourselves, we’ll always feel empty. Only in seeking God and his will for our lives do we find hope, joy, and life, because that’s how he made us.
As God saves us from ourselves, he gives us a new life to replace the old one. The only proper response to being saved is to use that new life in service to God, following him and loving those whom he’s put in our path. In our newfound hope, we realize that we now get to live for God and then one day, we will get to live with him. That is a life of hope.