The twin temptations of denial and despair were certainly the favorite haunts of Israel. Over and over again in their history, the children of Israel displayed the remarkable ability to deny the obvious about their plight, their guilt, or their future. It is perhaps the most profound embodiment of the sinful man and its story is not without its own indictment of our own penchant for denial in the face of guilt, shame, adversity, and even death. But the other twin is equally compelling in the life of Israel. They cried out to Moses or their king or God or anyone else who was listening -- woe is us. They seemed to know with certainty when God was ignoring them or had turned away from them (despite the witness of His prophets or His Word) and they were so quick so to rush to judgment that they were alone and abandoned that it is almost comical. Who can forget the poignant lines spoken by a complaining people -- is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have brought us out here in the wilderness to die??? Here again, they mirror our own innate ability to register despair to anyone who is listening.
The truth is, however, that denial and despair are exactly the targets of our faithful God whose Word and steadfast love will endure forever. He has met us on the shores of the river of denial and plunged us into its cold waters so that we mighty not minimize or relativize or excuse or justify away our sin and its death. But the whole purpose of this is not to condemn but to save. For the good and gracious will of God is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (Jesus). The voice of His law written upon our hearts and the clear voice of His commandments shout to us that we are sinners, that although all have gone astray, we are nonetheless individually responsible for that sin. Just when you would think that the piercing sword of His Word plunging through our denial would leave us at the pit of despair, He speaks of a love so lavish and so generous it defies our understanding. What we cannot reason out, we see with unmistakable eyes as the Most High God takes on flesh so that the Innocent One might die for sinners. And there is where the despair is killed upon the altar of the cross and a people without hope are raised to hope that will not disappoint them.
Just as denial of sin and its death is incompatible with Christian faith, so is despair. We may not be giggly happy all our days but we are not without the joy of the Lord who has deigned to become our Savior. When all was lost and man found the future impossible, the Lord intervened in His Son to write a new future that none could have predicted or prepared. In this marvelous surprise, the last are made first, the guilty forgiven, the dead raised. . . not because they are worthy of it or deserve it in any way or in view of some usefulness they might have to their Redeemer but only out of His steadfast love and mercy. Wrap your arms about that and you will find it hard to despair when life presents you with its worst! Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. So great that our eyes cannot see rightly nor our reason judge accurately. Only faith can see this truth that endures forever.
So in the tension between our two greatest temptations -- denial and despair -- listen and you will hear the voice of God confronting you with your sin and its wicked spouse of death but. . . before you tarry there too long, listen and you will hear the voice of hope spring form the agony and suffering of a crucifixion. God has become YOUR Redeemer no matter the cost of that redemption. And then, I challenge you, try to despair in the face of such love the world has seen nowhere else but Him who dies that we might live. From this comes the hope not only of a future but of the present. He died for all that those who live should not live for themselves but for Him. Our noble lives can only be lived in Him who loved us to the end or they will risk becoming cheap and ugly. In the waters of baptism we meet Him and we are connected to His cross and empty tomb so that who we were is gone and a new person has arisen. And lest our reason refuse every cause to hope, He grants us His Spirit to teach our fearful hearts to trust in Him who has loved us with the love that brings life now and forever. And lest we find it too easy to fall back into this empty past, the Spirit lives and works in us to know and love His commandments and will and to delight in walking in His ways. We have prayed create in us clean hearts, O God, and He has heard us and done just that! Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good!