Wounded People, Wounded God 1: Despair Unto Death
Currently many people consider any concept or principle of morality to be nothing more than a social construct—a moral axiom rising from the culture rather than instruction coming from God.
Because of this, if people’s first encounter with the gospel is an angry condemnation of their lifestyle, the natural response will be one of resistance. This is certainly not the only response, but it is the most common. Perhaps a better approach would be to begin with a conversation about the reasons why something would be categorized as sin, and why such a thing would be toxic to them.
Kierkegaard defined sin as an escalation of despair. He defined despair as a “not-wanting-to-be-one’s-self”, or a dislike of one’s self that arises from resistance to belief in the eternal God. In this conscious or unconscious resistance, one seeks to find their identity and purpose in something or someone other than the creator God.
For example, immorality is sin, not only because the behavior is prohibited in the 10 commandments, but also because the act itself is an attempt to find ultimate meaning, satisfaction, and worth in creaturely relationships. People endeavor to overcome their despair by giving themselves over to something or someone else. In essence, this is the impulse behind every violation of the law of God, although it is not always conscious.
As sinners, we go after these “creaturely gods” because we overlook our connection to our creator God. A fracturing misalignment comes as we search for meaning among the created things (Romans 1:25) and therefore do not become our true self. To be our true self we must be in right relationship with our creator—this is Blaise Pascal’s God-shaped vacuum. And the continuation of this misalignment only increases despair.[i] This is, as Kierkegaard so aptly put it, a Sickness Unto Death.
Helping people recognize this will convey hope rather than pain as one begins to see that the denunciation of sin is ultimately directed, not at condemning the sinner (John 3:17), but rather at the health and wellbeing of the individual soul. The ultimate objective of the gospel is not condemnation but the eradication of despair (not through the performance of virtuous acts) but through faith in God through Christ Jesus. Faith is the opposite of despair! Isn’t this exactly what the Apostle Paul means when he writes, and whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
Therefore, the mission of the gospel is to help people see the nature of their despair and thereby discover the necessity of faith. As Christians we are called to walk with sinners, show them compassion, and assist them in embracing the truthfulness of their despair—just as we have embraced ours. And, then when they do, show them what we have discovered, that He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Christ. (Heb. 7:25)
[i] Kierkegaard, Soren. Sickness Unto Death (p. 49). Start Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.