Summary: The absence of hope is despair.
Many years ago an S-4 submarine went down off the coast of Massachusetts. It sank with a full compliment of sailors aboard. The US Navy did everything possible to rescue the men trapped inside, including sending down deep divers. But time was not on their side and the air supply began to run out. At one point one of the deep divers heard tapping on the hull of the submarine. The diver put his helmet next to the noise. It was Morse Code. The sailor trapped inside was tapping out a message. “Is there any hope?”
I suspect that same question is being asked by some of us here today. “Is there any hope?” Hope is a crucial ingredient in life. Without hope, it’s very difficult to keep going. It’s been said that humans can live 40-50 days without food. We can live 7-8 days without water. We can live 4-5 minutes without air. But we can’t live more than a few moments without hope.
The absence of hope is despair. At some point we’ve probably all experienced some level of despair. These are the times when we’re overcome with a sense of hopelessness; when we wonder if we can even make it through one more day. This is the third message in our series “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” In this series we’re discovering biblical tools to help overcome the dark chapters we occasionally face in life. Today’s message is called, “When Despair Descends.”
Our passage is found in 1 Kings 17:7-16. It takes place during the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was larger than the Southern Kingdom. It was also more rebellious. The man ruling in the north was named Ahab. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were two of the most wicked people found anywhere in the Bible. Our passage takes place not long after Ahab ascended to the throne. There was moral darkness throughout the land.
It was during this time that the prophet Elijah ministered. God used Elijah to pronounce judgment on the Northern Kingdom. One of the judgments God delivered through Elijah was that the Northern Kingdom would not have rain for several years. No rain meant no crops. No crops meant no food. No food meant widespread suffering among the people. That’s where we pick up the story in 1 Kings 17:7.
The first thing I want us to notice is the sense of despair that overwhelmed the widow. She had no more bread. No more food; only a bit of flour and a drop of oil; enough to make one last meal for herself and her son. After that she felt there was no more hope. The only thing left was to die. Things had gotten so dark that the woman couldn’t see any other option. She had lost all hope. And, like I said earlier, without hope, it’s very, very difficult to go on.
I wonder if you’ve ever gotten to that point? I have. In my experience, despair leaves us feeling empty. It’s hard to get up in the morning. We have no motivation to do anything. Despair makes us feel like we’re just going through the motions in life. There’s no joy. No sparkle. Sometimes despair makes us feel like life is moving in slow motion.
I’ve seen despair in people with marriage difficulties. They have fought and argued for so long that the couple stops believing their relationship can ever improve. They begin to disengage. For while they go through the motions; but eventually they feel they have only one option: divorce. I’ve also seen despair in singles who have waited and waited and waited to find the right mate. But that person never seems to come along. Eventually, for some people, despair descends and life grows dark and somber.
The circumstances may be different in your case, but almost everyone I know has passed through at least of few periods of despair. So my question is this: How do we deal with these seasons in our lives? What will help us stay afloat during these dark and painful chapters? Well, I’d like to suggest three steps that will help a great deal.
1. Reduce fear with fellowship.
Notice what Elijah tells the widow in verse 13. His first words are “Don’t be afraid.” When despair begins to descend it often produces fear. The woman in our passage was obviously afraid of what would happen when her food ran out. The only option she could see was to eat the last piece of bread with her son and then die. That would have been a very scary situation to face.
I’ve observed in my life that fear compounds despair. Fear makes despair worse. When we’re afraid we don’t see things in their proper perspective. Things get blown out of proportion. They look darker than they really are. So Elijah’s first words are, “Don’t be afraid.” Elijah wants to diffuse the widow’s fear so she can begin seeing things from God’s perspective.