Dark Devotional: An Argument with St. Paul about some Biblical Platitudes

Dark Devotional: An Argument with St. Paul about some Biblical Platitudes July 22, 2016

“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Life, death, time. That about covers it.
Life, death, time. That about covers it.

In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul suggests that suffering is something in/for/about which to give glory.

But Paul, don’t be ridiculous.

I can’t give glory for my sufferings. In the midst of tribulation, I can’t boast of them. Afterwards? Nope. Sometimes good may come out of a lousy situation, and maybe that good is something for which to give glory, in which to boast.

Boast. Ha! I can’t believe I even used the word. Paul, I was raised a good evangelical, American child, and I still find “boast” to be a nasty word. Be humble, they taught me. So no, as much as I try, I can’t boast of my afflictions. Won’t boast of my afflictions. Stubbornness? humility? Habit? I don’t know.

What you say next seems true: “affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.” Well, true-ish. Affliction also wears me down. And I don’t know what “proven character” is, and I doubt the validity and utility and even the healthiness of hope. Especially when hope lets me down.

“Especially when hope lets me down,” I say.

“Hope does not disappoint,” says Paul.

Fine, Paul. Both of us speak from experience. Maybe you even reach back into history to support your assertions. The ancient Israelites hoped (and suffered and screwed up, just like us). God gave their descendants the grounds to ask, “What is man that you should be mindful of him?” (Ps 8:5) But God followed through. God came. At least you say so. God fulfilled their hopes.

I can only reach so far as my own history.

I read that Wisdom “found delight in the human race.” (Proverbs 8:31) Would not, then, Wisdom be with us? Looking around the world today, and back on my own experience, I think, often not.

Not when I’m hypomanic, my legs, my hands, my head shaking. Not when my inner-experience becomes something akin to a long-term panic-attack. Wisdom would help me find a way out, no? But maybe this is not the humankind in which Wisdom finds her delight. She leaves me lonely.

Okay fine, Paul. In the long, long, long haul, affliction can produce endurance. I can look back and say, I made it through one more trip to Behavioral Health. I made it through the worst panic/anxiety attack I’ve experienced. I made it through the social/emotional/psychological hell of sixth grade. And knowing all that, I think I can make it again.

But there is also deterioration. There is also thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.”  There is, “Not again.”What if my affliction means I don’t endure, that instead I shrink to a tally mark in the inpatient-statistics-textbook or the suicide binder?

I read that the Spirit of Truth will clarify these and all things (John 16:13). But when? I thought the Spirit was to come with the resurrection and our belief. Maybe I misunderstood. Probably. If only Jesus hadn’t talked in obscure riddles.


Do people really mean it when they say they wouldn’t change the suffering in their past? I would.

Jason would have never committed suicide. My therapist and I wouldn’t have had to split: I would have gotten better enough for us to do the work. Professor Vande Kopple wouldn’t have died a month after graduation. I would never have cut: not at age 14, not at age 22, not at age 25. The Sandy Hook shooting would have never taken place. Pulse wouldn’t have happened. Philando Castille’s daughter wouldn’t have witnessed his murder. Eve wouldn’t have been so damn curious. Yes, even that I would change.

But here we are, Paul. I can’t seem to change anything, not even my piss-poor attitude. Hope? Hope is a dirty word.

“Hope does not disappoint–” says Paul.

Oh but it does! I insist.

“–because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts,” he goes on.

Well, there’s something: love.

I can’t or won’t love myself, but I can’t control the love of others, or the love of God.  Writes Mary Karr: “In love portions are never stingy. There are no pinches or smidgens, only rolling abundance.” Let us not deceive ourselves: love does not mean a guaranteed or immediate healing. But love opens us, just a crack, and God pours in completely, continuously. To accept love is to accept another breath, and to breathe is to hope.

“And hope does not disappoint,” says Paul.

11698938_931687520221898_8413186225777817808_o_2Annie Williams lives in Mount Hermon, California, is a graduate of Calvin College’s English program, and a barista at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. She hopes to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In the meantime, she enjoys the company of a talented psychiatrist, the lovely people at the pharmacy, her brilliant therapist, and an irreplaceable support group of friends and family, all of whom play inextricably important roles in her life with bipolar II. Annie writes semi-regularly at honestmemoir.blogspot.com

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