The greatest obstacle I face each day is despair. Not a temporal, depressed despair, not a despair related to things in the outside world, but a despairing of myself. God has changed me these last few years in ways I can’t even describe, drawn me closer to him, given me a passion for him, and yet I regularly struggle with a feeling that I am going nowhere, that I am constantly failing. However much God changes me, I still find myself regressing, find further and further flaws in myself. He heals me of some flaw, and immediately another crops up. It seems I can never overcome the daily barrage of distractions from Him, never truly give him my all and all. If I believe that the creator of the entire universe wants to get so close to me that I no longer just call him Lord and Father but Abba, Dad, Daddy, surely that realization would cause me to turn aside from all temptation? Surely the offer of eternal happiness in him would outweigh any temptations the world throws at me?
But it doesn’t. Sometimes it does, of course, when I’m on a spiritual mountaintop and light breaks over me and shows me the truth of what I’ve been offered, the truth of God’s love, the truth of what price He paid for me. Then everything is marvelously, ridiculously simple. “Come, follow me,” He says, and so I do, but where He leads is invariably right back down into the valley I was so happy to be out of. The shadows get longer, the night gets darker, and I slowly lose sight of Him. I get distracted – distracted! – from an almighty God who loves me like a Son and is offering me eternal fulfillment. Worse is what I get distracted by. Not by offers any greater than His – that would be impossible – but by pathetic, petty, childish lusts and angers and prides.
This realization that I am the kind of person who is so easily led astray is akin to discovering some sort of invasive cancer in my body, and is central to my despair. It feels inescapable, as though no matter what I do it will still be there, sometimes receding but always present and preparing to metastasize again.
And that is precisely the account we are given. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God,” writes Paul. We are fallen. This is not a matter of lack of effort or focus or concentration. These things may improve us, but we will still “fall short of the glory of God,” fail to be “perfect, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Romans 3, Matthew 5). No, this not a matter of what we do but of what we are.
And here I finally begin to see hope. This is not some personal failing, something that affects me and me alone. All have fallen short, no one is worthy of God’s love, and yet – Paul continues – “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And that redemption is not simply the wiping away of past sins, or the forgiveness of sins, although that is a part; that redemption is God’s hand upon us, changing not just what we do but who we are. I am fallen, and He knows that, and somehow in His perfection loves me anyway. He is taking us, flawed tools that we are, and making us “the light of the world,” that we might serve Him in the valley as much as on the mountaintop.