Sin #2: Hopeless Discouragement

Boy, it’s depressing just to read the words.  This one is pure poison.  I first addressed discouragement as Tactic of the Enemy #3.  But this tactic eventually entwines itself so thoroughly in our hearts and minds that it determines our own pattern of thinking.  It affects how we see the world, how we see our faith and relationship toward God, and how we interact with other people.  It leads to apathy, disillusionment, cynicism, despair, and eventually, a detached conscience, unmoved by the needs of others.

In Pornified, the author relates us to one man she calls Gabe, who was getting so deep into his porn addiction that he once spent an entire week looking at it, 24/7.  I’m sure he slept somewhere in there.  But then he met these two “porn shut-ins,” as he calls them–two guys he says “never learned to interact with people,” who when he tries to get them to go out and do stuff, they’re “chomping at the bit” to get back home.  They are totally immersed in pornography.  Gabe got a little scared that he could become like them, and thought he should use his willpower to go several days at a time without porn every now and then.  Balance is good, right?  (The delusion of freedom and control).  Besides, it would be good to see his kids from his first marriage every now and then.  Yeah, maybe.  (Another example of the real ‘hurt’ caused by porn that is absurdly denied by the religious left).

This example depicts for us the effects of long-term wallowing in hopeless discouragement.  The mind gets warped so severely that it perceives the addiction–porn, in this case–as more desirable than real life.  It aches to return to the comforts of perversion and flesh at the fingertips, and gets annoyed at having to spend all the time in the real world, interacting with real people.  And it sees “answers,” such as Gabe’s delusion of his own willpower, that are in fact just solidifying the effects of the addiction.  Sooner or later, his willpower will crumble, and he will become even more discouraged, and even more oblivious to the concerns of real life, and real people.

Now, you might be wondering why I label these kinds of things as signs of discouragement.  Aren’t these guys just addicts, or extreme perverts, or guys who need a hug, or something else?  Where do you see the discouragement?

The discouragement is evident in this: their inability to imagine life any different.  The refusal to attempt to change.  These men have departed from life, and have no hope of it ever being different.  Their greatest hopes are that a porn star will show up at the front door one day.  Or that they’ll win some contest and get to show up at theirs.  Remember the quote from the Intro to this section: “What excites eventually pleases, what pleases eventually satisfies.  And satisfaction sooner or later leads to boredom.”

Once boredom sets in, and you realize that all this effort, expense, and pursuit has led to nothing, you then discover that discouragement owns you, but it’s too late to escape it.  It’s all you know.  Your only choices are to keep going deeper into the addiction, or to try to mitigate it using your willpower, which is guaranteed to fail if that’s your only weapon.  Either way, failure multiplies, boredom exacerbates, and the hopeless and futile outlook on your life spreads into all aspects of your perspective on the world.  You become apathetic–incapable of changing, and not caring enough to try.  Deadened to anything that doesn’t present an immediate reward.  You have unmet needs, and only know one way to pacify them.  You have no space in your heart for the needs of others.

In contrast, let’s look at what the Bible says about apathy:

Proverbs 24:10
If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited. (NAS)

The wisdom and insight into human nature displayed in Proverbs staggers me.  What is our distress?  Loneliness, insecurity, fear of rejection.  No one called me.  My girlfriend stood me up.  Why didn’t my date kiss me last night?  Why did she leave me?  Why didn’t I get the job?  Rather than turn to God in these times, many people turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sexual addiction.  Driven to escape.  And this is at the core of hopeless discouragement.

Once it gets inside us, it becomes our own enemy.  Our own sin.  The enemy doesn’t have to hit us with it after a while, because we do it naturally.

I like to think of it this way: Porn is the inoculation for relational trials and failures.  Porn and other addictions are the easy way out.  But porn is the easiest, because nowadays, with a good internet connection, you can get quite a bit of it for free.  Life beats people up sometimes.  We go through hardships, failures, letdowns, abandonment, rejections, betrayals, and financial stress.  Medical problems.  Family problems.  Relationship failures and loneliness.  Everyone wants to escape to something.  They’ll do anything to stop feeling discouraged and depressed.  Some people end up in debt trying to escape.  There’s a lot of stuff out there to buy.

Sin, therefore, is the opposite of faith.  Sin turns to things other than God’s word to make itself feel better.  Faith trusts in the power and love of God to take us through anything.  Easier said than done, I know.  That doesn’t mean it’s not true.

James 1:12
Blessed is the man who endures the trial, because having become approved, he will receive the crown of life which He promised to the ones loving Him. (NT Transline)

Interesting that endurance is tied to the love of God.  The one who endures receives the crown of life, which God promised to those who love Him.  To love God, therefore, is to endure through trials and suffering.

Everyone suffers.  Some people have mistakenly accused Christianity of somehow exalting suffering as virtue.  Suffering isn’t virtue; it’s life.  Look at the list of problems and hardships listed above.  You aren’t going to avoid hardship your whole life.  I don’t care if you’re a multi-billionaire.  Even multi-billionaires need love and acceptance.  The question is, what do we do in response to suffering?  We win the approval of God when we endure through it by faith.  Endurance links to the love of God through obedience.  We will endure if we love, and we love if we obey.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  You cannot love God and also willfully disobey Him–meaning, live for yourself.  If we love God, it means we trust Him.  We read and believe His word.  We follow Him.  And from this we find courage, the antidote to discouragement.

Courage is not usually about some physical obstacle that the bravest guy is willing to overcome, like rescuing the drowning kid in the ocean.  How often does that happen?  Rather, courage is about choosing righteousness.  Courage is about faith–believing what God says about you, and living in accordance.  Courage is about fighting the urge to allay our suffering or pain with a pacifying addiction.  Courage asks for help.  Courage repents. Courage asks for prayer.  Courage turns off the TV and reads the Bible instead.  Courage refuses to accept the status quo.  Courage fights until it wins.  Courage thrives on truth, not on feelings.  Courage gives, and doesn’t worry about receiving back.  Courage goes to work each day, and doesn’t call in sick so it can watch porn, or get high, or get drunk.

Addiction only has power over the one who lacks the courage to live as God has designed us to live.  And living with courage eventually produces our greatest weapon: joy.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.  Remember what it says in Joshua:

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (NAS)

Heard this verse too many times too?  Believe it this time!  God is with you.  That is enough to get through any trial or hardship.  How do I know this (besides its fruit in my own life)?  The testimony of scripture and all the people in it who endured enormous suffering while holding to their faith is more than enough evidence.  But people today endure just as much.  Or look in church history, at stories of people like St. Patrick (no, it really isn’t a dumb holiday about getting drunk and acting like fools; this guy was a major hero of the faith who did amazing things for God….I actually believe the enemy has made this day into a beerfest holiday to accelerate the forgetfulness of who the real Patrick was).

The point is, you can endure suffering.  Yes, you can.  But not by willpower, or by concentrating real hard, or by injuring yourself.  You can endure by faith.  God has commanded us to be strong and to have courage.  He’s not suggesting it.  It’s a command.  It is a sin to be dismayed and discouraged about life, because God is in our midst, and in His presence there is fullness of joy.  If we truly know and understand our God and all He has done for us, our spiritual blessings, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power of grace, and eternal mercy, we find joy, and we find strength.  The eternal perspective–remember the Reasons you want freedom–this is the source of your strength.  You have to know your God before His power will actually change your life.

On the other hand, if you are mired in hopeless discouragement, then you already know the inherent danger of this sin–it reinforces the impossibility of escaping it.

Discouragement, as we saw in the proverb above, limits your strength.  You get weak and feel hopeless.  Then, when you sin and fail again, your hopelessness is reinforced, and starts piling up on itself.  This sin prevents us from doing anything for God.  And I’m not necessarily talking about being a missionary, or leading a ministry, or discipling someone.  As with “Gabe,” it might be as simple as getting up in the morning!  Brush your teeth.  Shave.  Wash your clothes.  When real despair takes root and starts to flourish, even things like basic hygiene start to become mountains you can’t climb.  Take the trash out.  Go shopping for fresh food.  Cook yourself a meal.  Turn off the blasted video game.  Get a life.

The truth is, you have a life.  The only life is in God, and if you have Him, you have the greatest life that can be had.  But it doesn’t look so great from the bottom of the well.  Hopeless discouragement lives there.

It’s one of the best scenes in the film Batman Begins (2005).  Bruce Wayne was traumatized as a child when he fell down a well and a bunch of bats flew past him.  To conquer his fear as an adult, he goes back down the well, crawls into the hole, and waits for the bats.  When they don’t come, he activates his high-pitched sounding device, and the bats consume him, flying all around his body.  And he stands there, eyes closed, unafraid.  My fear is dead.

What feeds hopeless discouragement is the fear that life will never change.  And if it did, it would be even worse than it is now, so I’d rather not try.  Apathy, malaise, torpor.  A wasted life.  The lines between fantasy and reality start to blur.  Unmoved by need.  Unaffected by desire.  A spectator of life.  Immobilized.  This is death while living.

Porn leads to this place for many.  It is not a pretty place.  And yes, it hurts.  Everyone you know is hurt by this.  Even Gabe, who was halfway there himself, was hurt by his two friends who were far worse than he in this area.  Notice how this ties in to selfishness.  Is a person whose emotions are so deadened that they are unaffected by the needs of others going to care about what the young girl on the screen is feeling as all these men screw her, verbally abuse her, film it all, and expect her to smile at the end?  Is it even going to occur to him?  To him, she’s not even a person.  The video isn’t even real.  It’s simply the only way to feel any excitement, and I need excitement, because I’m bored.

So, I hope you see this as one of the worst sins of the mind, and understand how it directly emanates from all forms of addiction, especially porn.  We need to defeat this one, and do it well.  We need to stomp it into the ground.