“This Sickness is Despair”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.  Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”  However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.  And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

  • John 11:1-27 (NKJV)

“…  So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die.

“It is in this last sense that despair is the sickness unto death, this agonizing contradiction, this sickness in the self, everlasting to die, to die and yet not to die, to die the death.  For dying means it is all over, but dying the death means to live to experience death; and it is for a single instant this experience is possible, it is tantamount to experiencing it forever.  If one might die of despair as one dies of a sickness, then the eternal in him, the self, must be capable of dying in the same sense that the body dies of sickness.  But this is an impossibility; the dying of despair transforms itself constantly into the living.  The despairing man cannot die; no more than ‘the dagger can slay thoughts’ can despair consume the eternal thing, the self, which is the ground of despair, whose worm dieth not, and whose fire is not quenched.  Yet despairing is precisely self-consuming, but it is an impotent self-consumption which is not able to do what it wills…”

  • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death from the chapter titled, This Sickness is Despair

Kierkegaard weaves a beautiful tapestry in The Sickness unto Death.  He starts with the sickness, moves to despair, and then, at this point, relates the despair to death.  He eventually gets to the concept that the despair is sin, and sin is despair.  Kierkegaard is a great philosopher of his time (1813-1855), and it requires a slow read to get the depth of what he is saying.  As some folks say, it is like peeling an onion, but without the unwanted side effects.

From a simple view of the quote above, we can look at the source of the book title, John 11.  The first paradox is that Jesus said that Lazarus did not have a sickness unto death, or as the NIV says, “This sickness will not end in death.”  But Lazarus died from the ‘sickness.’  Jesus continued to state that Lazarus’ sickness was to show the glory of God.  So, if Lazarus died from a sickness, but was risen from the dead, the ultimate end was not death, just as Jesus claimed.  Lazarus’ victory over death brought glory to God.

Thus, there needs to be something that explains the fact that Lazarus died, but not really.  Now Kierkegaard introduces that the ‘self’ cannot die.  That the ‘self’, or as we say today the ‘soul,’ lives on.  The body of Lazarus may have shut down, having been ‘legally’ dead for four days, but the soul was still alive.

We know the reason why ‘death’ is in the world.  It is due to the fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden.  Since that time, the specter of death looms over us.  Yet, most in today’s world have ‘despair’ in their lives while successfully pushing aside the concept and inevitability of death.  Depression reigns supreme.  Depression is caused, or made worse, by anxiety, and another word for anxiety is ‘worry.’  We worry although Jesus told us not to.  We should trust and believe in Him, instead; but that knowledge does not help when we are anxious.  Now we become more anxious because we are not doing as Jesus told us to do and that makes us depressed.  Of course, there are a variety of reasons for depression, but if you track your anxiety and depression on some type of scale, if one goes up, the other also goes up.  In my self-help technique of defining the source of anxiety and realizing the fallacy of that fear, I have had success in reducing depression.  That may not help everyone, but you don’t know unless you try it.

And who do we have to blame for this?  We have ourselves to blame.  We knowingly worry when worry is not needed.  We sin, putting ourselves deeper in the ‘guilt’ hole, even though God has forgiven those who love Him.  We do everything that we shouldn’t in the name of diverting our attention from our problems.  I say doing everything, but we ignore Bible study, prayer, and spending time with other Christians – the things we should do.

So, there we are in a blue funk, worried about tomorrow, guilty about yesterday, and wasting our time today in despair.  And for those who know Jesus, and have Jesus in their hearts, the next world will be glorious compared to this one.

But I have a better idea for the now.  Let us study the Bible and know who God is and how much He loves us.  With that knowledge, there is less desire to worry about anything, because the entire world is in God’s hands.  There is less reason to be depressed, because God loves us and is personally interested in us.  And to think of that ‘sickness unto death?’  Death will come when it comes, but I wish to spread God’s love until then, and not worry about death, not fear death, and not have death consume me.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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