In the Valley of Despair, Call to Mind God’s Goodness

Picture the prophet Jeremiah in a dungeon, sunk up to his armpits in mud, wrestling with the prospect that he might never see his family again—basically, in a moment filled with utter despair. Now, read Jeremiah’s answer to his despair:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord … For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:21–26, 31–32 ESV

Jeremiah is showing us what to do in the midst of despair: We are to call to mind the goodness of God.

Like any good father, God allows his children to go through some pain, but he never enjoys it, and he only allows it because he knows that the pain will ultimately produce greater joy. We can trust that God is good because of what his Word reveals about his character. He saved the children of Israel from slavery when he didn’t have to. He sent Jesus to die for our sins when he didn’t have to. We see Jesus’ heart break over every lost sinner and every suffering soul.

We know from these things that God is a good, good Father, and we choose to believe that, even when we can’t see or feel it.

“Call to mind,” you see, is a choice. It means this thought is not naturally in there—we have to put it in there. It’s what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called preaching to ourselves. He said, “There is a sense in which the primary task of the Scriptures is to teach us how to talk to ourselves.”

Our emotions don’t have brains. They can’t think. They can’t show faith. We have to think for them. We have to show faith, and then we tell them how to feel.

We must never feel our way into our beliefs; we have to believe our way into our feelings.

A lot of Christians understand that we walk by faith, not by sight, but they don’t understand that we walk by faith and not by feeling. At any one moment, they trust their heart to let them know what is true. Sometimes this is nice, because you feel like God is pleased with you. But spiritual highs can’t last forever. Eventually, you may feel like God has forgotten you. You may feel distant from him. What then? Jeremiah says, “I may feel utterly forsaken, alone, and crushed, but God’s Word tells me my feelings are not true. So I choose to believe him, even though I can’t feel it.”

Luther used to call this drowning out the voices of despair with the louder word of the gospel. At times he would physically shout at the devil, “No! I have not been abandoned. I have not been forsaken. God’s Word tells me, and Jesus’ death proves it!”

Maybe we need to do that more often: Go somewhere by ourselves (so people don’t think we’ve lost it), shout, “God is good!” and call to mind his many acts of faithfulness.

And if you can’t recall them, have someone do it for you. This is why Christian community is so important—because, inevitably, there will be times where we lose our way, and we’ll need someone else to call to mind the promises of God and remind us of them.

Your emotions may be telling you that there is nothing ahead but darkness and despair, but you must call to mind that Jesus got out of the grave, which means he has good plans for you and your family. Ultimately, your story will end in victory and not defeat.

Call to mind that it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It was the gift of God, and because of that we know God has preordained good works that you should go and walk in them.

Call to mind that you were saved for a purpose—to bless you and make you a blessing. Your salvation was not accidental. God has a plan for your life—to use you for blessing and not for pain. Before you were born, he knit you together in your mother’s womb and laid out all his plans for you in a book.

You may, like Jeremiah, feel forsaken. You may be walking through a valley of despair. But this you must call to mind: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).