An Unusual Way to Think About Life When in Despair

Here is something you probably haven’t encountered in the self-help realm. The therapeutic aid applies in a world where trust is challenged 24/7, as it now is.

A story is required to explain it. No religious belief is needed, though the lesson can be found in sacred writing.

The Genesis tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, places of exceptional immorality, tells of God’s decision to destroy those cities and every person within them.

The Master of the Universe talks with Abraham before the destruction, a man honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He respectfully pushes back on the Almighty’s sweeping judgment to punish everyone, the decent along with the evil.

This worthy individual reminds God of his role as “the Judge of all the earth.” He asks the Lord whether the wicked and the righteous should share the same fate.

Might the Creator be willing, the Jewish patriarch asks, to spare the planned eradication if 50 upright souls reside within the doomed cities?

God agrees: he will save the entirety of those evil places if 50 exist.

The conversation with the Lord continues. Each time Abraham pleads for the Deity to lower the requirement. The discussion concludes with an agreement to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 10 honorable souls.

In the end, only Abraham’s nephew Lot and his small family are deemed virtuous by angels who search for 10 upstanding citizens. Short of the number required for the towns to escape God’s wrath, they alone are permitted to flee.

Many themes are present in this biblical tale. Its emphasis on the value of each individual prompted this essay. God is prepared to spare all the guilty for the sake of a few who are good. He allows a family below the promised number to depart.

What advice might grow from this?

When in despair over your life or the state of the world, perhaps consider something else. Yes, we live in a troubled time in which much harm occurs each day. We have all been hurt or afraid in this challenging moment.

Yet, you might pause to evaluate whether anyone you know or are aware of is decent?

I imagine someone will occur to you. Does the presence of even one such individual encourage you to continue to recognize your life, too, has value?

Now think of someone who might also be facing challenges. They may be thinking of you as someone whose existence lightens their burden. You make their life better simply by being here.

Maybe you do things for them for which they are grateful. Your benign presence or characteristic kindness allows them to take heart. Your laughter or cleverness brings joy, distraction, and their gladness they are alive to hear it.

The world needs many things: wisdom, courage, and generosity come to mind, in addition to those qualities mentioned above. But just as Abraham argued that a handful would justify God’s leniency, I will argue one needn’t be a superhero to uphold the human race despite the messes we humans make.

The kind heart found in a single neighbor, friend, and even within you adds to the conversation about the value of life and living. I hope you can find yourself on the list of those with at least one good quality. Earth is a place where other admirable souls you know or have heard of also reside.

—–

The Descent Towards Sodom by Marc Chagall, 1931. Abraham is surrounded by three angels. The image is sourced from Wikiart.org.

14 thoughts on “An Unusual Way to Think About Life When in Despair

  1. Timely piece wonderfully written. Certainly made me gaze into a mirror and think.

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  2. (I use the pronoun “we” and “us”) – We struggle with whether God will accept all of us. We always have struggled with that. We want to go to a place called “Heaven” when we die. We don’t know if we’ll ever make it there. We weren’t ready for death, so we fought so much for life when this pandemic began – and even beforehand. However, suicidal ideation was also an issue for us (at least some of us inside). Conflicting feelings between wanting to survive and wanting to die battled within for months. Crisis lines helped us. We called those crisis lines daily, and sometimes more than once per day. We wonder if such thoughts alone will mean that any one of us are deemed “evil” in God’s eyes.

    We’ve struggled with spiritual abuse, for sure. However, we don’t know if some of us have also struggled with ritual abuse. We suspect that some have, based on what some inside reveal in bits and pieces. We always feared God, as if he were a parent that could punish at any given moment.

    But then there are some sacred texts that speak about love, mercy, grace. 1 Corinthians comes to mind. However, scribes transcribed scribes’ accounts of the real scrolls written and withered long ago. Scribes are human, so therefore they can make mistakes by their hands, their own interpretations of the chronosystem at hand. And so, such sacred texts get translated and retranslated until they’ve almost lost their original meaning – if at all. Doubt seeps in, largely because humans are said to not be as intelligent, all-knowing, ethical, or even as loving as God. Humans wage war, but does God? Is there this notion of grace in God’s world? Can God change his mind? Can God forgive?

    If we were created this way, yet if we have choices, do we stand firmly on the needs for justice to accept us as we are because we were created this way – either by God (e.g., being a “minority” or being “mentally ill”) or through the sins of our parents or parents’ parents (i.e., generational curses) or through the consequences of being “sinned against” (ergo, a “victim”) or through the consequences of being a sinner (e.g., one who knowingly or unknowingly makes mistakes that are considered wrong, unethical, and harmful to thyself or others in the eyes of God, ultimately – not necessarily the eyes of man, for the sake of the status quo or the sake of “worldly knowledge”)? in other words, do we accept our dispositions, or do we accept free will? What about ethical dilemmas? What about lack of resources to make the proper choices? What about self-preservation? What about the importance of survival, our emotions, that which makes us “human”? What about loving ourselves as much (or equally to) loving others (as opposed to playing into the “martyr complex”)? What about complex situations where more than one sin has been committed, and thus more than one perpetrator, more than one victim, etc.? What about psychology? And what about God’s ethics?

    Many theological arguments have been presented by many denominations (including the non-denominational denominations). Who can we believe? Are people so gullible as to believe that one way is the only way, that one “martyr” is the only one to follow, that we must trust solely in those in power (especially when we’ve experienced institutional betrayal, traumatic betrayal, abuse, harm, corruption, contradictions, and lies from those pin positions of power – in our pasts, presents, and purportedly, our futures)? Are we so gullible as to believe in cultish ways? And how do we define a “cult”? And are there non-taboo cults that are accepted by the masses? Are they “worldly,” or do they think themselves “saintly” (oftentimes while in some trance of some cognitive distortion)?

    What about the psychology of theology?

    It is painful for some people to trust in a world, or in a religion, or in those of power, or in leaders, or in institutions that are so easily influenced toward fudging the truth, lying, dismissing, wanting power, wanting control, wanting mind control, wanting utter and complete loyalty, wanting utter and complete obedience – without worry or care about human life, about understanding, about the psychology of living (“this-worldly,” as opposed to “other-worldly,” as one theologian I had met eluded long ago). It is challenging to trust.

    Whom shall we put our trust?

    You could answer that with scripture, with other sacred texts, with quotes from famous theologians, with quotes from cults that demand your allegiance, with quotes from past oaths for some duties that seemingly seep into other areas requiring no oaths (yet are implied), or otherwise? You could also answer that with the ever-so-lonely “trust only in yourself.” But is there one answer for all, or could there be different answers depending on the situation, one’s risk tolerance levels, one’s disposition, and one’s state of suffering?

    Empirical evidence that isn’t tainted by noisy data, bias, and biased politics would help to determine that which we put our trust. Psychology and other scientific fields have some empirical data that we can trust. Epistemology has some empirical data that we can rely on when making informed decisions, without the political backlash from those institutions easily influenced by politics. Although not all politicians lie, many do sway far from the truth – and far from empathy.

    Love – comprises empathy, and is said to be greater than everything else – including trust. But should we rely on someone else’s definition of (limited and/or pseudo) love, or should we, who have the ability to empathize with others AND absorb empathy from others, trust in what love truly means to us? If a person is following the tenets of (true) love, and if love is the greatest of everything in the world, and if love is God/religion/spirituality/etc., and if love is the answer, and if a requirement for love is empathy (over and against extreme(ist) stoicism, when juxtaposed in comparison to what may be deemed the absence of empathy), then love is whom we shall trust – and those who exhibit real love. Love many not follow the status quo. Love may not follow leaders of the day. Love may not follow a shepherd’s deceitful ways. Love may not follow politicized science. Love will embrace both concrete truths (i.e., data) as well as existential truths (e.g., a person’s disposition, a person’s heart, a person’s “soul”). Love cares. Love errs on the side of caution – for the sake of not only self, but also others. Love sacrifices in a way that is both loving to others as well as to the self, for the self is seen just as important as others, given the tenets found in the quote “loving one’s neighbor as thyself/oneself,” or something to that effect (not written verbatim, but rather from memory).

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    • drgeraldstein

      I can only say if the standard of goodness is as high as you suggest in judging yourself and your system, heaven is out of reach for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I was being sarcastic. But yeah, I think what I really meant was that no one really knows with absolute certainty what is the right path in terms of spirituality – but we do know what harm feels like, or what loss feels like, so we will not accept spirituality that feels harmful or comprises traumatic loss (emphasis on “traumatic”). No one in my system goes to church anymore, nor are any of us religious (except for a part named Ethyl, but she’s more of a helper). We do believe in God, so you could say that we are agnostic. We also enjoy reading different texts, and we admire theologians who read and interpret many texts.

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  3. drgeraldstein

    Just to be clear, I mean everyone on the planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this insightful post that fills us with hope that our “better angels” will triumph over the darker nature of the human species.

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  5. drgeraldstein

    You are welcome, Rosaliene.

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  6. lydiahopebakker

    Thank you. Am feeling suicidal today. Maybe I can get through this for the sake of others.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How did I miss this post last week? I enjoyed it and there is a lot of goodness in this world, and it is visible if we allow ourselves to slow down and take a breath. There is probably even good people on the “other side” politically, oh….if only we could see the goodness in each other. Thanks to Dragonfly, I can see what I am typing again. She referred me to the app.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nancy, I have been missing reply notices for some reason, lol. I use both the app and my laptop. I also realized that the app settings may differ slightly from the laptop settings, which is odd. Glad you found everything working well now. 🙂

      Like

  8. drgeraldstein

    Thanks, Nancy. Hold on to that thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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