The atheist philosopher with a fondness for irony, Frederick Nietzsche, said that when fighting monsters, beware that you yourself does not become one for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. Nietzsche’s well-known existential depression despite his intellectual prowess gives us a hint of the overwhelming nature of this inevitable human experience. As we live in a fallen world, it is usually a matter of time before we come face-to-face with it. The question is when, and for how long? The more you don’t feel you belong in this fallen world, the more poignant the experience will be. Failed relationships, betrayal, human failings, sicknesses, the ugliness of mankind all make up the abyss – not only can it turn our hearts towards the dark side, it can keep us there for a long time.
The abyss is not a bifurcation, but a harrowing superposition of at least two ironic states. It depresses you as it’s role as a vast expanse of darkness and emptiness, yet it also oppress you like 4 walls of a room slowly closing in on you. We cannot see far in the abyss, or happy endings. We see only the certainty of past negative experiences repeating itself. We see the certainty that nothing under the sun changes. Selfish people will always be selfish. The world remains superficial and difficult for those who are the have-nots. Accepting this truth seems to be an easy way to live and to let live. But it oppresses and consumes us as we were obviously made for something more, and the longer we stare at the abyss, the tension of where we are and where we should increases. The certainty of “life is hopeless” and the spiritual reality that our souls need much more erodes our hearts.
Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest and considered one of the world’s greatest spiritual writers, wrote his book “The Inner Voice of Love” within his journey of despair. He grappled with the Abyss, as certainly as Nietzsche has. Yet he didn’t continue to be trapped within the prison of existential depression. He said, after successfully coming out of his journey from his figurative Mordor:
“There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes. Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.”
Keep your eye on Jesus to get to escape the Abyss into the New Country
The ability to tread in between is like walking a tightrope. The human condition makes us go either way because it is the easiest to go in the short-term. For true healing, we cannot pretend the Abyss doesn’t exist. Yet, just like a blackhole, objects traveling close it to gets sucked in. Going close and escaping requires an escape velocity – something to pull us out. I found that focusing your eyes on Jesus helps us immensely in treading that spaces of in-between – like Peter did in that precarious space between sinking into the oceans and being overwhelmed by mighty storms. In Jesus, He peppers miracles and meaningful diamonds on the road for you, to mitigate the complete saturation into your pain. He also promises that your future is assured, and that there will be meaning, and redemption in the land of the living (Jer 29:11-12, Eph 3:20, Phil 4:13, Ps 27:13-14). Hence, we don’t have to stay away from the wounds you have been ignoring because it’s so unpleasant.
(Pardon the cartoon – as you can tell, I’m not a cartoonist)
Keeping your eyes on Jesus is of extreme importance in navigating your perilous journey between the old country (Abyss) and the new country (The place of promise in this world). This is because in and of Jesus is your new country. The promise land is found through Jesus. When you see Him, you see the actualization of the great plan He has for you with His person and love. You see His goodness and mercy actively pursuing (Ps 23:6) you everyday. His goodness (טוֹב tob) refers to “a good thing, benefit, welfare” (Strong’s Hebrew) – things to be enjoyed. His mercy (חֶסֶד chesed) also translated as grace in some places, is beautifully complex in its meaning. However, embedded into this word is God’s special relationship to you that consist of mercy, loving kindness, and compassion. Between the two of them, it means that the good things you don’t deserve, God gives to you; and the bad things you do deserve because of sin, He withholds from you. Each day, both goodness and mercy hunt you down to bring you closer to where you need to be… a place of redemption, in the land of the living. This is a beautiful basis in which “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
I say this reverently.
Jesus came to serve you (Matt 20:28). God keeps you and neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). He is working behind the scenes for you. That’s why we look to Jesus. That’s also why we can love Him. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). By extension, we serve, because He first served us. We work for Him because He is always working for us. In other words, grace supplies, and from an overflowing cup we choose to serve God and others. If you feel drained working for God, can it be that you are like Martha? You think God is a “hard man” that must be appeased and derive satisfaction on your own effort and standard? When what Jesus wanted you to do first and foremost is to recline at his side and receive?
In fact, David, who was under the Law and didn’t have the fullness of grace, knew of this before Jesus came to be. He said, “For they lovingkindness (chesed) is before mine eye: and I have walked in thy truth (Psalm 26:3, KJV). God says that keeping his mercy before your eye is walking in truth. Jesus is the fullness of God’s mercy today. The closest disciple to Jesus, apostle John, completes David’s incomplete observation “for the Law came with Moses, but grace (mercy: chesed) and truth came with Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
When Peter kept his eye on Jesus, He could traverse the storms to the blessed place next to Jesus’ side.
Remember what it mean to look to Jesus.
It doesn’t mean to think of a friendly, loving image of a bearded Jewish man though that is by itself a nice thought. Such actions are just sentiment.
In Jesus we see the New Country – possibilities previously unseen, a new world, and goodness unimaginable. The price for this goodness was paid for on the cross, no one, including your own sin can take it away from you. That’s why that even if we stare at the Abyss and the Abyss stare back at us – we see an alternative reality invading our abyss and providing an alternative blessed future that our natural selves in our flesh could not fathom. The loneliness you experience can be filled, with human intervention, by God’s design. He can design a new world for you. Until then, continue to tread that tight line in between recovery from the Abyss and pushing forward into the new country. You’ll see His glory for your life in the land of the living.
—- Timeout : I speak from experience, Ken’s Abyss is in Part 2.
If we don’t look to Jesus, what is the alternative? Perhaps it is the harrowing conclusions of Nietzsche. That there isn’t one, and the Abyss has won. Stare into the Abyss, you may turn into a wreck or worse, a monster. Stare into the Abyss, it consumes you. Stare into the goodness of Jesus, it transforms you and the Abyss. He will give you wisdom and discernment for your challenges. You’ll also be transformed inside and out. You can truly forgive other people and not pretend to. You can be the King and Priest you were meant to be – see my earlier post: The Crownless will be made King.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Song of the Day: Oceans (Where feet may fail) Hillsong United