“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
THE SADDEST, MOST CRUSHING DISILLUSIONMENT IN LIFE ALSO HAPPENS TO BE THE DOOR TO LIFE’S GREATEST HOPE. This disillusionment, of course, is the realization that we’ve ruined our own dreams by the sins that we’ve committed. Our expectations have been killed, assassinated by our own hand. And the result is deep regret. We have created problems that are impossible for us to fix.
Each of us is broken. The unfortunate truth about life applies not just to some of us but to each of us. We are truly “tragic” figures: we’ve been brought to ruin by extreme qualities that were both our greatness and our downfall. Each of our characters is flawed in such a way that we’ve sowed the seeds of our own undoing. Given by God the noble freedom of our will, we have dishonored that nobility and destroyed ourselves. And the important thing to realize is not just that “we” (in the human race) have done this; we have each done it individually. As children, we started out to write happy stories, but our choices have made all the stories turn out to be profoundly disappointing. This is the foulest-tasting tonic in the world, but it’s one we have no choice but to swallow.
But also, each of us is broken uniquely and irreversibly. Although each of our stories is a tragedy, each story is unique and personal. We’ve all ruined ourselves, but our roads to ruin have all been slightly different. Somehow, we’ve each found our own way to be unhappy. But not only that, what we’ve done cannot be undone. It is too late. There is nothing we can ever do to make up for the mistakes we’ve made. The bell has tolled; it can’t be unrung.
But if coming to terms with these sickening truths is life’s most miserable experience, how can we possibly say that the experience is good or hopeful? The answer, of course, is this: when we have finally let go of our illusions, that is when God is able to redeem us from our reality. There is no other way for the gospel to save us. We must realize that we are ruined. “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?” (Oscar Wilde).
“Each life must hold [a great tragedy], I think: one pain that overarches and observes all others, one haunting irreversible fault for which one can never atone” (Nancy Mairs).