The Imprisonment of Despair


In the late seventeenth century, John Bunyan wrote his famous allegory entitled Pilgrim’s Progress. In it, he tells the story of Christian’s CageofDespairpilgrimage through the world in search of eternal life.

Christian stops by Interpreter’s house. He is not allowed to continue his journey until he visits a very dark room where a man sits in an iron cage. The man inside the cage sighs with a despondent heart.

Christian says to him, “What art thou?”

The man answers, “I am what I was not once.”

“But what art thou now?” asks Christian.

“I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out.” Sadly, the man was once a Christian bound for the Celestial City, but had gotten off the path, and was now enveloped in the imprisonment of despair.1

“My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation."Psalm 13 has been referred to as the “How Long Psalm,” because in the first two verses, “How long” is repeated no less than four times. It speaks of intense desire for God’s deliverance amidst great anguish of heart. This is a portrait of so many as they walk through life.

H. G. Wells, the British historian, once described God as “an ever-absent help in time of trouble.” He studied history for over fifty years, and, sadly, he concluded, “God does nothing, absolutely nothing at all in the affairs of earth.”2

However, Scripture says otherwise. For in verses 3 and 4, David calls on God, and in verses 5 and 6, he describes how God came to his rescue, by testifying, “My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me!”

“It is impossible for that man to despair, who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”3

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  1. Batsell Barrett Baxter, Harold Hazelip, Joe R. Barnett, Anchors In Troubled Waters, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI., 49506, 1981, p. 51.
  2. Ibid. pp. 51 – 52.