The 1987 movie Princess Bride includes this conversation between the Albino and the hero of the story, Westley inside the Pit of Despair:
Westley: Where am I?
The Albino: [raspy voice] The Pit of Despair! Don’t even think…
The Albino: … don’t even think about trying to escape. The chains are far too thick. Don’t dream of being rescued, either; the only way in is secret. Only the Prince, the Count, and I know how to get in and out.
Westley: So I’m here till I die?
The Albino: Until they kill you, yeah.
Westley: Then why bother curing me?
The Albino: Well, the Prince and Count always insist on everyone being healthy before they’re broken.
Westley: So it’s to be torture?
The Albino: [nods enthusiastically]
Westley: I can cope with torture.
The Albino: [shakes head enthusiastically]
Westley: Don’t believe me?
The Albino: You survived the Fire Swamp, so you must be very brave, but no one withstands The Machine.
Unfortunately, few of us would cope with the pit of despair with as much nonchalance as Westley. For most of us, the pit of despair is a dark place where there’s no humour. American author Erwin McManus said: “I realize that I live on the bubble of insanity. I feel the weight of human suffering, loneliness and despair on me all the time. It’s not getting easier; if anything, it’s always right on the edge of my skin.”
The Bible is a book that addresses life as it really is: There is the story of Elijah who experienced one of the high points of his career, then the next minute is sitting under a Broom Tree in deep depression. Jonah was another who hid away in deep depression, once again, after he had experienced a high point in his career.
The interesting thing is that in neither case did God accuse these men or blame them for their situation. In fact Elijah’s case he fed him and allowed him to sleep – perhaps aware that one of the solutions to despair is simply dealing with the physical need for food and rest.
But for my part the Apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he described the groaning of creation, a great picture of that pit of despair. Paul then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit goes down into that pit of despair with us and, when we don’t know what to say to God, groans with us.
In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.
It’s a great encouragement to me to know that no matter how deep we go into that pit, God looks on us with compassion, he enters the pit with us and leads us out in hope.