Doomed by Diffidence

Now, Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence. So when he was gone to bed, he told his wife what he had done; to wit, that he had taken a couple of prisoners and cast them into his dungeon, for trespassing on his grounds. Then he asked her also what he had best to do further to them. So she asked him what they were, whence they came, and whither they were bound; and he told her. Then she counselled him that when he arose in the morning he should beat them without any mercy. So, when he arose, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to rating of them as if they were dogs, although they never gave him a word of distaste. Then he falls upon them, and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or to turn them upon the floor. This done, he withdraws and leaves them there to condole their misery and to mourn under their distress. So all that day they spent the time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations. The next night, she, talking with her husband about them further, and understanding they were yet alive, did advise him to counsel them to make away themselves. So when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison, for why, said he, should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness? But they desired him to let them go. With that he looked ugly upon them, and, rushing to them, had doubtless made an end of them himself, but that he fell into one of his fits, (for he sometimes, in sunshiny weather, fell into fits), and lost for a time the use of his hand; wherefore he withdrew, and left them as before, to consider what to do.

Then did the prisoners consult between themselves whether it was best to take his counsel or no; and thus they began to discourse—

Christian: Brother, said Christian, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part I know not whether is best, to live thus, or to die out of hand. “My soul chooses strangling rather than life” and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon. Shall we be ruled by the Giant?

Doubting Castle

Christian and Hopeful lie imprisoned in Doubting Castle. They were overpowered by Giant Despair and forced into his dark dungeon. But despair is not the only struggle the pilgrims must face. Giant Despair has a wife and her name is Diffidence.

According to Mirriam-Webster, the term “diffidence” comes from a combination of the Latin verb fidere (to trust), and the prefix dis (the absence of). It is the opposite of “confidence” — con (with) and fidere (to trust). In modern usage “diffidence” means timidity or lack of confidence. It describes those who are hesitant and unsure of themselves. But in Bunyan’s day, the term had the broader meaning of distrust or lack of faith.

Scripture exhorts us to: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). As a mature believer, Christian should be “sound in faith” (Titus 2:2) and an example to younger believers like Hopeful. Yet Christian strayed and caused Hopeful to stray with him. Christian’s failure to walk and lead faithfully caused him to trespass on the grounds of Doubting Castle. Now locked away in its prison, he battles not only despair, but also distrust. His faith wanes; he falls into unbelief.

Despair is a cruel taskmaster. It beats us without mercy. It leaves us helpless, with nowhere to turn and no way out. Distrust is its crueler companion. It causes us to waver and question what we know to be true. It isolates us and casts suspicion over hopes for joy and salvation. It compounds our misery and can deceive us even to the point of thinking that life is no longer worth living. Christian loses sight of truth and despairs of life itself; he quotes from the book of Job:

So that my soul chooses strangling
And death rather than my body (Job 7:15).

Christian’s faith is shaken. He is on the verge of giving up. He asks Hopeful: “Shall we be ruled by the Giant?”

But this is a giant that cannot tolerate the light. He falls into a fit in “sunshiny weather.” Despair loses its strength in the light of God’s Word. Despair loses its grip when truth is brought to bear. Christian can be thankful that he is not facing this oppression alone. He has Hopeful for a companion. In the next post we will hear Hopeful’s answer and reassurance.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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