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Saturday, April 7, 2012

In Defense of... Sadness?

 Yesterday I spoke at church about Good Friday. I had plenty to say about the day and the event it commemorates but one particular item seemed worth discussing on Heaven and Earth Questions. I am terrible at mourning. I am great at Easter. On Easter we celebrate God's victory over death. We celebrate the greatness of God and the ressurection of the God-Man. We celebrate the return of Jesus. Easter is wonderful and Easter is easy Easter is about celebration. But Good Friday is much more confused. On Good Friday there is some celebration; we celebrate being rescued from death in its many forms. But for Christians Good Friday is also a day for sadness. 
   We believe (yes I really do believe that the following is true) that that in order to rescue us from the death and brokenness of the world, God had to die. On Good Friday we remember the deicide that we necessitated. And as horrific as deicide (the killing of God) is, for most of the people in my community it is even more horrific. You see, being a Christian is about holding to certain propositions as true (check out Mere Christianity for the best listing, explanation and defense of these propositions I have ever run across). But I, and many people I know are interested in something else as well. We are invested in knowing the person who is Jesus. We are just nuts enough to think that we know Him in that tanimak sense. We each have a relationship with him. So for us, Good Friday is a day for remembering that our choices and actions brought about the horrific death of this person we love desperately. Good Friday is a day where we remember that sometime recently we as much as shouted "give us Barrabas" as we insisted on bringing a little more deaths or pain into this world - death and pain He died to heal. 

  Good Friday is about being loved but it isn't exactly fun. 

  Now I grew up in Turkey and over there they know how to mourn. They don't avoid it like the plague, like a mental illness. They embrace it when it's time comes. But we Americans, even those of us of a more pessimistic bent, seem fascinated by the positive. I certainly am. I know that I full on hate being sad and I don't think anybody wants to be depressed (including the Turks).
   The thing is, I don’t think that mourning and being depressed are at all the same thing. Depression is an emotional manifestation of despair (though the person suffering from it has not necessarily actually reached a despairing conclusion), more precisely, it is the proper emotional correlative of the cognitive state we call despair. To despair is to acknowledge that there is no hope, no meaning in a situation or, in its final sense, life.

Now sadness is the proper emotional correlative of the cognitive state of mourning. And to mourn is to acknowledge that something wrong has happened, that some part of life or even life as a whole is in a broken state. To mourn is to recognize injustice (just made a mental not to do a blog on justice). The distinction is vital because on the one hand, to despair is itself a great evil. To see the world as empty, meaningless and hopeless is to miss-see the cosmos and to devalue all other people. The old saw that ”so one as there is life, there is hope” is true on a cosmic scale. For a Christian despair is entirely absurd, it would mean giving up on God. So there is no proper context for despair and its correlative emotion: depression*. But there is a proper context for mourning. Injustice, the brokenness of the universe does happen, all is not healed yet and it is right for us see that, to acknowledge it. I’m still not going to go seeking the experience. I don't want to go find reasons to be sad. But when the time comes, as it does on Good Friday, to ”weep with those who weep” I hope that I will be able to. Maybe I will be better at it next year.
  *Please don’t read this as a slam on people who are suffering from depression, they are dealing with one of the injustices for which we are to mourn. The brokenness of the universe has caused them to feel inordinately, they have not made a bad choice but become subject to the weakness or our bodies and brain chemistry.


  1. It is difficult for me to accept love. Maybe this is why.

  2. Nichole, I struggle with being loved too. Why would anyone after knowing me and seeing all of my imperfections and knowing how vile I can be, ever continue to love me? It's the mystery of grace. I am upset with the prodigal son because I think the son shouldn't accept the forgiveness of the father. This is a very telling statement of what I think I deserve. We're all learning to be loved.