Searching for the truth through stained glass windows,Covered up in shame, things that only I know,
Strike a match and light another candle,Raise my hands a sing a pretty song.
If anybody knew this ugliness inside me,Would they throw a stone, would the crucify me?
How heavy was the crown of thorns? I wonder if I'm too far gone?“Dark Hills” by Day of Fire
On my Spotify account I have a worship playlist of rather depressing songs. That's rather a conundrum. Depressing worship songs? Well, they're not exactly depressing. In truth, most of them include incredibly hopeful and joyful lyrics. But this hope is also contrasted with the reality of the human condition. Sometimes when I'm feeling depressed and crappy I like to sing along with songs about how I live in a such crappy world and how I am such a crappy person. And in that despair there is hope. Yes, it is a contradiction. But finding hope in hopelessness is one of those absurd contradictions at the core of postmodern theology which, I believe, bears much fruit in Wednesday Theology.
Let me stop for one paragraph. I occasionally feel the need to state (especially in MitchWords posts, evidently) that this is not a cry for help. This is not a mopey detailing of my depression and sadness. In fact, I think you will see it's the opposite of that. Still, I'm going to take this opportunity to link to the Woods of Suicide post on the extreme off chance that someone out there stumbles across this post and feels the need to see that one.
Now, back to this depression and dissatisfaction with life. What do I do about that? In The Idolatry of God, Peter Rollins emphasizes the point that Christianity mistakenly markets Jesus as the answer to all of life's problems. One fault with this is that it turns Jesus into nothing more than a fancier SUV. We have been inundated with commercials and advertizing that point out that our lives our lacking. But if we buy such and such a product, that hole in our lives will be filled and we will be happy. Following comedian Daniel Tosh's line of thinking, money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a WaveRunner. But let me tell you, Jesus is better than a WaveRunner!
Do you begin to see the problem there? Sure, it's not usually advertized quite like that. But you can't find happiness and satisfaction in alcohol, or drugs, or women. But you can find it in Jesus! Because he's better than alcohol, drugs, and women. He's even better than a WaveRunner!
Instead of Jesus being the Son of God, the Supreme Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, he is simply a better product to sell to us. Of course, someone is likely to correct me that Jesus is not simply a better answer, he is the complete answer. Jesus will solve all of life's problems. And his Word, the Bible, is a magical answer book with a solution to all questions written in clear King James English.
Except that's not what happens. Instead, reality happens. Just like the problem of evil, what we believe, and say, and sing contradicts what actually occurs in the real world. Are there any Christians reading this that are without problems, without troubles, without sadness, depression, or anxiety since turning to Jesus? If you say “yes,” you're lying. I would even contend that sometimes, instead of solving your problems, turning to Jesus will only cause more!
“For what if we cannot grasp the manner in which Christ is the solution to the problem of our darkness and dissatisfaction precisely because he isn't the solution? What if, instead of being the solution (i.e., the one who offers a way for us to gain certainty and satisfaction, he actually confronts us as a problem, a problem that places every attempt to find a solution for these ailments into question? To put this another way, what if Christ does not fill the empty cup we bring to him but rather smashes it to pieces, bringing freedom, not from our darkness and dissatisfaction, but freedom from our felt need to escape them?” - Peter Rollins1
What I'm saying is that being a Christian is hard. It's hard because we live in a fallen world and we are fallen people. And saying the sinner's prayer isn't going to make all of that instantly disappear. You might be worried now. You might think I'm going to tell you to flee from Jesus. No, that's not it. What I am going to tell you is that Jesus is not a geni that will grant all your wishes and make your life wonderful, as popular Christian imagery and slogans often depict.
Even if you are a Christian, you're life is still going to suck at some points. That's just how life is. Sometimes it sucks even more when you are a Christian because we've been led to believe that such tragic circumstances won't occur if we pray to Jesus. I don't care how sincere and devout you are, the odds are life will still crap all over you from time to time. But we don't really engage that disconnect between what we believe and profess and what actually happens in life. We either ignore it and cover it up with some unhelpful words about how God is bringing about some greater good, or it breaks us.
Instead, I want to engage this contradiction. You might even say I want to embrace it. I want to find that hope in the hopelessness. Because all too often life is filled with hopelessness. And this brings me back to that so called depressing worship music, that acknowledges the terribleness of this life and still finds hope for a Savior in that terribleness. Because you're going to face that over and over and over. I know I do.
As an example, a while ago during my last bout of deep, dark depression I recognized my need for help and sought the counseling of a pastor. I explained to him the circumstances of my situation and what I was feeling and all the anxiety I was going through. He looked at me for a moment and responded, “I don't understand. How are you depressed if Jesus is the Lord and Savior of your life?”
And I get it. I get the idealism of that question. The pre-packaged, all extras included, better than a WaveRunner Jesus would never let me get depressed. But that wasn't how life was going for me. I think I just shrugged and remained silent. But I know in my mind I was replying, “Because I live in the real world and crap happens.” I don't remember it being quite that sanitary of language, though. However, what I should have responded with is my now favorite quote from The Ragamuffin Gospel. Towards the beginning of the book, Brennan Manning says, “Often I have been asked, 'Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?'”2
Because he lived in the real world and crap happens. For a Christian who is also a constant sinner, this candor is refreshing. The troubles of life were still thrown at Manning, just as they're thrown at me. I'm not some unique exception to the rule that all Christians have good lives. It's just that the rule is nonsense!
“What we see taking place in the church today is the reduction of God to an Idol, that is, to a thing that will satisfy us and fill the gap we feel in our hearts. In thinking of God in this way, the church ends up mimicking every other industry by claiming that they can take away the sense of loss that marks our life. In this way, they make God into nothing more than an impotent MacGuffin.” - Peter Rollins3
Our feelings of dissatisfaction, darkness, and loss won't be taken away from us. But I'm tired of feeling that way. I know these feelings won't go away, but that doesn't mean I have to exhibit them. I'm tired of being depressed, and sad, and wrecked with anxiety. I'm tired of being bitter. I'm tired of being sarcastic. I am not, however, tired of being handsome.
In prior times of personal crisis, my mother remarked how pleased she was that I seemed able to find joy in the little things. It's true, I can certainly appreciate the little things in life even in times of sorrow. While you can think of it as finding joy in small things, I think of it more as finding joy in the chaos. Sometimes life seems like it's nothing but chaos and that can be overwhelming. But I choose to focus on the little moments of joy, and then string those moments together. I choose to hope in the hopelessness.
But why am I writing about this now? You might say I'm doing this preemptively and to prepare myself for oncoming change. It feels like my world is about to collapse in on itself. I get the sensation that everything I'm trying to hold onto is slipping through my fingers. Good things are coming to their endings. Things may be becoming very hopeless for me soon. So, I want to get ready to embrace the contradiction of finding hope in that.
You might see me and wonder why am I always so happy-go-lucky? Actually, I'm rather depressed and sad and plagued by anxiety and an uncontrollably racing heart. And in that hopelessness and muck and filth I find that I am still a man in need of a savior. And you may mock me for reminiscing about a cheesy mid-90s Christian rock song, but it meant something to me then and it means something to me now. Because, in that realization I find hope because there is a savior for the hopeless. He's not a Jesus that rides a WaveRunner and solves all my problems. No, he's a Jesus that knows my suffering and my feeling of abandonment. He is the Jesus that cried out and prayed the impossible prayer to a God that had forsaken him.
I will admit right now that I am lost. I don't know which way to go, or if I should even go at all. There is a feeling of impending dread and darkness looming over me. I deeply, earnestly wish God would take all these problems away from me. But I know he won't. I don't know why he won't. I don't know why God lets the bad things happen. But he does. While I know he won't take this pain away from me, he will be that ridiculous, contradictory hope in the middle of all that hopelessness.
And I think that being in this lost and confused, evening depressing, condition, is right where I'm supposed to be.
“Are we not all a little “lost,” like the people who crash-landed on that island in Lost, looking for clues about where they are and frightened by the mysterious things going on around them? Is that not a figure of our lives? Are we not like people following an obscure clue, on the tracks, on the trail, in the trace of something-we-are-not-sure-what? Are not those who write about spiritual journeys sometimes a little too assured about where they are going and how to get there? There are, after all, two ways to be on the way: the first, in which one knows the way and the task is to get there (which certainly can be hard enough), and the second, in which one must, like an explorer, find the way. In the later and, I am inclined to think, more postmodern situation, one is always a little lost, where being lost and being on the way, far from excluding each other, mutually imply each other.” -John D. Caputo4
I certainly don't know where I am going. I certainly don't know how to get there. I am lost. And I am on the way.
I'll think of new adjectives next time.
1. Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction (New York: Howard Books, 2012), 4.
2. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 1990), kindle location 290.
3. Rollings, 26-27
4. John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernity for the Church (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2007), kindle location 365.