In the world of Christian television, positive thinking abounds. Prosperity teaching, positive confessions, taking dominion, overcoming, and more fill the airwaves. Personally, I generally default to the positive. It’s the way I’m wired. And I completely understand the trend to the positive. In a world where people are beaten down, broken, and defeated, part of the gospel message is to encourage, proclaim victory, and honor the finished work of the cross. However, there’s also
something to be said about suffering and sadness, and I wonder how much of the real Christian experience we miss when we undercut genuine sorrow. I was thinking about that after reading this fascinating article in Newsweek called “Happiness: Enough Already” by Sharon Begley.
Her article reveals research that seems to point us to the value of sadness. As she mentions, Aristotle saw sadness as a muse, and great artists and leaders from Lincoln to Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and Churchill struggled with bouts of depression and sorrow. The Apostle Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” and while John was banished alone on an island (how depressing is that?), he experienced a vision that resulted in the Book of Revelation. Moses had speech problems and begged God to use someone else. He needed Aaron to speak for him to Pharaoh, and yet is considered the greatest prophet.
I think the thing that most attracts me to the Bible is its honesty. The Bible isn’t a positive thinking manual. It shows life in all it’s brutal truth, and doesn’t gloss over the tough stories of betrayal, sin, and loss. Certainly there is redemption, but God doesn’t take Biblical characters out of their torment, he takes them through it.
Are we missing something by not giving value to our sadness? Are we living shallow lives by refusing to acknowledge times of depression and frustration? Today, people are too quick to grab medication to placate their sense of sorrow. We feel guilty that as believers we have sad thoughts. And the clinical definition is so wide just about anyone could be diagnosed with depression.
Society is looking for the full-time high, but perhaps we as Christians should think twice before pushing the positive thinking thing too hard. Certainly a positive outlook and upbeat attitude can overcome challenges and frustrations. But at the same time – and on a much deeper level – there may be much to be learned from the insight we gain while trudging through the valleys.