I know I’ve been slacking on the “Forgiven Much” series, but I wanted to take some time to write a three-part series called “All the Sad Things”. This is another series meant for those who struggle with doubt and sadness. In each post, I hope to establish something about the Christian’s relationship to sadness and doubt. In the first post, “In Joyous Disbelief”, I want to show that our doubt offers a unique opportunity for us to humbly worship God. In the second post, “The Resurrection and our True Reality”, I hope to explain how Christianity provides profound and satisfying answers to the sadness we see in ourselves and in the world around us. Finally, in the third post, “Broken by the Good Shepherd”, I want to argue that God, in his breathtaking love, often uses trials and seasons of sadness and doubt for our good. As an overarching goal, I hope to make clear that God does not exclude those who experience doubt or sadness; he welcomes as we are and restores us to know and love him. I hope and pray that through this series, you will be refreshed to see anew the unsearchable wisdom and love of our God.
The title for this series comes from a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. After seeing Gandalf return from the dead, Sam exclaims, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
A while back, I wrote a post called the “Tension of Faith”. In it, I talked about how faith is the tension between God’s promises and our circumstances. What makes faith so agonizing is that our circumstances often make God’s promises seem impossible and downright foolish. Here, in Sam’s quote, we witness that profound moment when the tension of faith is resolved; when the distance between the difficulty and the promise is bridged by an unexpected miracle. What does it look like to be in that moment? when everything seems like it’s crashing down, only to be transformed into something beautiful at the last moment? We get a glimpse of it in Sam’s question. When the tension of faith is resolved, we stand in joyous disbelief.
What do I mean? Sam’s question to a living Gandalf expresses disbelief that such a wonderful thing could happen and joy that such a wonderful thing has in fact happened. On the one hand, Sam is so shocked to see Gandalf that he can only respond in the form of a question. He sees Gandalf with his own eyes, but everything else that he has seen and experienced tells him the exact opposite. And so, he’s afraid to be sure. After all, endings like this only happen in fairy-tales for the naive, not in real life. But, on the other hand, there Gandalf is right there before him. We can feel the joy bursting forth from the question. “I don’t believe it, but here you are. Talk to me and reassure me I’m not dreaming. If I can just know that you’re really here and really alive, I won’t be able to contain this joy.”
Now, I know this is just a fantasy story, but you can probably already see all the parallels to our true life stories in the Gospel. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this is what Luke wanted to capture when he wrote in chapter 24 of his Gospel that after seeing the Risen Jesus, the disciples “disbelieved for joy and were marveling” (v. 41)
Do you see how beautiful this is? I can’t think of anything more beautiful that the moment of joyous disbelief. For the Christian, there is no greater worship than in this moment. When we realize how lost we are in our sins and how the just wrath of God is coming upon us, and then we hear how Jesus loved us so much that he took hell in our place, we stand in joyous disbelief. We ask, “Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?” When we endure trials and seasons of struggle that almost drive us to despair, and then we look back and see how God used them to keep us from making shipwreck of our faith, we stand in joyous disbelief and say, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” It is in these moments, where we give God the worship he desires. There is no pride, only humble thankfulness and brokenness. There is no thought of self, only amazement at the wisdom and grace of God.
When you’re struggling with doubt and sadness, it’s easy wonder if you’re even a Christian. If I love Christ, then why do I feel this way? Why do I feel so little? Why do I have these questions? It’s easy to feel helpless and to want to give up. It’s easy to despair that we’ll ever have certainty in our faith or genuine love for Christ. What should we do in those moments? When the distance between God’s promises and our weakness feels as wide as the Grand Canyon? We should press on.
My point here is a simple one. There is no beautiful moment of joyous disbelief, without agonizing through the tension of faith. Sam cannot experience that moment of unspeakable joy, unless Gandalf dies and the whole journey of the Fellowship of the Rings seems utterly hopeless. There is no joyous resurrection without the Savior first hanging on the tree and crying out in utter darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If you are struggling with doubt or sadness, no matter how small or great, know this. Your struggle does not exclude you from the love of God, nor does it render you useless for God’s service. Rather, think in this way: God is faithful, wise, and loving and, if I will but trust him, he will use whatever struggle I am experiencing for a greater good than I can even imagine. If I will but trust him, I know he will certainly use this to give me the greatest good of all—to stand humbly and willingly before Him in worship. Therefore, I will press on by faith through every struggle, through every feeling and doubt. To the praise of his glorious grace. Amen.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)