Let me conclude our series by answering our letter writer’s final question: “What is life really like internally?” What should her emotional experience be like? It can be as variable as the psalms. Some psalms express the “minor key” of pain, threat, and need for God’s help. Some psalms express the “major key” of gratitude, joy, and confidence in the Lord who helps us, the maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121). Many psalms mix the two together, segueing from one to the other, in different configurations, or focusing more on one than on the other, always teaching us many possible trajectories for our faith to bring real life to our God. They liberate honesty about the sins and sorrows that make life a sad affair. Psalms will help our letter writer to be honest about life’s sadness without getting mired in sadness, or mired in attempting to take the temperature of her reactions. She can take her reactions somewhere constructive, bringing her life to her God, and so learning good things to give away to other strugglers.
The will of God in Christ Jesus for you is that you live unto God both in your sense of need (“pray without ceasing”) and in your sense of gladness (“rejoice always, give thanks in all circumstances”): 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. Christian worship has always understood faith’s “moods,” the interplay of minor key and major key. So worship is candid about sadness. We sing of “how deep the pain of searing loss” and “the rivers of woe.” And worship is candid about joy. We sing out “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant” and “solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.”
(The lines just cited come from “How deep the Father’s love for us”; “How firm a foundation”; “O come, all ye faithful”; and “Glorious things of thee are spoken.”)
Some readers might be wondering why I did not approach this letter writer about the possibility that she is “chronically depressed,” and recommend she get checked out for the suitability of medication. No doubt, our sister has a melancholy streak, and her glass is always half-empty rather than half-full. But though our sister’s mood can be somber, her problem is not medical. Instead, she’s onto something important in facing sadness. There is an unspeakable sorrow at the heart of the world. All the Bible writers know that. All the great saints know that. All the great novelists and poets have known it. All honest men and women have known it. Only the self-deluded, who pursue their schemes for earthly joy, who expend their lives in climbing ladders to nowhere, fail to recognize the obvious. In the end, all is loss. And, whether the effects are subtle or grotesque, a madness of evil blinds the human heart (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
There is one more thing that needs to be said, and said again. We are surprised by joy, as C. S. Lewis put it. Life wins, gladness wins, hope wins. Death dies, sin disappears, all tears are wiped away. Our sister knows this, too, and by the grace of God will continue to grow in knowing this more and more thoroughly.
The mercies of God in Jesus Christ give certainty that sadness does not get last say. The past grace of our Father’s purposes and the self-sacrificing love of Jesus provide the indestructible foundation on which to build your life. The present help of Christ through his Holy Spirit works with you so you increasingly find the balance point between joy and sorrow. And the future hope of Christ promises that joy will sweep away all sorrows.