Recently I took a trip to Israel with an organization called Passages. The following is a reflection I wrote about one of my particular experiences on the trip.
On the day in which we visited the Holocaust museum and heard our tour guide Shi tell the story of his Grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, there was unspeakable sadness which covered me like a heavy blanket. I wasn’t able to put words to that moment or how I was feeling. The sadness was beyond words. Trying to describe it only seemed to make it harder to articulate. The following is a reflection, processing through the very concept of sadness. I wrote it on my last flight coming back from Israel. At the moment I wrote it this particular day of the trip was not on my mind. Although I cannot be sure of the connection between that day and the particular sadness I was feeling on the last flight, I offer this in its place. With a deep cry, my soul poured forth that which can never adequately be described by mere words.
There is a deep sadness within my soul, it feels as if it’s always been there. We often ascribe a deep joy to the heart of God. But I wonder if there might not also be a deep sadness within the heart of God. How could there not be with all the evil, suffering, and brokenness in the world? Those who follow Jesus must embrace not only the deep joy found in the heart of God but also the deep sadness found with God’s heart. Experiencing deep sadness is not antithetical to our faith but rather is but another means to communion and participation with God. Another way in which we can feel what God feels.
Christians who cannot accept this aspect of God cannot fully engage themselves in the suffering of the world. And therefore, cannot seek to alleviate it, they will merely seek to create an illusion, a false sense of Joy, in which no suffering is acknowledged. This is deeply dehumanizing to both those who suffer and those who do not. Not to say that there exists such a person who hasn’t experienced some level of suffering, I merely mean to distinguish between the various levels of suffering. To fully humanize and thereby affirm the very existence of a person one must embrace the inherent sadness found in a world in which suffering exists.
Oftentimes we push away suffering pretending as if it doesn’t exist. We think that this will alleviate suffering, if only we believe hard enough that everything around us is actually good. Oddly enough this ignoring of suffering only creates more suffering. What one must do when faced with any level of suffering is face it head on, to fully embrace it, not only as part of the human experience but as part of God’s experience. When we do this we can learn to allow the suffering we face to transform us, it becomes the training ground for us to learn how to love.
No one may learn to love if they do not embrace the deep eternal-sadness if they refuse to embrace the suffering and by embracing it thereby acknowledging it and seeking to truly bring resolution, reconciling, and healing to the suffering. One may wonder what this “eternal-sadness” is. How can sadness be Eternal? The eternality of sadness is found in the eternality of God. If God truly is Love, and love cannot be aware of suffering without experiencing sadness, then God who is eternal has always been aware of suffering. Even before it had ever occurred. Therefore, sadness is an eternal element.
In a newly restored creation in which healing takes place, we will not merely forget all of the sufferings in the world of the past, but we will embrace it. The memory of all past tragedy’s will never be forgotten. Genocide will never be forgotten; rape and murder will never be forgotten. Of all the haunting and deeply broken things humans have done, not a single one will be forgotten. Instead through the embrace of the sadness, of the past suffering, we will find deep joy. In the deep fountain of Love that is our God, we will find a meaning that fully transcends the sadness while fully acknowledging it. A life that has scars but has learned to process through the pain of those events. That has chosen to intentionally pursue a life that is defined by the serving of the other and the embrace of the moments of joy that we are given and called to cling to.
When relating all of this to specific events and issues we may say a few things regarding our Christian brothers and sisters. In regard to the Holocaust, we have as the human race experienced a moment in which we have rejected our own humanity. It wasn’t just the humanity of the Jews that was denied, the Nazis in denying the humanity of the Jews also rejected their own humanity. They chose to bring suffering on the other while also creating suffering deep within their own being, their own souls if will. Christians have often, while acknowledging the existence of the Holocaust, have too often sought to ignore the deep eternal sadness of this event. We have too hastily tried to move on creating a false sense of joy. The Jewish people cannot so easily move past such an event. They will always, no matter how much they overcome, be a people shaped by the Holocaust, and a people of the deep eternal-sadness found in the heart of God.
In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if we are to fulfill our responsibilities of Loving our God and our neighbor we cannot help but live in the deep sadness. We cannot arrogantly seek to alleviate the sufferings of both peoples while not standing in Solidarity with the sadness of both people. We must experience this sadness ourselves. While no one can do more than empathize without actually experiencing the same sadness what we can do is embrace our own sadness that all of humanity shares.
In order to be of any good, we must actually allow ourselves to sit in the moment of sadness without expecting any moment of joy, although it may be a paradox, trusting that joy can and will arise from the fertile ground of sadness. However, this cannot happen unless the sadness has been embraced as a welcomed aspect to life.
Maybe one of the reasons why Christianity is not appealing to so many moderns is because they know deeply, although maybe not consciously, that they will have to reject a fundamental reality of their existence. Maybe that’s why after the Holocaust there are so many non-religious Jews. Because some Christian’s, who often carry the loudest voice, have falsely advertised that God is only Joy, that sadness is something outside of God and therefore not appropriate for religious thinking and behavior. And they cannot reject this fundamental reality of a deeply sorrowful sadness that exists in their hearts due to the experience of the Holocaust. There will always be a deep gaping hole found within the mountain-sized hearts of the Jewish people and all of humanity and nothing will ever undo this.
There is something amiss in our humanity when we reject our sadness when we choose to ignore the only experience that will actually allow us to move into true and not illusionary joy. There is something amiss when we miss the large hole in the heart of God that is eternally filled with eternal sadness. When we run from our true humanity and God’s true deity, we will actually create more suffering. As Richard Rohr has said, “those who do not allow their suffering to transform them will transmit their suffering onto others.”  Maybe at the end of our pursuit of joy, we will have realized that sadness was indeed the missing key to our joy.