I just finished reading a book with my young daughter. I will refrain from sharing the title of the book at the moment because the author is still alive. I have learned from experience that when you reference a living author your post might end up on that person’s Twitter. Believe it or not I don’t really want that type of publicity! And also, for full disclosure, I am in a somber mood at the moment. That will likely come across in the post.
Anyway, the book turned out to be a bit of a Tragedy, ending in somber despair. I am not big on Tragedies, at least deep, dark Tragedies – Tragedies that are tragic all the way up and all the way down with no hope in sight. Those types of tragedies quite frankly aren’t true to reality…or are they? That’s the big question.
Nihilism is Tragedy (with a capital T). All is meaningless. Life sucks and then you die. And while, for some, life may appear meaningless, and while life may suck, and while they, and I, will surely die, the vast majority of humanity, not just Christians, have always realized that the premise simply isn’t true. We demand hope.
The question, then, becomes, Do we demand hope and therefore invent forms of hope to satisfy us, or Is this something engrained into us from the outside in? Is this an inside out thing – we feel the need for it, and so we invent mechanisms to provide what we need (hope in this case)? Or is the sense that tragedy is meant to be overruled and overturned engrained into us because of the Truth of reality? Are Freud and Nietzche right or are Tolkien and Lewis right? Freud says we invent big daddy in the sky in order to make up for the failures of little daddy down below. Nietzche says we need Supermen who, in the end, can’t save us anyway. Tolkien and Lewis say that tragedy and disaster are little stabbings of pain, shared by all of humanity, that never end a story ultimately. They never end the story because God himself took on flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, to share in our suffering, that when we suffer we might be sharing in his – and that his resurrection might become ours.
So I do not believe that a good story ever ends without hope. It may not end the way we want it to. But the question is, Does the story leave you despairing, or does it leave you longing? Even if you are not rejoicing, are you at least crying out for the happy ending? Is there enough there to whet your appetite, as you close the book, for the possibility that something good good happen on the next page, if there were another page? That’s the tell-tale difference. And it makes all the difference in the world, and in your soul. If it doesn’t do that, then chuck it right across the room. I’ve done it before, you should try it. It’s no tragedy to quit a bad book.
The title of this post mentions children, and here is where they come in. Children should not be sheltered from sad books. I do not mean that children should be forced to read sad books. But when you read with your children, or when they share what they are reading with you, and they don’t want to read what comes next (this is what happened to us tonight), I do not think you should encourage them to stop. They need to see that not all stories, in the here and now, end happily. They need to see the main characters suffer, and even die. It is better for them to experience it there before they have to deal with it in their own literal experience. Having read of such givens them imaginative furniture to may lead to greater poise when real tragedy strikes.
There goes that word again – tragedy. I am not a fan of the word in general, because most things that we call tragedies are not truly tragic. And most books aren’t either. We have made cliches out of clouds and silver linings and songs about rainbows for a reason. So let the sadness of the book waft over the imagination of your children. But remember that your job is to teach them that Nihilism is a farce. Jesus Christ says that he is making all things new. If he rose from the dead, then indeed it is true. There is hope, no matter how bleak the present, or the present story, is. He calls light out of darkness. He really does. That is why Tolkien could never have truly finished The Lord of the Rings, or at least it could never have been the masterpiece that it is, if Sam Gangee had never said, ‘Is everything sad going to come untrue?’ Catastrophe is meant to lead to eucatastrophe, death to resurrection. That’s Reality, with a capital R.
So read on. Be sad. Cry if you need to. And then teach your children that we do not grieve as those in the world because our hope is sure. And if you’re in the Nihilist camp, then why do you care anyway? Just move on. This post doesn’t really mean anything anyway. And neither does the book you read. It’s all dust in the wind.