To start off this week — Happy Advent, by the way! — I wanted to get you thinking and pose a question I’ve been pondering for a while: Is it wrong for Christians writers to write depressing things?
Before I continue, I suppose I should point out that I don’t have a hard and fast definition for “depressing things”. I’m using “depressing” as “hopeless” or “something that doesn’t have a happy ending” — a tragedy. A prime example of this would Sophocles’ plays, Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus, where Oedipus is cursed to kill his father and marry his mother, a fate he does his best to avoid but ends up succumbing to anyway.
You see, I like to write depressing things. I enjoy the challenge of portraying deep pain or the tug on my emotions that writing such things causes. I like sentimental stuff, stuff that stirs your heart and makes you cry, and writing depressing things will certainly do that to me. I suppose this can sound bad, as if I’m morbid and pessmistic, but I know I’m not alone. I mean, why do people like “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On my Own” so much, from the musical Les Miserables? They’re two rather depressing songs, and yet most normal, happy people cite them as favorites. There’s something about an aching cry and melancholy tale that attracts us, resonates with us.
The problem? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Is writing depressing things lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy? Is it glorifying to God when we portray a world with no hope, especially when the God we serve is called the God of hope (Rom. 15:13)? Is it inherently wrong to write a tragedy, something that doesn’t end happily?
The easiest answer to the question is to simply compromise, and the best example to this is Shakespeare. Consider Macbeth. It’s certainly a tragedy, with Macbeth ending up as a murderous coward and Lady Macbeth as a guilt-ridden lunatic. However, there is a spark of hope at the end — the rightful heir becomes king, and the evil Macbeth is defeated. Then there’s Romeo and Juliet: Because of their family’s pride and stubbornness and a tragic miscommuniation, the two lovers die when they were this close to being reunited. But, again, it ends on a relatively happy note: Their childrens’ deaths spur on the two fueding families to reconcile.
Still, though, that doesn’t answer the original question: Can you write a purely depressing, hopeless something as a Christian? Is it wrong to do so? Here are the first arguments for each position that came to mind:
Yes, You Can:
1) The Bible emphasizes the fact that the world is a broken, painful place, and as writers, it is our job to portray the truth. Part of that truth is the loneliness and hurt of this earth. We certainly aren’t lying when we write about darkness.
2) There are many hurting people out there, and it is often comforting to know that you’re not alone, that other people feel the way you do. From personal experience, when I’ve been feeling down, it’s been strangely encouraging to read a gloomy poem — it provides a feeling of companionship, and contrary to what you’d expect, that glum piece of writing has actually encourage me, not depressed me.
3) Writing can be a poweful theraputic tool and a way to express your feelings. Obviously, if you’re feeling upset, your writing will reflect that, and it can greatly alleviate your mood if you just “get it all out” through writing.
4) Some stories are just snapshots, glimpses into one scene or one emotion; they don’t necessarily have to portray the whole picture. That’s the whole point of short stories, for instance — as Lorrie Moore said, “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film”.
No, You Can’t:
1) Yes, it is true that there is pain in the world, but it is also true that there is an overarching beauty and joy. We must portray the whole truth — the truth that there is darkness but that there is, above that, light.
2) While it may encourage some depressed people to know they’re not alone, depressing writing may deepen others’ feelings of depression.
3) It’s fine to write depressing things to destress for yourself, but if you’re sharing your work, you need to consider how it will affect others, which brings us back to point two.
So the conclusion? Well, if you noticed the title, this is part 1. I’m hoping to explore this topic further, because I think it’s very relevant for us writers. Plus, I haven’t quite reached a conclusion yet. For now, though, I’d love to hear from you: Are there any depressing books/essays/poems/works of art that you love? What are your thoughts on the question I’ve posed? Do you have an answer yet?