ST. PAUL, 'INSIDE OUT,' AND THE FORGOTTEN VALUE OF SADNESS

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While Inside Out premiered in the U.S. in June, the Philippines had to wait til this week in August to catch the film on the big screen. Oh well—for this moviegoer [Carlo], it was worth the wait.

"Sadness is normal. Sadness is important. 
Sadness is not the opposite of Joy, she's her partner." 
—Matt Zoller Seitz, "In praise of Sadness: the healing insight of Inside Out"

“Sorrow is better than laughter, 
because sober reflection is good for the heart.” 
—Ecclesiastes‬ ‭7:3‬, ‭NET‬‬

*     *     *

In a world wracked by tragedy and grief, we have taken Happiness and crowned her queen. And the proof—if you will excuse the pun—can be found inside and out.

Today, popular ads on TV hinge on their appeal to our personal happiness. Our life goals are often propelled by self-satisfaction. And even modern theology has frequently pegged human comfort and pleasure as the predominating concerns of the kingdom of God—a quick glance at the titles of many bestselling Christian books the past few years should be enough to confirm this. Now there's nothing wrong with wanting to be happy; we all do, don't we? But our obsession with personal satisfaction both in and outside of the church makes me wonder: with all our good intentions, have we oversimplified what life and health are really all about?

Well, just leave it to Pixar yet again to uncover virtues both fading and long-forgotten.


Sadness isn't badness, oh my friends. Just ask our pink and fluffy pal Bing Bong.

I just watched Inside Out for the first time with Pat recently and am once again astounded at how some "children's movies" contain more insight than films geared towards adults. There is one poignant scene (among many) where the personified emotion Joy tries to uplift a depressed Bing Bong—the lead human character's imaginary friend of old—with jokes, funny faces, and basically the "don't worry, be happy!" get-up. This fails. But in comes Sadness, whose usefulness in any situation has been questioned up to this point. With Joy looking on, Sadness sits with Bing Bong in quiet empathy, enters into his pain, and somehow manages to console him. The two move on together, and Joy is left scratching her head in tow.

Is Joy's failure in this scene a picture of our "happiness-at-all-costs" mentality today and its incompatibility with reality? Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz seems to think so. In one particularly enriching article, Seitz writes:
"This is a film aimed at kids that makes Sadness a hero alongside Joy, and shows Joy running roughshod over Sadness and diminishing her contributions and generally being annoyed by her, until finally she starts to listen to Sadness. Once she starts listening to Sadness, she realizes that she has something incredibly valuable to say, and that indeed if everything were left up to Joy, the mission would be a disaster, because Joy keeps denying Sadness. 
"...'Inside Out' stands in opposition to an entire culture that tells people that happiness is the highest, best and sometimes only permissible emotion, and that sadness is an obstacle to being happy, and that we should concentrate all of our emotional and cultural energy on trying to eradicate sadness so that everyone can be happy."
—Matt Zoller Seitz, "In praise of Sadness: the healing insight of Inside Out" 

"Hi. I'm... Sadness." (Sadness, impeccably voiced by Phyllis Smith)

"Sadness is heroic, valuable, even...desirable?" some Christians today may wonder. "But what about Philippians 4:4, where Paul exhorts: 'Rejoice in the Lord always: I will say it again, rejoice!'? Shouldn't we oppose sadness at all costs and rebuke it whenever it rears its ugly head?"

Good question, and one that brings up an even bigger thought: Is the Bible too simple in its appraisal of human psychology, particularly in its treatment of sadness? In other words, are Christians called to be "Joy" by default (bubbly, misguided) while the rest of the world rightly embraces the value of all the emotions?

I'll get to Philippians 4:4 shortly. But before I do, let me offer that it is not the Bible that is too simple with regard to emotional health, but rather we believers of holy writ who sometimes overlook and oversimplify certain scriptures. Do suffering and sorrow indeed get due recognition in the Word, or are they discounted for top-tier emotions like Joy, and say... Joy?

ELSEWHERE IN THE BIBLE...

  • We are told that there is a time for everything under the sun: "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Ecc 3:4).
  • We are exhorted to "rejoice with those who rejoice," and "mourn with those who mourn" (Rom 12:15). (Not to rejoice with those who mourn, as Joy had attempted with our good friend Bing Bong, bless their hearts!)
  • We observe that the Psalms model a spirituality that gives Sadness her say. See Psalm 22, 42, and 88 for just a few examples. On a similar note, I would dare say that there are numerous psalms representing each major emotion that we might experience. There are psalms where the presence of Fear is acknowledged; there are psalms where Anger and Disgust have full vent; and so forth.
  • We are told by Ecclesiastes that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting," and that the former indeed is where wisdom resides (Ecc. 7:2-4). Now that is counter-cultural.
  • We learn that Sadness even has her own book in the Bible. Its name? Lamentations. Here we understand what Ethan McCarthy says when he notes that sadness is sometimes "the only appropriate response to the turmoil and confusion" we feel—not to mention the evil and suffering in the world.
  • Lastly, we learn that Jesus himself was a "Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa 53:3, NKJV). Do we see Christ "grinning and bearing it" on the road to the cross? Or was he "happy-go-lucky" in the Garden of Gethsemane? Rooted in joy he may have been, but smiling from ear-to-ear? I highly doubt it.


Watch Inside Out and you will believe that a fluffy, pink elephant-cat can cry rivers of candy.

All in all, the treatment of sadness in the Bible testifies to the compassion of a God who not only understands our pain, but has also entered into it personally in order to heal it fully in the person of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Bible doesn't peg Joy as the sole hero among all emotions, as some may assume, but rather sees emotional health as something much more complex (as Inside Out so aptly illustrates). For instance, Ecc 7:3 tells us in proverbial fashion: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.” But the virtues of joy have already been extolled a few books earlier in Prov 17:22: "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." And even anger has his place when Ephesians 4:26 tells us, "In your anger do not sin." The Word of God doesn't advocate letting your emotions "run their course" to any kind of harmful behavior whatsoever, but there can be little doubt that a biblical prescription for emotional health isn't forcing happy emotions into every situation either, whether disheartening, depressing, or downright tragic.

And on that note: Philippians 4:4. ("Rejoice in the Lord always!") Does this verse contradict everything that has come before? Does it give sprightly Joy the keys to the kingdom (and also the console)?

In a word: no. The apostle Paul, who suffered immensely and even once despaired of life itself (2 Cor 1:8) wasn't calling us to simply "be happy all the time" when he penned those words, as some Christians so fervently believe. ("Don't confess that pain brother—cheer up, speak life, and above all, think positive!" Well, side note, friends—tell that to Paul. He confessed to experiencing more pain in the span of some years than some believers might experience in a lifetime.) Not on your life. The call to "rejoice in the Lord always" is not a denial of sadness but rather a conscious choosing of hope even in the midst of sadness. It is not a temporal joy planted in the shifting sands of circumstance but a deep, eternal joy rooted in the bedrock immovable that is the nature of God. And to return to our reference point, it is that touching scene where Joy, wordless, has finally learned her lessons; she takes the hand of Sadness and bears the suffering with her.

Yes, friends: consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). And yes: Let us rejoice in the Lord always (Paul repeated it for emphasis because he knew how easily we might forget)! But know that this doesn't mean faking a smile while you're crying inside. For if there's one thing that both the Bible and Inside Out tell us, it's only after we recognize the place of Sadness in our lives that our Joy is free to truly flourish. —C.
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