Will you keep out all the sadness?

Yesterday I saw Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of the classic children’s picture book Where The Wild Things Are. I’ve seen it twice. It is utterly beautiful (a phrase first attributed to the film by my friend MW, who really should start blogging). The cinematography is stunning. The casting is brilliant. The soundtrack exhibits the talents of the wonderful Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O.

Where The Wild Things Are film poster

It is also a deeply sad film. This sadness, as I’ve come to realise is often the case, goes hand in hand with beauty. Sadness is a central concern in Where The Wild Things Are. In the midst of the brawling (both playful and hurtful), the protagonist Max, having run away from his broken home into his imaginary world, is asked to be the king of the Wild Things. In assessing his eligibility, Carol asks: ‘What about loneliness?’ Douglas continues with what for me was one of the most moving lines in the film: ‘What he’s trying to say is, will you keep out all the sadness?’

I have lived a life remarkably free (so far) of suffering. I have a loving family who have remained together, I have benefitted from supportive church communities; I have had only limited experience of deaths in the family. Nevertheless, my friendships have opened me up to the full extent of the sadness of this world. A majority of my close friends have experienced the tragedy of broken families, the death of family members and close friends, or the pain of depression. This world is a sad and broken place.

The question posed in Where The Wild Things Are is a real one for anyone who’s lived long enough to suffer. Is there any hope for a world, as Carol puts it, ‘where only the things we want to happen would happen’? In the words of the Wild Things, is there a king who can keep out all the sadness?

The film’s answer is refreshingly free of escapism. Where The Wild Things Are does not shy away from what we all know, even children: the world is sad place. Max at first attempts escapism. Just as he has escaped into his imaginary world, so he deals with conflict and relational hurt within that world. His first kingly order of business is a command to ‘Let the wild rumpus start!’ When personalities clash and tempers flare, he commissions a friendly war to relieve tensions. But the peace doesn’t last. Escapism doesn’t work.

Instead, the relationships between the Wild Things lead Max to assert that they must love each other, despite obstacles, because they’re a family. K.W. responds by saying that ‘Being a family is hard.’ We all know she’s right. Max knows she’s right. He decides to return home, and amid the sadness of a broken family and a mother’s terror at her son’s flight, we see the beauty of their reunion.

This is a good message for children (and adults) to hear. Love in a world full of sadness is hard work; yet it is both worthwhile and required of us.

Where The Wild Things Are screenshotBut it doesn’t deal with the core issue. An acknowledgement of suffering doesn’t make it go away, and doesn’t make it okay. We do desire an end to sadness; we know instinctively that this is not the way things should be. Is there any hope for a world without pain? Max, as king, had promised to shield the Wild Things from sadness. When everything goes awry, Alex remarks to Max ‘I don’t think there is a king who can do all the things you said.’

Yet there is. The Christian bible testifies about Jesus the Messiah, God’s chosen king. He is one who knows sadness in every way as we do: he suffered a life of rejection, and a horrifying death brought about by the gross injustice of those with political and juridicial authority, betrayed with a kiss by one of his closest friends. I am convinced he did not stay dead, but was raised bodily to new life after three days in the grave.

The testimony of the New Testament is that this same Jesus, now ruling as king from heaven, will return to the earth to establish his kingdom fully and forever. We see a beautiful picture of this in Revelation 21. Describing Jesus’ future return, the writer sees a new heaven and earth. Here God lives side by side with his people. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away’ (verse 4). ‘Look!’, says the king, ‘I am making everything new’ (verse 5). The return of this king will see the end of sadness itself, and a new beginning in a place where sadness will not be.

While the world waits for Jesus’ return, aching with all the pain we resist so lamely, we must continue to persevere with loving one another. We must endure sadness; indeed, God uses suffering to grow the Godly character of those who trust in Jesus. Where The Wild Things Are gives us no reason to persevere, because sadness just is; there is no promise of an end to the pain of living in the world.

But there is hope: in Jesus, we have a king who will keep out all the sadness.

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5 thoughts on “Will you keep out all the sadness?

  1. What a weird coincidence Richard – I was having this very conversation with my mum last night. The last week has been seemingly filled for me with bad news about people in my world, and I commented that although I know there has to be a certain amount of bitter to appreciate the sweet, I am feeling like I have about had my fill of the bitter at the moment, and although I am trying to appreciate the sweet the universe isn’t getting the memo!

    I know that in the end God will make it right, but here is my question – why doesn’t he hurry up and get to it? I’m not necessarily in a hurry to bring on the end of days, but surely the suck quotient could be turned down a little, especially at this time of year! God has the power to do this – why doesn’t he?

  2. Hi Kat,

    Thanks for reading and for speaking so honestly.

    There are few days which go by without me earnestly praying for Jesus to return and set things right. I think the reason he hasn’t done so yet is that he’s patient with us. The picture in Revelation 21 is beautiful; but not all of what happens in the lead-up to that making new of everything is so picturesque. The problem is, the sadness can’t just cease; it has to be dealt with and expunged if we are to experience a world without it.

    I think most of us would admit that much of the sadness we experience is caused, whether intentionally or not, by people (whether ourselves or others). Basically, we’re a mess. Not all the suffering in the world is our fault; evil is bigger than the sum of our messed-up-ness. However, we’re implicated. In order to bring the joyful, peaceful new world into being, Jesus needs to deal with the evil which is now present, and that includes dealing with the evil of the humans he has created.

    Jesus doesn’t want to see anyone he loves suffer (which is everyone, because he created all of us). However, he can’t let evil go unchecked. In Revelation 3 he promises that those who put their trust in him and persevere in following him against the ways of this world will have their names written in the Book of Life, and he will acknowledge them before God the Father. By trusting Jesus, who himself suffered all the sadness in the world, our own implication in the world’s evil is counted as nothing.

    Then in Revelation 20, we see the judgement throne of God, and those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life are destroyed. In order to bring about a world where sadness is always kept out, evil must be dealt with. That means dealing with us.

    So then, God is patient. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us this: ‘The Lord does not delay His promise [that is, returning to set everything right], as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.’ Jesus, I believe, longs for an end to sadness, just as we do. But he also knows that we’re wrapped up in that sadness, and we can only escape it by trusting in him. The king wants as many as possible to experience a world without sadness, and so we wait.

  3. Anyone still trying to write beach mission talks? Methinks this could be very easily adapted into one! With your permission of course Richard 🙂

  4. Hi Claire!

    Haven’t seen you for ages! Hope you’re well. You have my permission (or course!), if you think it’s useful 🙂

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