Comedian Louis C.K. went on a rant on Conan last week that began with cell phones but spiraled into some harshly honest observations about the way we deal with sadness and loneliness in contemporary society. Video of the interview has been widely shared, but we have it below in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Perhaps this video felt so refreshing because we rarely talk about these kinds of mundane, bad feelings in our culture. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing everyday human sadness; more often, we’re staving it off with the sort of facile happiness that cell phones provide.
This is a place where comedy serves a useful purpose. Comedy often thrives in that flash of recognition, a fresh description of our familiar experience. Louis C.K. describes that “empty, forever empty” feeling – whether it takes the form of loneliness or fear of rejection - and suggests we often try to ignore such feelings with impulsive texting. He may exaggerate in his description of our behavior – I’m not sure “100% percent of people are driving around texting” - but what resonates is his acknowledgment of our deep discomfort with being alone.
The Bible seems to understand our need to face those feelings. The book of Psalms is filled with prayers that mimic the sad yet hopeful sequence Louis C.K. is talking about. Psalm 42 is a familiar example. But the Bible has something extra to offer us - the hope that follows sadness in the Psalms is grounded in God’s love and mercy. Because of that difference, it sustains us in a way that “texting 50 people” never can.
Louis C.K. is right to come to terms with our feelings of sadness and loneliness, but what’s missing from his description is a hope that validates human emotions and yet continues regardless of our ups and downs. The psalmist in Psalm 42 follows descriptions of sadness and loneliness (“my tears have been my food day and night”) with a refrain reminding him to put his hope in God.
Certainly, we want to listen to wisdom that reminds of us of what it is like to be human, but we shouldn’t lose sight of how a relationship with God might reflect on all of our human moments, including the “forever empty” ones.