Article  Human Dignity  Health  Suicide

Chris Cornell and the quest for joy

It was shocking to awake midweek to the the news of the death of Chris Cornell, the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave. My initial reaction was sadness, but for a selfish reason. Being a child of 90’s rock, he and his bands took up a great deal of room on my CD rack. As more details came in about his death, I was devastated to learn that his death was most likely due to suicide. Cornell’s death reminded me of an important truth, which was best explained by the famous math mathematician Blaise Pascal when he said, 

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

Pascal’s statement seems eerily prophetic considering the assumed nature of Cornell’s death. Pascal’s point is that at the heart of every pursuit is man’s ultimate quest for joy. Even in a situation where a person takes their own life, often behind this pursuit is the belief that this end will bring the person joy.

The secular mindset offers many narratives to attain this joy. Sex, drugs or rock-n-roll all offer the hopes of fulfillment. Some believe that all our heart’s longings will be resolved through developments in technology and healthcare. Sci-fi movies and novels serve as a reminder that even in a futuristic world, war, pain and the quest for something greater remain. But the Christian message offers a counter-narrative, a solution to the quest for joy.

Man was created for the purpose of joy. But why is it that music, money and fame can never bring ultimate joy? Finite things will never fill the infinite hole that sin has left within a person’s heart. This quest will never find its resolve until its focus is centered upon Christ.  Saint Augustine once stated, “Our hearts will be restless, until they find their rest in thee.” The Christian narrative offers hope for those whose affections are placed upon Christ.

The Christian message is a message of joy and hope. The word hope is used over 100 different times throughout the Bible, and the theme of hope is a major motif throughout Scripture. The hope which the Bible offers is not that all our problems will dissipate once we begin following Christ, but that amid all of life’s difficulties, Christ will be with us. This is how Paul can say after being stranded, beaten and without food, “these things are only a slight momentary affliction.” Paul reminds the Christian that difficulties are certain, but Christ is sufficient for these times.

How then should Christians—the carriers of this message of hope—respond to tragedies such as these?

  1. Display empathy: We don’t need 13 reasons to know that the death of a person is painful. Paul offers some helpful counsel when he says, “Weep with those who are weeping.” During a difficult time, we may not be able to come up with the right things to say, but sometimes our presence is more important than any words that we can say. Love in these moments merely asks us to be there for the person and weep with them.
  2. Point to Christ: We can point the person who is mourning to Jesus, who, while he was preaching the sermon on the mount said, ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Pointing a person anywhere else may satisfy their hearts temporarily, but it will soon leave them longing for something greater. Instead, we should gently point the person to Christ, who will bring comfort to their mourning heart if they turn to him.
  3. Pray for wisdom: James told believers experiencing persecution to “count their suffering as joy.” He then went on to write, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James’ Jewish audience would’ve understand him to be referring to wisdom literature, books like Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes. The idea of wisdom is not knowledge as to why difficulties may be occurring. Instead, it’s the knowledge of how to live righteously during difficult times. James’ words remind sufferers that God is gracious and will give them the wisdom they need.

If in your quest for joy, you find yourself, like the adulterous woman, with a history of lovers that never satisfy and surrounded by those prepared to stone you, look up and see the extended hand of Christ. Christ will pick you up and give you a new identity, one which assures you that during your difficult days, he will be there. Be encouraged by the truth that the great hymn writer William Gadsby once stated, “Though you feel as cold as clay, He will not, cannot go away.” He will be with us in our darkest days and assures us that, at some point, the light of joy will break through.

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