I’ve been thinking recently about a phrase from Tolkein’s Return of the King. It comes after Samwise—himself just waking up—has seen his friend Gandalf fall a great distance, to what Sam assumed was a certain death. But when Gandalf appears alive, Sam is amazed:
He gasped: 'Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’
I’ve been thinking about how that phrase captures the essence of the good news of the Christian message. It echoes what Jesus says at the beginning of his ministry: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus announces that in his life and ministry (and eventual death) a new power and a new reality begins to work in the broken and disintegrating world. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “In me, everything sad is coming untrue.”
Other people have been thinking and writing about this phrase, too. Singer and songwriter Jason Gray just released an album titled Everything Sad is Coming Untrue which features two title tracks. (Clearly Tolkein’s phrase packs depth enough for some reflection.) Gray’s album has provided the soundtrack to my ruminating on sadness coming untrue.
To my ear the album is at its best when the production is at its least. When Gray sings alone with his guitar, backed only by percussion or strings, his music works. When the sound is as vulnerable as the lyrics, the songs pack power. When the production gets fuller, the message is obscured, or worse, cheapened.
The second of the two title tracks is the better one. (You can listen to them both here.) While the first song scampers about with saccharine “poppiness” of spring, the second is rooted in sadness. It makes us desperate for our sadness to come untrue because it starts with despair we all know. The song also works because it’s more asking a question than giving an answer, “Could it be everything sad is coming untrue?/ Could you believe everything sad is coming untrue?”
As I’ve listened to these songs and as I’ve thought about Tolkein's phrase, I’ve been reminded that the Christian message isn’t all puppy dogs and sunbeams and chirping birds. The Christian good news assumes bad news, hurt, death, sadness. But (and it’s a big but indeed) it proclaims Jesus—the rescuer. The one in whom and through whom everything sad is coming untrue.