Several years ago in June of 2015, I wrote an article titled, “To the Late Virginia Woolf.” (If you’re curious, you can read it here and even the entire website if you so choose). As an English major, I had read my fair share of novels by the literary greats. At the time, I had consumed little to nothing by her and yet, it wasn’t so much her writing that struck a chord with me, but rather her life. I wrote that article as a tribute to her and secretly hoped that by saluting her bravery battling a lifetime of mental illness, it would somehow ease my own in a way anti-depressants never could.
I write this current article now not to discredit my previous work, but to shed some light on what I’ve learned in a mere three years. To me, it seems like a lifetime ago, and there exists a part of me wishing I could snuff out the very existence of those posts. In a sense, they taunt me as a painstaking reminder of the darkest and most hellish moments of my life. But it wouldn’t be fair to the younger Erin and it would be far too cowardly to bury where I was in that season and how God met me where I was.
In it I lamented over the cruel and emotionally violent life of Virginia Woolf. Since then, I have indeed read her writing and if you ever happen to read her literature you’ll see how clearly her pain and anguish permeates between the lines.
On a cold January day in 1882 London, Woolf was born. She was the seventh child out of eight, growing up close to her mother and enjoying the life that came with an affluent household. There were no financial crises, at least none to the extent of Charles Dickens’ upbringing, and the children had access to proper schooling and reading. However, Woolf’s childhood was plagued by sexual abuse and the eventual deaths of her mother, stepsister, stepmother and father. Each devastating loss resulted in a mental breakdown for Woolf – and each one outgrew the one previous in severity and duration. By the time she was 59, the extent of her depression and bi-polar tendencies left her at the brink of sanity and madness. On a spring day in March of 1941, Woolf took pen to paper one last time and wrote a farewell letter to her husband, filled her dress pockets with stones and walked into a nearby river.
Woolf’s story is a painful and utterly heartbreaking one. I wrote my article in 2015 as a subtle and indirect fist of anger towards God. In a way I suppose you could say it was my petition against Him. How could any of this be fair? How tormented does a person need to be before they come to a point where death seems far much sweeter than another second of life?
But to see only that which the world can affirm would be misguided half truths.
I thought I had Him with His back against the ropes, but Woolf’s story was not a new one. How many other great thinkers and artistic geniuses left this world with a battered soul and a tattered mind? Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few, were haunted by the deafening roar of life’s nihilistic reality. These brilliant men and women pioneered new thinking, unearthed the human condition in never seen before ways and through it all, emphasized the chaotic and seemingly random nature of the good, the bad and the ugly occurrences of life itself.
They were not wrong in their findings nor were they wrong in their torment. The human condition is one of brevity and the human life is full of despair – but these greats failed to understand something more…something that can only be unveiled by the grace of God. Yes, it is true that life can seem pointless [Ecclesiastes 1]. It is true that in the face of suffering we may anguish and not understand why [Job 10: 2]. Indeed our days are short and they are marked like spring flowers in the valley [Psalm 89: 47]. But to see only that which the world can affirm would be misguided half truths.
To live without the gospel and to live without knowing the God-man that came to secure our eternity, would be a pointless life indeed.
There exists another component to that truth. One that has been present and looming over the beginning of life itself. To live without the gospel and to live without knowing the God-man that came to secure our eternity, would be a pointless life indeed. If you knew that this is not what God intended life to be and that these mere eighty years of hard work is not where the reward will be found, then you are free to breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the destination is not here; in fact, it never was.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. And although he healed the sick, raised the dead and brought the cripple to their feet, his goal was not to relieve the physical pains of this life. His work was greater and proved to be far sweeter than eliminating the deadliest of diseases.
His life would become the standard of what it means to follow God obediently and fully.
His death on the cross would become the ultimate sacrifice – one that would make our worst insurrections atoned for.
His resurrection would be the resounding reminder of our promised eternity with him – death could no longer grip our hearts with its suffocating presence.
Whether our lives be abundant in family and good health, may we live praising His good grace and mercy. Whether our lives be devastatingly short and burdened by heartache may we know how deeply loved we are and how much our Savior suffered for us.
To the creative minds who see only half of the masterpiece, look not to your fellow literary greats or brilliant minds, but to the Creator Himself for a truth that frees instead of drowns.