I just watched Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda. If you haven't seen it, I can share the basic premise without spoiling it at all. Two playwrights debate over dinner whether life is basically tragic or comic. In order to make their case, each one narrates the story of the same character Melinda via their respective dramatic lens.
Woody Allen's film experiment invites us into this thought experiment: Is life ultimately tragic or comic? More specifically, is the Christian narration of existence tragic or comic?
At the center of the Christian story there hangs a man who we call God dying on a cross. This moment of abandonment is utterly tragic. It serves to embrace the tragic elements of life. Christians ought not to approach suffering glibly. We worship a God who takes on our suffering.
But the tragic story of the cross is revealed as a triumph by the Easter story. The resurrection of Christ is the comic twist in the story. Moreover, Easter reveals that the Cross of Christ was not a failure after all, but achieved our salvation. So the there is a “happy ending” to the Christian story.
The question for Christians is whether this comic aspect undermines any genuine tragedy in the story. Does the “happy ending” that gives us hope eliminate a real embrace of the tragic? Practically speaking, are Christians able to embrace the suffering in this world, call it what it is, not try to gloss over it, yet all without losing hope? Can we despair and hope at the same time?
Putting the question back into dramatic categories, we might ask whether there can be a hybrid of tragedy and comedy. Of course, there are many instances of tragedies than begin comically (Romeo & Juliet being the most famous of these). But can a story that ends comically ever truly embrace the tragic?
It seems to me that the story of Jesus may be such a hybrid. Easter does not undermine the pain of the cross, but embraces it. The risen Christ remains the crucified Christ, as the scars in his hands and side attest. Thus the Christian outlook includes both a tragic and comic vision. We really can take others’ pain seriously without leaving them in despair. And we can offer others real hope without dismissing their pain and calling evil good.
How can we keep these aspects of the Christian story together?
Are there any clues or habits to help us?
How does this play out in our relationships with those who suffer?