Can I See Beauty in the Brokenness of Mental Illness? With Sarah Clarkson [Episode 158]

See Beauty Brokenness Mental Illness Sarah Clarkson

GIVEAWAY ALERT: You can win the book This Beautiful Truth by this week’s podcast guest. Keep reading to find out how!

We live in a broken world, don’t we? Amid the daily realities of sickness and isolation, disappointment and pain, it can be really hard to grasp the true goodness of God.

But this is where God breaks into our pain in a tangible way, teaching us to trust His kindness and hope for His healing.

Today on the 4:13 Podcast, author Sarah Clarkson shares the healing effect of beauty in the midst of her decade-long struggle with mental illness. She is both vulnerable and practical, and she’ll invite you to taste and see the goodness of God—no matter how bitter or hard life may feel.

Sarah is an author and blogger who writes regularly about literature, faith, and beauty. She studied theology at Oxford University in England and is the author or co-author of six books, including her latest, This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness. She’s also on Instagram where she hosts regular live read-alouds from poems, novels, or essays that bring her courage. She can often be found with a cup of good tea and a book in hand in her home on the English coast where she lives with her husband, Thomas, and their children.

Okay, my friend, I should confess that I’m totally geeking out right now because Sarah joins us from my happy place—England!

I just love all things British and could have talked with her about England for hours! But I’m even more intrigued by rich spiritual conversations, and that’s just what I got from speaking with Sarah.

She helps us see that there’s beauty in brokenness and light in our darkness—something that may seem impossible at times. I know you’ll appreciate her beautiful insights that will leave you with hope!

Jennifer’s Highlights and Take-Aways

On Mental Health

During adolescence, Sarah’s obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) blossomed, and by age 17, she was overwhelmed with dark thoughts that consumed her mind. While OCD manifests differently in different people, it was intrusive images and disturbing thoughts that were the substance of Sarah’s obsession.

This difficult struggle invited doubt and fear, and as you can imagine, this confused her! So she kept it to herself because of guilt and shame. Eventually she told her mom, and together they sought help so she could process the mental illness.

But navigating through this struggle wasn’t easy.

The debilitating effect of her OCD interrupted her college plans because she couldn’t leave home, and it cut her off from her adulthood dreams. It made her reckon with her own brokenness and God’s role in the world.

Years later—now as a mom and a vicar’s wife—she still fights her struggle with OCD. However, it’s through her experience with this mental illness that she has been able to help others who feel unseen.

On Sharing Her Story

Initially, Sarah didn’t know how to speak openly about her OCD. For years, she didn’t know how to explain it to others.

But she learned that mental illness is a kind of brokenness that likes to hide. And once she began to share her experience with others who struggled in the same way, she found that they could relate and it made them feel seen.

She strived to articulate her struggle, and as others identified with her experience, it helped give them words for their struggle too.

She described that it was a slow and scary process to disclose the depth of her struggle, but part of her healing process actually occurred in sharing with others.

On Encountering Beauty

Sarah shared that “beauty is what allows us to encounter something that tells us there’s a story larger than our brokenness.”

She described the countless ways we encounter beauty—art, music, stories, nature, sunsets, windswept fields, and even the human touch. When we encounter the love of another person, we encounter beauty.

God made beauty in the world and He has given us our full embodiment to enjoy it. And as we see beauty in the world, we see God. “Beauty helps us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8),” Sarah explained.

She described that at her lowest point, beauty came to her in a story. When she had trouble reading Scripture and engaging faith, it was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that invited her back into God’s truth and beauty.

She recounted one of Tolkien’s characters looking up out of the darkness and seeing a light in the high beauty far beyond the touch of darkness. That part in the book engaged her imagination and affirmed that there’s a greater story—a light that endures beyond our darkness.

It was then that Sarah realized, “You make the choice for light right from the heart of the darkness.” She understood that God was always reaching out to her through the beauty around her, and there’s a truth to beauty that speaks in a language without words.

For Sarah, God used a story to show her beauty. But for someone else, beauty may be manifested differently. God can use beauty in its various forms to draw us forward into His light.

Sarah’s pursuit of beauty strengthened her as she continued her battle with mental illness, but she was able to take another step forward when she dove deep into the study of God’s goodness.

On Theodicy

At age 30, as she was studying at Oxford University, she was introduced to theodicy. And it was through theodicy that she received answers for her deepest doubts and affirmation of God’s goodness.

So what is theodicy, you ask?

Theodicy is a big theological word which Sarah explained comes from two Greek words—one meaning “God” and the other meaning “justice.” So it literally means “justifying God.”

But more specifically, it’s the study of understanding (or “justifying”) the goodness of God in view of the existence of evil. In other words, you’re answering the question: “How can God be good and powerful, and yet has allowed a broken world?”

Sarah described that there are different responses to theodicy:

One response is to shrug your shoulders and say, “This is just God’s will.” Another response is to grapple with the mystery and tension of God’s character and ways.

But Sarah’s response came through her study of Job—an innocent man found in Scripture who suffered greatly.

She explained that after God listened to Job’s cries and complaints, He invited Job to look at His creation and took him on a cosmic tour of the beauty of the world. Prior to this conversation with God, Job couldn’t see the fullness of the story, but in being reminded of God’s creation and who He is, Job could say, “My Creator is good; I can trust Him.”

Similarly to Job, Sarah questioned the goodness of God and struggled to trust Him. But “beauty has been my theodicy,” she said. “It’s what has convinced me of the goodness of God.”

On Beauty and Brokenness

Sarah affirmed the importance of acknowledging that our world is broken, and that brokenness includes ourselves.

Often, we’re told that if we just trust Jesus, we will be healed. But that’s simply not true this side of Heaven. Sarah has come to trust Jesus, and yet her brain is still not healed. God has allowed that brokenness to remain.

Sadly, brokenness is something we have to bear because sin entered this world. But God has not left us to endure it alone.

When Sarah realized suffering broke God’s heart, it helped her see how she could go about trusting Him. She said she no longer sees God standing outside of our suffering, but instead she sees a God who enters into our darkness and replaces our shattering with wholeness. She encourages us to invite Him into our suffering.

“When we can speak of the broken world—when we lament and express sadness—it allows our faith to be genuine,” Sarah explained.

As we cry out to God and He comes alongside us, we encounter beauty, and we have the choice to see something greater than our struggle. We have the choice to put our story into the greater narrative, and this is the truer story.

Sarah concluded that seeing beauty—embracing the greater story—advances us toward the new world God is creating. Yet, not seeing the beauty, or believing that brokenness is all there is, takes away our capacity to imagine Him at all. We must keep an eternal perspective to embrace the greater story.

On an Eternal Perspective

Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

This verse isn’t saying that God doesn’t value or care about our suffering. But rather, God is intimately involved with our suffering. Psalm 56:8 says He collects your tears, which affirms that He sees every struggle and He cares. We may not be healed in this lifetime, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t care.

The fullness of what it means to be healed and one with Him goes far beyond having your wounds bandaged. Eventually, you are going to be renewed, and the whole of you will be made new.

But in the meantime, we must fix our eyes on God and His beauty. He is not just good, but lovely, and we are called to encounter Him who is beautiful. If we allow beauty to recreate our imaginations, it will help us draw closer to Him.

Thank you, Sarah, for such beautiful words—and thank you, Lord, for Your faithfulness.

I’m so comforted by the truth that God is with us in our present suffering and that our brokenness is temporary. We have much to look forward to in eternity, and I pray that truth gives you hope within your struggle.

Remember … Earth is short, and Heaven is long.

There’s much beauty to be seen, my friend! It’s all around you and comes in many different forms. This world may be broken, but even now, you can see beauty in the brokenness, because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.


Related Resources

Giveaway

Books & Bible Studies by Jennifer Rothschild

More from Sarah Clarkson

Links Mentioned in This Episode

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Episode Transcript

 

4:13 Podcast: Can I See Beauty in the Brokenness of Mental Illness? With Sarah Clarkson [Episode 158]

Jennifer Rothschild: We live in a broken world. In the midst of the daily realities of sickness and isolation or disappointment and pain, it can be really hard to grasp the real goodness of God. But this is where God breaks into our pain in a very tangible way and he teaches us to trust his kindness. So on today's podcast, Author Sarah Clarkson is going to share the healing effect of beauty in the midst of her 10-year struggle with mental illness. She's both vulnerable and practical, and she's going to invite you to taste and see the goodness of God, no matter how bitter or hard life may feel. My friends, hope and healing, they are on the way. So, K.C., turn it up.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and Biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Now, welcome your host. She's totally geeking out --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- because our guest today lives in her happy place, Oxford, England.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: Jennifer Rothchild, this is a big moment for you.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, my gosh. I am so excited about this podcast. Yes, Oxford is my happy place. And if you are new to the 4:13, we're so glad you are here.

K.C. Wright: Yes. Welcome.

Jennifer Rothschild: This is going to be your new happy place. That was my friend K.C. Wright. It's just two friends, one topic, zero stress. And I'm Jennifer and I'm just here to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you live this "I Can" life. And what I think is super cool, last week -- if you missed this episode, you need to go back and listen to it -- we talked to Stephanie Rousselle. She is from France and has a beautiful accent. Right?

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: And this week we're talking to Sarah, who's talking to us from Oxford, England. The 4:13 has gone international, that's all I was going to say.

K.C. Wright: Well, I was getting ready to say, hello, next week we're having the queen.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, Lizzie. We call her Lizzie anyway. OK.

K.C. Wright: Do you have Lizzie on Skype?

Jennifer Rothschild: Here's the thing. I am an Anglophile, I love all things British. And, in fact, I did an ancestry test. Finally --

K.C. Wright: OK.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- I did one of those -- my children gave it to me for Christmas -- and I found out that I am like 49 percent British and 48 percent Scottish.

K.C. Wright: OK.

Jennifer Rothschild: So I am a legit Anglophile.

K.C. Wright: Yeah, you're going back to your roots' roots.

Jennifer Rothschild: I am. See, that's right. But here's the thing, my people. I also love tea. Even though we talk about coffee all the time here, I love tea. And you just -- even the worst cup of tea in in England is, like, better than your best cup of tea here in the United States often. Now, I'm just being facetious. Obviously, we have really good tea here, but most of it is imported from England. Anyway, so I do these conferences. K.C. knows, of course. But in case you don't know, Fresh Grounded Faith conferences for women. And, you know, there's always a whole coffee theme to that. Well, the girls who came to the conference started to give me a little bit of pushback. Because not everybody's a coffee drinker, which I fully respect. And the tea drinkers were getting grumpy. So I had to minister to the tea drinkers. So instead of just providing coffee at these conferences, I began to provide tea. But I create my own, right? And we'll have a link to this on the show note, y'all. But I created my own loose-leaf tea and I named it after my favorite dead author. So my favorite dead author is C.S. Lewis.

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: Now, he was born in Ireland, but he studied and he lived and he taught in England, in Oxford specifically. That's why it's one of my happy places, because I go to study his works there. And I've been to, you know, Magdalen College where he taught. Anyway, it is just like my happy place. So this tea that I created, I named it after C.S. Lewis' most famous work, and so it is called Mere ChristianiTea.

K.C. Wright: Now, that's creative.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. And if you drink it, your IQ goes up 50 points, guaranteed.

K.C. Wright: I need a gallon.

Jennifer Rothschild: So anyway, we'll have that on the show notes, just in case you want to listen to this podcast again with a proper British cup of tea. And by the way, for the tea drinkers out there, because I sell T-shirts with coffee things on them, well, the tea drinkers wanted their own T-shirt. So I now have a T-shirt that says, "Coffee is Not My Cup of Tea." All right, so there you go. Anyway, that's all much to do about nothing. But you're going to notice that Sarah actually grew up here in the U.S. also, but she is married to a British vicar. And anyway, K.C., you just need to introduce Sarah, because, my people, you are going to love this conversation.

K.C. Wright: Sarah Clarkson is an author and blogger who writes regularly about literature, faith, and beauty. It's all found at sarahclarkson.com. She studied theology at Oxford University in England and is the author or coauthor of six books, including her latest, the book she and Jennifer are talking about today, This Beautiful Truth. She's on Instagram, where she hosts regular live read-alouds from the poems, novels, or essays that bring her courage. She can also be found with a cup of good tea --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- and a book in hand in her home on the English coast, where she lives with her Anglican vicar husband, Thomas, and their children, Lillian, Samuel, and Lucy. So pour your tea and pull up a chair with Jennifer and Sarah.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Sarah, I've already told our listeners that you are coming to us from the U.K., but you just to tell us where you are right now. Because you live on the English coast, right?

Sarah Clarkson: I do. So my husband is what they call a vicar here, which just means he's a priest in the Anglican Church. And we live -- if you know where Brighton is, we just live a couple of towns down from there. So I can see seagulls from my window. The sea isn't quite within view, but you definitely get the gulls waking up every morning. And we live just in a little English town. Yeah, it's lovely.

Jennifer Rothschild: It's charming. It is, it's charming. So we're going to have a wonderful conversation, just really -- I want us to end up really understanding the beauty and the goodness of God. But I kind of think we need to start with some of the darkness first, because I think sometimes the dark places give us an opportunity to juxtaposition the goodness and the light and the beauty of God. So you've had a really long struggle with mental illness, which included a lesser-known kind of OCD -- which I would love to understand more of -- and some depression. So a couple questions here as we start. Like, when did you realize that these were actually, you know, a mental illness rather than just quirks or bad days? And then kind of give us a picture of what your life was like, what the struggle's been like.

Sarah Clarkson: Sure. I think it's interesting, because if you start reading the studies, you see there's a lot of similarities in different people's experiences of a mental illness kind of blossoming throughout childhood, but coming to real fruition -- if you can call it that -- in adolescence. So I think throughout my childhood, had these -- we've had episodes of -- I didn't know whether to call them dreams or just evil images in my mind that terrified me. And I would confess them to my parents and they kind of had no idea what to do with it. I mean, just prayed with me and did everything they could to surround me with safety and beauty and pray these dark things away. But when I was 17, I suddenly one day woke up and my mind was just filled with -- I don't even know how to describe it. Just evil images, things -- violence and sexual nature and making me doubt my faith and my safeness with God. And it was -- the nature of OCD is that it's relentless what they call intrusive images and thoughts. And so my type was -- I think we associate OCD often with, you know, checking or having clean hands or germs, which is definitely a part of it and can be so debilitating. But for me, the primary first manifestation -- and OCD manifests many ways throughout your life -- was just in these deeply disturbing images in my mind. They were with me all the time. And I think that that was the way I knew it was -- well, at first I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn't know if it was my fault, I didn't know if it just meant I was evil, I didn't know -- I genuinely didn't tell anybody for a couple of months because I felt so profoundly guilty. But I think the guilt became really more than I could bear. So I finally confessed to my mom, and I think she recognized at that point the debilitating nature of it. So that's the point at which we kind of began to seek out answers. And it still took a while for us to find out this is OCD, it's a specific thing. So I think -- you know, that was kind of the first immersion by fire and, you know, it took three or four months for me to realize this is an illness, this is -- it's not my fault and yet I can't control this, and it means that I will live with darkness in my brain possibly the rest of my life. And so I think that at that point, it kind of derailed my foray into adulthood, because I -- part of the OCD is this fear, fear of disaster, and disaster images happening to those you love in your mind. And I find it -- I just was not able to leave home at that point and go and do all the college plans I'd made and all the travel things I'd dreamed. And I had this very intuitive, excited personality that wanted to explore the world, and I literally couldn't leave home without having a mini nervous breakdown. So it became -- I think as I was foraying into adulthood, I was kind of cut off and just didn't have the resources to do all the things I dreamed, and that was the point at which I had to really reckon with brokenness and a fallen world and where was God. I grew up in a God-loving family, and all of a sudden everything I counted on seemed gone. And so I think in that sense that began my journey. And it's -- I mean, how does it look today? It's something I am aware of, but it's certainly still there and attaches itself to my fears for my children and for -- you know, it's just something I have to constantly navigate on a daily basis.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, it is a broken world. And we're going to deal with that in a little bit because I really want your perspective on that. But what I hear you saying too, that I appreciate, is kind of shedding light on something that could have been hidden in shame and guilt and fear and then become -- the brokenness could have become something that debilitated you from actually the redemptive process of it. So I'm grateful that you had a mom and that you had the courage to just kind of face it and process through it and live through it and reckon with your faith with it. And like I said, I want us to talk about that in a minute, but I want to stick with mental illness for a second. Because I think mental illness is often misunderstood, you know, because of misinformation or ignorance or confusion. So I'm curious what it's been like for you since you have been more out there, more vocal about it. Have you gotten support? Have you gotten pushback? What's it been like, especially in the church?

Sarah Clarkson: You know, on a larger scale I think that it has mostly given me the chance to talk to other people who feel unseen in mental illness. So I know for me -- to be honest, it -- really the reason this book hasn't come out until now is I was unable to know how to speak about it for years. And, in fact, several close friends say, Oh, my goodness, I didn't realize. I didn't understand the nature of your struggle. I didn't know how to talk about it.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Sarah Clarkson: I had no idea how to explain I'm -- and I think I continued to think that there was something wrong with me beyond mental illness, like maybe I was just a fearful person, or maybe I couldn't trust God, or maybe I was too attached to my family and couldn't leave the house. And I think the nature of mental illness is it attacks so many things and it snakes around the things you love and the things you hope. It's very personal in the things that it attacks, certainly with OCD, and I would imagine -- I would guess with other forms as well. It's never neutral in what it attacks, it attacks what you love and what you hope. And, you know, I think -- I didn't know how to speak about it for a long time, and that was -- my family was hugely supportive and understanding, but I think we struggled to figure out the extent of the illness. But I think my -- I mean, my mother and my father were hugely supportive and created so much room for me in those years. But I didn't know how to explain to people. And so I think that when I really two or three years ago started to begin to think, wait, maybe this is something I could articulate, the first thing that happened was just there was people who said, "Wait, this is me too. I didn't know this could -- I felt crippled by these thoughts for years. I didn't know this was something that could have a name," or, "I'm just in the middle of darkness." I just began to hear from others who had been in the places I was, and I think that helped me to recognize just the way that it is a -- it's a brokenness that likes to hide.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

Sarah Clarkson: And I think that the more it can be drawn into companionship and the light -- and that's a slow process. I wasn't ready in many ways and would have found it, I think, really traumatizing to speak publicly about it earlier. But part of my, I think, healing process has been coming to that point.

Jennifer Rothschild: But I think your timing shows discretion, which is important, because sharing our stories does bring healing to others. And at the same time, prematurely done it can bring more damage to the storyteller or to the ones who are hearing the story.

Sarah Clarkson: Absolutely.

Jennifer Rothschild: So God's timing is perfect. And your story illustrates that we can trust that, you know, be patient with the process and trust that timing. I know in your book you describe that it was encounters with beauty that have let you taste and see the goodness of God. So let's kind of transition to this concept then. What is beauty to you? Define it.

Sarah Clarkson: Well, it's of those complicated things. And I think we dismiss it so easily as something peripheral or kind of frivolous, like, oh, it's just pretty things. But beauty to me is the countless ways that we encounter art. It's music. It's the loveliness of nature when you look at a sunset or when you walk in a windswept field. I think beauty is human touch. It's this embodiment where you are encountered by the love of another person. It's a story. Our beauty can be very much in stories. It's what allows us to encounter something that tells us there's a story larger than our brokenness, that helps us to glimpse in a taste and see way. That verse in the Psalms is one of my favorites, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." And I really believe that in the way that God has made the world and given us our full embodiment to taste and enjoy it, and that he's revealed himself and he came as an embody -- you know, the incarnation. He came in a human body to break into our darkness. I think that oftentimes kind of the first signs of redemption in our suffering can come to us when we are touched by someone, when we hear a piece of music. For me, it was a story in odd ways. It was a story and taking long walks in the mountains. We lived in Colorado when I was 17 and -- yeah, I think that -- so it can be a variety of things. But it kind of tends to be in that area that I think we often struggle to articulate or prove. And I think we live in such a reason-based world. And even in the church I think that we tend to rely very heavily on, you know, arguments for God's reality and goodness. You know, here's the five points to believe and here's the five arguments for goodness --

Jennifer Rothschild: Right.

Sarah Clarkson: I'm like -- actually, I had -- you know, it was in the worst point of my beginning mental illness -- or to this day still am -- being argued with really does nothing for me. But if you show me -- immerse me in music, take me on a walk -- my husband knows this -- you know, help me to immerse myself in a story, give me a new novel, and I will have the capacity to taste and see something beyond my suffering. So I think that's a very broad definition of beauty.

Jennifer Rothschild: You know, that that old cliche "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is kind of what you're saying in a way. I mean, there's this access we have to beauty, but we're going to experience it and interpret it differently based on our own needs, paradigm, etc. But I love that you quoted the verse from the Psalm, the taste and see. Because the Psalmist didn't say, you know, no, intellectually understand and then you will experience the goodness and the beauty of God. It really is an experiential thing. And then I know that in your story -- well, do you mind me asking? You said it was a story and it was walks in the mountain. What story was it that helped you come through and see beauty?

Sarah Clarkson: Absolutely. It was "The Lord of the Rings," which I find really funny. But I'd never read it, and I -- when I went through that at 17, kind of that first fiery few months, I found very quickly I could not engage with the Bible. I just felt so burned by what was in my head and so uncertain as to why God would allow it. I just had a very hard time engaging with faith on any level. But I think God has a sense of humor, because at that point -- I don't remember if my brother left the book in my room or if I just found it. I just -- I've always been a reader. I wanted something to distract me, I was like, that looks like it's about a thousand pages. So I just started reading. And I was swept up into this world where there was darkness and light, where there was this description of the battle between good and evil and of this sense in which characters were caught up in this before they really had a choice. But the choice they were given was what they would do with the time that was given to them. What would they do with their lives in the midst of the darkness? What would they do when confronted with loss? And there's even a passage in it where the little hobbit Sam, he's walked all the way to Mordor, he doesn't know if he'll ever get home and he's doubting there -- he's doubting that goodness really will prevail. And it says he looked up out of the darkness of this dark land and saw a star and the brightness in the evening sky. And he said he realized that there was a light and high beauty beyond the touch of darkness that would endure beyond anything that was around him, and that was what propelled him forward in action. And I think that that so engaged my imagination and it allowed me to kind of be taken out of myself into a world where heroic choices aren't made because you get to make them in, you know, a great -- a vacuum where everything's nice. They're made because life is extremely hard, and it is dark, and you make the choice for light right from the heart of the darkness. But it is the thing that illumines you and takes you forward. So it was that story that really -- yeah, that --

Jennifer Rothschild: And that's such a good illustration in a very practical way of what beauty is. And it engages your imagination. I mean, I think sometimes we think faith has to -- we have to fit it into logic, but I think it's that marriage of the logic and the imagination. I mean, everything you were saying was just reminding me so much of several years ago, I had a severe depression. Never experienced it in my life and it threw me off. Mine happened to be just a hormonal thing that got triggered. And anyway -- and I love the Lord. I've written books and Bible studies. And I got to the point of just not even sure of his existence, but had a strange enough faith response to say, God, I don't -- I can't believe you exist, but help me find somebody who I can trust. And it was C.S. Lewis that the Lord led me to. And I had read Narnia as a child, but -- the silver chair captured my imagination in a way it never had. And then, of course, I went to some of his nonfiction, and it was God using C.S. Lewis for me as almost an authoritative guide to get me back to faith where I could trust on my own two feet again. And I just love that you've shared that because I resonate. And I think there are some listeners who may be sitting in an ambiguity right now of pain and thinking, well, my only source of help and hope right this minute is Scripture. Yes, it is our ultimate source of help and hope. But God can use beauty in its various forms to draw us.

Sarah Clarkson: I so heartily agree with that. And I think that's one of the things that I came to understand in the darkness of my mental illness and all the years of just struggle that followed, was God was reaching out to me all the time. He reaches out in what he's made, he reaches out through the imaginations he makes in the minds of others, he reaches out in the hands of the people around us. And we sometimes, I think, in this world need to be given permission to recognize the truth of that --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

Sarah Clarkson: -- that there is a truth to beauty, that it speaks in a language without words. But just because it doesn't use words doesn't mean it is any less true. And that's one of the things I really took from my own reading of C.S. Lewis. I absolutely love that that was what was so powerful in your life, because I think he was someone who recognized very deeply the power of the imagination to draw us forward into the light of God.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, yes. I'm a major C.S. Lewis geek. I tell my husband he's my favorite dead author and I have a crush on him. And my husband's fine with that because he -- you know. OK. So speaking of geeks, let's just bring out our inner geeks for a minute here. Because you've alluded to something conceptually and you talk about it specifically in your book, theodicy. So I want you to tell our listeners what theodicy is, and how were you introduced to it?

Sarah Clarkson: Absolutely. So theodicy is -- to get all academic on you -- because I had to do a paper on it, so I might as well share what I learned. It comes from two Greek words, one is for Theos, God, and the other is, if I remember correctly, dike, which is justice. So the word literally means, how do you -- justifying God. How do you justify that God is both good and powerful and yet has allowed a broken world? So is he not capable of righting it? Does he not want to right it?How can you justify this? So theodicy is kind of a theological discipline. I think you could really just put it broadly under the topic of apologetics. I think it's one of the topics that comes up most often in the faith world, is how can God be good and the world still be so full of suffering. But I was introduced to it through a talk, so I -- it's a very long story. But when I was 30 years old and had no idea what to do with my life, and by God's grace ended up in a year-long -- what I thought would be a year-long course in Oxford, which was -- because I was a C.S. Lewis and Tolkien lover my whole life -- was my dream place to go and study. So I found this one-year course at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, and stumbled into one of my classes in the morning and found that it was on this thing called theodicy. And pretty soon I heard all of my questions being listed and heard this amazing talk I talk about in the book that just answered some of my deepest doubts about God's goodness in a way that I never had before, and actually was given by Michael Lloyd, who wrote the foreword to my new book. It's quite an honor. But I think at that moment I was like, this is my topic, I want to study this, and ended up studying it for four years. But what I found is there's lots of different ways to do theodicy. You can come at it from the -- kind of shrug your shoulders and say it's God's will. You can come at it from the there's a mystery here, there's a tension. There's a lot of different ways to deal with God's goodness, to use the mind and heart to kind of immerse yourself. But I think that something that really struck me, was I studied the Book of Job while I was studying theodicy, which really that is kind of the theodical book in the Bible, because, you know, Job as an innocent man who suffers. And I think what really struck me in that was realizing that God listens to all of Job's cries and complaints and then God allowed himself to be summoned by Job. But when he arrived, God didn't come to put him in his place or to argue him back to -- I mean, there was an aspect of putting him in his place, but it wasn't that. It was an invitation to join God in his vision, I think. And he didn't argue with Job. He said, "Look at what I've created." And I don't think that Job had -- there's something about it, he couldn't understand the fullness of the story. But what God invited Job into in these passages that are really poetry and, look at the stars, look at nature and hurtfulness, look at the heavens and the storehouses of snow. God is kind of inviting Job to this cosmic tour of the beauty of the world. And he asks Job to find that -- in this taste-and-see way to find that sufficient for him to say, somehow my Creator is good. Somehow I can trust. And I think that was the moment which I thought, I think beauty has been my theodicy throughout my life. It has been what convinced me of the goodness of God in ways that nothing else and my whole life did.

Jennifer Rothschild: That gives me chills. That's beautiful. That's beautiful that the heavens do declare the glory of God.

Sarah Clarkson: They do.

Jennifer Rothschild: OK. So I have a friend, who's an author, named Margaret Feinberg. And she uses this word called "brutiful." And it's this concept that even what feels brutal can be beautiful. So in your book, I think you do something very similar with these two narratives that we all experience, beauty and brokenness, at the same time. So tell us a little bit more about how those two stories can coexist.

Sarah Clarkson: Well, I think the first thing is -- and I think this was part of my real reckoning with my Christian faith, was the world is broken. And that is one of the first facts we find out as humans in this life. And I think often -- I think I felt in the Christian world sometimes, especially in relation to mental illness, that there's a bit of a peppy optimism, that it's -- you know, if you trust in Jesus, he'll heal all your problems and that'll be that. And I was like, well, I believe in Jesus and I love him a lot, and I am going to have these images in my brain forever and I don't know that there's anything that will ever heal it. It's not that I don't believe God could heal me or that God, you know, is powerful and good, but somehow this is something I have to bear. And I think we see that all around us. There's sickness, there's loss, there is -- it is just the reality of the world. It's a broken world. And I think coming to grips with the fact that we live in a world ruined with sin, ruined by suffering, and that this is something that breaks God's heart was something that was hugely pivotal to me in regaining, I think, my faith. So there's a sense in which to be able to speak the broken word, to express our sadness, to lament is one of the things I think that allows us to come to a place of honesty where our faith can then be genuine, because then what we are capable of seeing is not a God who stands outside of our suffering and zaps it, or who says, well, I wish you'd just get your attitude together, it's a God who enters into it, who literally comes into the heart of our darkness and takes what was meant to be evil, what was meant to leave us shattered, and he begins to craft it back to life and healing. And I think that one of the -- I mean, just for me, the sign of that has so often been beauty in my capacity to imagine being healed and that this was what God was drawing me toward. And so I think, you know, the narrative of a broken world is that that there is nothing else, that the end of our stories is meaningless, that our suffering has no further purpose or meaning beyond destroying us. And I think that that is what we attempted in our darkness to believe. I certainly was sure. But I think that we are encountered by God's beauty, by his reaching out to us. And so this other narrative comes into our darkness and says there is like Sam Star, this light and high beauty. And we look at it and we have the choice of saying there is something greater. There is a narrative that is bigger than the one I'm hearing in my brokenness. And I think that we have the choice to take every instance of beauty and begin to say this is the true story of the world. Yes, this is telling me true. This is inviting me step by step into a place of imagination and possibility and hope. And I think that that is the story. The two stories we have the choice to believe every day of our lives and one advances us towards allows us literally to walk with God towards the new world he's creating, whereas the other takes away our capacity to imagine him at all.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, I could talk to you all day. I could listen to you all day. I should rephrase. OK, but I got to get to the last question. And I just know that our listeners are agreeing with me right now. I can't wait for us to all be able to read your book. I'm just grateful for this offering. But here's our last question. All right. How shall I phrase this? OK. Romans 8:18 says -- you know, Paul saying, I don't consider that this present suffering is worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed. I was thinking of that versus as you were just sharing. OK? So he's not saying that our present suffering is worthless. Of course not. But he's saying it's not worthy to be compared to that glory that will be revealed. So I would just be curious as we finish up, how does that verse hit you and how can it prompt each of us who are listening right now to trust God more with our stories?

Sarah Clarkson: I think when I hear that verse, I think about -- some of the study I did that was my favorite in theodicy, and really in theology in general, was theology that looked at God as the Beautiful One, who saw him not just as good or powerful, but as lovely, that the very ground of our being is evidenced in the gorgeousness of creation. We are called to encounter a God who is pure love and life and light, and that to be redeemed is to be healed and made whole and to be joined again with this radiant life. And I do think that God -- a verse like that, if you hear wrongly you can think, well, God doesn't value my suffering. I think he's intimately involved with our suffering. And, you know, there's that verse in Revelation, he collects every tear. I think that's something you have to remember in the midst of sorrow and loss and suffering, is God sees. He knows. He knows the fullness of what you have lost. He knows it in ways that nobody else in the whole world can. And, yes, the fullness of what it means to be healed and to be made one with him, and that this is what he has created us for, this is what he's healing us toward, this is -- the story of beauty is saying not only are you just going to have these things made right or bandaged, you are going to be renewed from the very beginning, that the whole of you is going to be made as God is himself, who is beauty and goodness and love and life. And that's the larger vision I think we would capture, that's why I think beauty is so important. Because I think that what we have to do with beauty is allow it to recreate our imagination in a way. Beauty comes to us and changes our horizons. So what was a closed door or a closed room before, beauty flings the door open and allows the sun and invites us to begin walking towards the far horizon. And I think we have to fix our eyes -- I think there's that a discipline to the cultivation of beauty, because I think that by filling our homes -- in a sense incarnating what we believe to be true, engaging with music, with art, with other people, filling our homes -- one of the things I do is I just have art around my home that helps me to engage with hope, that helps me to remember this is my story, this is what I do. And it comes in all different sorts. Listening to music, being with people we love, immersing ourselves in nature, that these are disciplines of hope in a way. But they are -- they both give us life and they draw us forward. And so I think in that sense, it's a journey towards that glory. We fix our eyes on the glory and we walk towards that and we trust that to be the truth and allow it to transform the whole of our stories.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, my friends, let me repeat something that she said. She said that she doesn't see God standing outside our suffering, but she has seen a God who enters into our darkness and he takes what could be shattering and he brings wholeness. Beautiful, K.C., isn't it?

K.C. Wright: Those are such true words. And I for one am beyond thankful. I know you were as moved as I was today by Sarah's ministry. So check out her book. It's called, again, "This Beautiful Truth." You can find it anywhere you buy books, but we will have a link to it on the show notes at 413podcast.com/158. Or even better, enter to win a free copy at Jennifer's Instagram. That's @jennrothschild. That's on Instagram @jennrothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: And when you go to the show notes, we will connect you with Sarah. Because I really like her, you could probably tell, and I'm just hoping that someday when I get to go to Oxford, which should be next summer, I will get to connect with her and share a cup of tea. And so if I do, I will invite all of you -- OK? -- through an audio picture that I will create. Won't that be fun?

K.C. Wright: Ooooo. Looking forward that that. Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: I know. All right, my friends. So remember, no matter what you face, no matter how you feel -- you've just heard Sarah's story and her beautiful insights based on the truth of Scripture. So that is proof to you, my friend, that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength? I can.

K.C. Wright: I can.

Jennifer and K.C.: And you can.

 

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