Have you ever felt a strange melancholy in your soul when things around you were good and your favorable circumstances did not seem to warrant that emotion? Alexis De Tocqueville, the French political scientist and cultural analyst who lived shortly after the American Revolutionary War, said that there is a “strange melancholy” that can sometimes inhabit the souls of people who live in democracies in times of abundance. Because of the inability of temporal blessings to satisfy the eternal longings of the human soul we humans can experience a strange melancholy even in the middle of times of flourishing or prosperity.
Perhaps you have felt a similar emotion on a Christmas morning, or at other times of celebration when there was no logical reason to feel it. When you experience that ache or sadness, especially in dissonant times, pay attention to it. Feelings of melancholic hollowness amid good times can be more than markers of grief or depression. They can be a sign that your soul is thirsting for more of God. There is something in us that longs to connect with God on levels that our natural lives cannot satisfy, and this longing can actually become heightened when things around us are good.
This dynamic becomes especially poignant as nations unhinge from God’s eternal purposes, leaving their citizens to try to fill the void in their souls with something natural or fleeting. When we become our own source for life or satisfaction we empty out our souls and invite a strange melancholy to grow within us. Let’s consider De Tocqueville’s words and ponder whether our relative prosperity is masking any longings for a more satisfying, eternal kind of life.
“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)