One of my guilty pleasures is The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about a group of socially inept science geniuses. Having walked the halls of academe for over two decades, I can associate friends with the primary characters. One scene caught my eye recently, where a main character plays a theremin, the quirky synthesizer that made the ethereal soundtrack for much early science fiction, including the theme song to the original Star Trek series.
I noted that the character was singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” trying to sound out the notes to the ancient spiritual and he sang, “nobody knows my sorrows,” rather than “nobody knows but Jesus.” From the bit of research I’ve done, it’s unclear which line is the original, but for Christians, the second version is much more consonant with the rest of the lyrics. Without “but Jesus,” the song ceases to be a spiritual and becomes a solipsistic yawp at the universe not unlike much of modernist and naturalist art that complains that we are alone in an uncaring universe. Stephen Crane, the novelist of “The Red Badge of Courage,” once wrote a brief poem that summarizes the thoughts that the pre-conversion T. S. Eliot expanded on in “The Wasteland”:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
A quotation that often is attributed to C. S. Lewis is “We read to know that we are not alone.” Lewis meant that art, particularly literature, connects us in ways that are an antidote to the loneliness of our times. Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus once remarked, “Misery loves company,” which seemed to mean not only that misery is contagious but that miserable people tend to hang together and wallow in their troubles. The reality, though, is that misery tends to lead individuals to become detached and isolated. At some point, misery tends to eschew company, which leads to the most destructive form of egotism and self-isolation. Perhaps this is what we should expect, though, when we decide that no one knows the troubles we’ve seen and that Jesus is not an option. After all, if He is our friend, He might soon become our Lord, and then where will our misery be?