We’ve all been there. When the diagnosis comes back positive. When your position doesn’t survive that latest round of downsizing. When your spouse gives up on the marriage. When your teenager calls from jail.
Because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen. But of course this doesn’t make it easier to deal with the bad things that happen to us! Often our response to bad things only compounds the problems! How can we respond in a way that opens the door to healing and redemption?
The first question we seem to jump to when bad things happen is WHY. We assume there must be some kind of reason the bad things happen.
Asking the Wrong Question
Specifically, we often wonder “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
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It’s interesting that behind this question lies the assumption that bad things should not happen to good people, because good people deserve better. We have an idea that we ought to “get what we deserve,” and good people shouldn’t have to deal with these bad things. It’s not fair!
So when bad things happen, we often look for a reason. What did I do to deserve this? we ask. As we examine our terrible situations, we find that sometimes we have contributed to them, and other times we really haven’t.
So Why Do Bad Things Happen?
So what gives? Why do bad things happen to good people? (Here’s a famous book that asks that question.)
Here’s the deal: bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Period. The things that happen to us aren’t necessarily connected to how good or bad we are.
So we could just as well ask, “Why do bad things happen to bad people?” or “Why do good things happen to bad people?” or “Why to good things happen to good people?” Essentially the answer is the same:
- Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world where people have real choice.
- Good things happen because God graciously has not abandoned us.
Jesus reminds his disciples of this when he is urging them to be like their Father in heaven, who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
- Good things happen because God loves everyone.
- Bad things happen because God doesn’t force us to do his will.
What To Do When Bad Things Happen
So where does that leave us? The fact remains that to be a human being means we will all face our share of tragedy and hardship. How should we respond to these situations? What do we do when bad things happen?
Psalm 130 gives us some helpful insight, I think (as do many of the psalms). Essentially it’s a two-step process:
- Cry out to the Lord
- Wait for the Lord
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Seems pretty simple! But it’s really easy to get this wrong and send ourselves into an unnecessary tailspin. I find that many people do the opposite. They:
- Do not say anything to the Lord about it.
- Do not wait for the Lord, but instead anxiously try to “fix” things.
Let’s examine Psalm 130 briefly to find out more about these simple steps and why it’s so easy to get them wrong.
First, Cry Out To The Lord
Psalm 130 starts out with a famous refrain that has been put to music thousands of times:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
I like how The Message puts it:
Help, God–the bottom has fallen out of my life!
Master, hear my cry for help!
Listen hard! Open your ears!
Listen to my cries for mercy.
In the next section the psalmist meditates on the gracious forgiveness of God. God’s goodness is what allows us to stand in his presence and cry out to him. When we do so, he isn’t clucking his tongue at us and saying, “I told you this would happen! You’re just getting what you deserve!” No, with God there is forgiveness, so we can cry out to him without fear of being shamed.
When bad things happen, our first move is to simply cry out to the Lord.
Tell him how you are feeling. Scream and shout if you need to. Curse and cry if you need to. Tell him to “Listen hard! Open up your ears!” God is not afraid of our raw emotions, and he is the one person who can truly handle how we’re really feeling about things.
One of my favorite examples of this kind of “crying out to the Lord” is from the movie The Apostle. The main character, played by Robert Duvall, is a deeply flawed but sincere charismatic preacher from Texas. After he discovers his wife is cheating on him, he begins an all-night prayer vigil at his mother’s house that embodies this “crying out to the Lord” thing really well. His prayer is raw, angry, loud, and even a bit silly. But he leaned in to God, no holds barred.
Here are some of the choice quotes from his prayer/rant:
- “I’m gonna yell at you because I’m mad at you! I love you Lord, but I am mad at you!”
- “I know I’m a sinner, and once in a while, a womanizer, but I’m Your servant. Ever since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I am your servant!”
- “I’ve always called You Jesus; you’ve always called me Sonny.”
It’s actually a very touching scene. When a neighbor calls to complain about the noise, Sonny’s mother answers, “That’s my son, that is. I’ll tell ya: ever since he was an itty bitty boy, sometimes he talks to the lord and sometimes he yells at the lord. Tonight, he just happens to be yellin’ at him.”
Often, though, we hesitate to cry out to the Lord like this when bad things happen. Why is this?
I think one reason is that we feel ashamed of our struggle. We feel that we have perhaps somehow deserved this, and that God will expose us if we cry out to him for help. This is why it’s so important for us to recall, with the psalmist, that if God kept a record of sins, we truly couldn’t stand in his presence.
But thankfully that is not the case! Instead, “with the Lord there is forgiveness,” so we can come to him with all our junk, just like Sonny, who had considerably more junk than most of us.
The first step when bad things happen is simply to cry out to the Lord.
Then, Wait For The Lord
In the last half of the psalm, the writer is moving into a place of waiting for the Lord.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
First we lodge our complaint. Then we wait for God to act, trusting that he will do what is good, right, and just. We refuse to take matters into our own hands. Instead we wait for the Lord.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we just sit there, of course. Often God will lead us to take some kind of action, but we wait for God to lead us before we take action. It’s the posture of a trusting child in the presence of a parent who has more experience, wisdom and perspective.
Again, we often don’t do this well. Our minds become busy trying to “fix” the situation or “make” a person choose a different path. We anxiously try to manipulate and cajole people with bribes and threats. We try to bring justice in our own way. We try to fix things as best we can.
I don’t know about you, but that never seems to end well for me! Instead, we must learn to lodge our complaints with God as we cry out to him, and then rest in his goodness and wait for him to act.
You can even give him some suggestions when you cry out to him! Many of the psalmists do this. They encourage God to do all kinds of horrible things. But then they leave it on God’s desk. They wait for him to act and do what is right. They don’t trust their own instincts, but instead trust that God will act wisely to bring justice and redemption to our bad situations.
Tell Your Story
I’d love to hear from you. Which is more difficult for you? Crying out to the Lord or waiting for the Lord? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!