Posted on July 17, 2023 by Rev. Jonathan Conner
School shootings. A war in Ukraine. Rumors of war between China and Taiwan. A drug overdose crisis in America. The news hasn’t been good lately. On the one hand, the news hasn’t been good for a long time (really, since Adam sinned!); on the other hand, the kind of news assaulting our ears has been particularly shocking recently. Hopes and dreams destroyed. Little ones’ lives cut short. Families shattered. So many tears and so much hurt.
How should we process bad news? And what should we do about it? These are important questions, questions that deserve considered thought and an intentional response (sadly, this is not what we have heard from many of our national leaders or media outlets). First we think, then we do.
How do we respond in the face of death and suffering? First, we grieve. We lament. We mourn. In processing bad news, we acknowledge the rawness of the pain and the immensity of the loss. And Scripture invites us to bring this pain and loss, even our utter confusion and disappointment, to the Lord. Scripture even gives us the words! Read the following laments slowly and feel the deep, heaving emotions in them.
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief… (Ps. 6:6-7)
I am so troubled that I cannot speak…
Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:4, 7-9)
These are real, raw words and emotions, words and emotions we painfully echo and agonizingly still feel today as we experience our own grief and sorrow. We must not rush past them or use them for political gain, something our political elites have shamelessly done with each new tragedy. Death, loss, devastation, and pain deserve to be heard and they call for our lament. And Scripture is no stranger to the lament. Its pages are so wet with the tears of the saints who have suffered before us that if we wrung those pages those tears would readily flow.
In our grief and sorrow, we must, despite the painful difficulty, come to a deeper understanding of the nature of the age in which we live. In other words, we need to acknowledge the way the world is (not the way we wish it was or the way it’s popularly portrayed in media), but the way it truly is.
Ecclesiastes (a book I deeply appreciate for its sober assessment of reality) essentially describes “life under the sun” as a time, chance, and death world. The rest of Scripture concurs. Paul writes of “the sufferings of this present time…” (Romans 8:18). Peter counsels, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Luke quotes Paul in Acts: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And John quotes Jesus: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
Feel the brokenness in these words. This is the age of suffering, sorrow, pain, and loss – and much of it is utterly senseless. We must accept this. This is reality. Denying it or pretending it isn’t real only sets us up for confusion and despair. None of us is exempt from our time, chance, death world.
In the face of such suffering, though, it can be tempting to turn our backs on God – because it hurts so much and is impossible to make sense of! You’ve seen news coverage from mass shootings. How many times have you seen it before?! How could a good God let such senseless pain and death happen? Why doesn’t He stop it?
But before we, in our hurt, turn away from God, we must pause to consider what we would be turning to in our processing of bad news. This is the all-important question. If not Jesus, then who? Is there anyone who can stop death, anyone who can heal the brokenhearted, anyone who can make all the heartache go away once and for all? Anyone?
Yes, we are hurting. We have questions for which we have no answers. Yes, there are things about God’s ways and this present reality that don’t make sense, but will turning away from God help? Will it answer any of our questions or provide any hope? Will we find another to save us or a politician to deliver us? Can any substance do it? Can any entertainment permanently distract us from it? Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” (John 6:68). In other words, “Lord, there is no Plan B. If you’re not the Savior, then we have nothing.” 2,000 years have passed and that hasn’t changed.
Despite our pain, even in the midst of our pain, hope remains, even lives, in Jesus. We may not understand why we suffer. We may not understand why our loved ones must die. What we understand, though, is who has suffered for us and who has died for us – Jesus. It’s Jesus. Therefore, despite our pain, despite our grief, we anchor our hope in Him.
One of the great prophets of Scripture, Jeremiah, amid his and Jerusalem’s great, painful lament, directs our hearts to the Lord. His words deserve to be memorized and internalized as life presents us regular cause to speak them:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26)
The steadfast love of the Lord has taken on flesh in Jesus Christ. He has died for our sins and been raised for our life. Despite our pain, our hope lives in Him. We truly have, as Peter says in 1 Peter, “a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). He is with us in our processing of the bad news we read, see, and experience every day.
Come back next week for part two: A Work to Do: Responding to Bad News.
Rev. Jonathan Conner
Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa
LFS Congregational Services Ambassador
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