Summary: Rewritten for Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD: When terrible things happen, pray honestly, in complaint; remember what God has done in the past; and know that He may be forcing us to see how much we need Him.
There is very little justice in the world. Many people feel that they are not being treated fairly. Just about all of us think we deserve a better deal than we are getting. We think that there is very little justice in the world. But that’s old news. We already know that. So what do you do with it?
Now you can either get frustrated with that fact, or you can shrug it off. You can either become a bitter and cynical person, who gripes that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and it isn’t fair; or you can accept reality and go on. But what you cannot do is to stuff down inside forever the feelings that go along with injustice. If you think the world is not just, and that hurts, either you can grumble about it or you can decide to work for something better; but the one thing you cannot do is to hold all that resentment in. Painful feelings have to go somewhere.
So do not ask whether bad things are going to happen to good people. They will. Do not bother with why bad things happen to good people. Whole books have been written to explain that, but I still don’t know anything better than to say that bad things just do happen to good people. They just do, no matter how good they are. My father-in-law was a pastor in England during the Second World War; he used to tell about the ladies from across the street who always wanted to crowd into his bomb shelter when there was an air raid. Now they had their own bomb shelter, but they thought they might be safer if they were close to the pastor! They thought that something that bad would not happen to a good man like the pastor. What do you think? I’m sorry, but I think that bad things happen to all kinds of good people, pastors included.
So, again, when bad things happen, what do you do with your feelings? You cannot hold in your angry, resentful feelings. Where will you take your complaint? What will you do with your resentment?
Now we Christians have a stock answer. We know what the correct answer is. “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” We sing, “I must tell Jesus all of my trials, I cannot bear these burdens alone.” Loud and clear, when bad things happen, we say we should pray and pray and pray some more. That’s our usual answer. And I certainly do not disagree with that. But what if prayer doesn’t help? What if prayer makes no difference? What if prayer bounces off the ceiling, like talking to the air?
Just this week my wife and I visited a couple who live not far from here, an older couple who have been married only a year … the second time around for each. One year after this happy marriage began, the husband has a cancer that has metastasized. His days are clearly numbered. We prayed together, of course; his wife said, “I don’t let anybody out of this house without their offering prayer.” Fine; great. But then she followed us out of the house and said, “I just feel like God has abandoned me.” Now I could have told her not to feel that way; I could have lectured her about how the Lord never fails us. But that would not have changed the cry of her heart. “God has abandoned me.” It’s what she feels. It’s a bad thing happening to some very good people, and they don’t like it! What are they going to do with their feelings?
There is no more anguished cry in the whole of Scripture than the 22nd Psalm. Its shriek of abandonment echoes across the centuries and sends cold chills up the spine. If ever there was a soul in torment, this is it. This is a storm of despair.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Behind this psalm something bad, something awesomely bad, has happened to a good person. It is bad because it erodes the spirit, it eats at the soul, it cracks open his relationship with God. When bad things happen to good people and they cannot even get God to hear them, what shall we say about that?
First, when bad things happen to good people, prayers of anguish are the right thing to do. God is ready to receive the prayer of anguish. Let’s make it clear that it is not wrong to pray with complaints. God will receive the prayer of complaint. God is big enough to handle angry prayer.