I read an article recently (not sure I could figure out which one) that said that Pat Robertson of 700 Club/CBN fame would not allow testimony stories on his show where God did not answer the prayer of the testifier. Or to be more accurate, God did not do what the praying person wanted God to do. Is that true? I have never seen 700 Club so I don’t know. But I know the temptation of many churches, and not merely those that preach (material) prosperity, to seek “happily ever after” testimonies. To encourage unbelievers to accept the Gospel (Good News) and believers to trust God more, it just seems to make sense to tell stories of God granting what we want.
But there are problems with this. I think some testimonies of “bad news,” meaning not getting exactly what we want, can be useful to point us to the Good News, or strengthen our trust in God.
- Some “bad news” stories can be more inspirational than other stories. Joni Eareckson Tada’s life story, or the story of Fanny Crosby would not be more inspirational if Joni was healed of quadriplegia or Fanny of blindness. Many of us really need to know that an abundant life is still attainable in whatever state we are in. If God’s benevolence can only be seen in the lives of the healthy and wealthy, how can the downtrodden visualize a great future that still dovetails with there present condition?
- “Bad News” stories can help us be sympathetic with those whose lives are painful. I can’t help but think the theology of Job’s friends would be a little better nuanced if they had suffered in ways that they could not connect to their relationship with God. A friend of mine had skin problems. Well-meaning Christians would suggest all sorts of things to “fix” him. That is okay I suppose, although it certainly gets old. Others would try to sell him stuff to solve the problem. This is a bit self-serving, but perhaps they honestly thought they could help. Others would subtly, or not so subtly, suggest that he had sin in his life, or perhaps his ancestors who had sinned. Not all that helpful, frankly. Skin problems are especially difficult because they are visible. People can hide other problems, and look like things are okay. But humans can only see the external, and skin problems are external. Much of Job’s suffering was in the boils, and much of the suffering in the boils wasn’t physical, but social. Job needed more sympathy and support, not finger pointing. He needed friends who were not only familiar with Deuteronomy and Proverbs, but also Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and I Peter.
- “Bad News” can strengthen faith. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, yet our faith in God as our Good Shepherd is not only found in His bringing us to greener pastures and stiller waters, but also in leading us (and protecting us) through the valley of the shadow of death. For us, a few years ago, we had a major financial setback. It was of a sort that we were pretty sure that one or both of us would have to leave the mission field. However, we kept delaying going back and delaying going back. God did not suddenly deluge us with new financial support… just a trickle. But it has been enough. We have been able to more than survive. Before, we could quote verses like in Matthew 6 where Jesus talked about the Father knowing our needs and His intention to care for us. But in living that out with God sustaining us, despite Him never completely reversing the situation, has definitely increased our faith. Frankly, I believe that testimony would strengthen/embolden a Christian in ministry more than several “Praise Jesus” TV testimonials. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 11, a section known as the “Hall of Faith,” sought to strengthen the faith of young Jewish Christians by looking back at Old Testament saints. Half were happy and half were sad. In some cases, God gave victory and vindication, and in some God comforted those who were faithful despite torture, killings, and losses. We need both sides.
- “”Bad News” can empower our theology. I periodically get responses from students or ministry partners where they struggle with the fact that God doesn’t seem to be answering their prayers. For many, the theology they were taught suggested that through the right kind of prayer, they could get God to be their servant, rather than they becoming His servants. Flabby theology is disconnected from reality. A strong theology is reflective and iterative. Our theology should help us through the dry and cold times in life, not just the rosy and lush. Is this important? Absolutely. Our theology is tied to our sense of purpose, and our ethics. A good theology gives us an understanding of who we are, and our relationship with both our world and our God. A theology that misrepresents these areas will not stand well when our circumstances change. And if bad theology leads to bad ethics (understanding of what we should do and should be), our responses to adversity are likely to lead to wrong, or at least unproductive, activities and thoughts.
- “Bad News” helps us identify the Good News. We identify things typically through contrast. In biking, it is the uphills that help us understand the good news. This may be a bit obvious… but it is still worth dwelling on. The goodness of God is not really identifiable except in contrast to struggles and pain. But perhaps that doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes those very struggles of pain help us to recognize God’s goodness in their presence. In Proverbs, King Agur prays
Give me neither poverty nor wealth;
feed me with the food I need.
9 Otherwise, I might have too much
and deny You, saying, “Who is the Lord?”
or I might have nothing and steal,
profaning the name of my God.
Our continual need of God’s care makes us more dependent on God. Having all of our prayers answered, can make us forget God. We are forgetful people. We need some bad news to remember that one who cares for us.