April 15, 2010
This Devotional Has a Happy Ending
by John UpChurch, Editor, Jesus.org
Because of the loudness of my groaning
My bones cling to my flesh. (Psalm 102:5, NASB)
I hate sad endings. If I know a book or movie will turn out badly for the hero, you won't find it on my shelf. Thought-provoking, melancholy-but-hopeful, those endings I can do, but conclusions that resonate with increasing desperation or despair set my mind reeling for days. And I dislike the tumult.
I'd claim this is all because of some deep pathos I have, that the emotion gets to me. But the truth is much less glamorous: I just want things to turn out well. I'm an irrepressible optimist with a penchant for knowing how plots should be wrapped up. This is the reason you'll usually find me skimming the last chapter of a book first or waiting till others see a movie before I watch it. If I'm going to invest my time, I want the payoff to be satisfactory.
The Bible has some parts that cause a similar reaction—and even those I'd rather skip. For example, David wrote Psalm after Psalm detailing his suffering, his sinfulness, his anguish. Each one overflows with descriptions of his bones melting, his heart withering, or other bodily descriptions that could have come from Night of the Living Dead. Job must use potsherds to scratch his puss-filled sores after his children are crushed and ripped to pieces. Jeremiah gives us graphic descriptions of what became of Israel and spends an entire book lamenting his lost life, world, friends, you name it. Paul dedicates his life to ministry and ends up beaten, pummeled with stones, shipwrecked, wracked with pain, and ultimately killed. And then there's Jonah: a book that ends with a man despairing his own life because God didn't wipe out a city.
Instead of pushing through all that, I'd rather read about the joy of the Lord, the teachings of Christ, the capturing of the Holy Land, and the happy Psalms. After all, the bad stuff in the Bible reminds me of the bad stuff in the present world. Perhaps I think that if I don't read it, it won't happen to me.
But, truthfully, no book of the Bible is without its thorns. The gospels (the "good news") include Christ's brutal death. The happier Psalms often point to the not-so-happy ones. The breakthrough of the Exodus comes with the sorrow of those who suffer for later disobedience.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Buried in each of those sad parts, however, are important lessons from the miry clay—lessons that wouldn't fit the happier times. If Jerusalem hadn't been destroyed, Jeremiah could never have written with such real understanding about the faithfulness of God in the worst of circumstances. David's intense pain produced a fertile ground for joy.
Despite my wishful thoughts to the contrary, not reading such accounts doesn't keep me from needing those lessons myself. The real happy ending is in knowing that I can count on the same God that David, Job, and Paul did—even when my own bones feel like they're melting.