Thursday, September 19, 2013

When the Bottom Drops Out

LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? 
- - - Psalm 88:14

It's finally happened.  You didn't expect it to happen, or perhaps you feared that it might; but now, it has happened, and you don't know what to do.  The bottom has dropped out - - - and you're a Christian!

It is a simple fact of life that, whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, one is sometimes beset by troubles.  As Jesus said, God sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).  Everybody has problems.  But this time, it's different.  It's not just a problem; it's not just a crisis.  This time, the bottom has dropped out of your life, in the twinkling of an eye, and you were totally unprepared for it.

You know the kind of things I'm talking about; I hope you haven't experienced any of them.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon called them "very remarkable troubles," and enumerated some:

"It may be that one child was taken away and then another—and yet a third. Or, perhaps, your infant was carried to the grave, to be soon followed by its dear mother, and you are left to mourn alone. Bereavement has followed bereavement with you until your very soul is embittered .... possibly, you have had a series of disasters in business such as you could not have foreseen or prevented. It seems, to you, indeed, as if no man was ever so unsuccessful—you have not prospered in anything. Wherever you have put your hand, it has been likethe hoof of the Tartar’s horse which turns the meadow into a desert: nothing goes well with you .... Perhaps you have desired to be a man of learning. You have worked very hard and now your health is failing you, so that you cannot go through the examination for which you have been preparing. You would willingly die at your post if you had a hope of gaining the honor to which you aspire, but this is  denied you. On the very doorstep of success, you are stopped. God seems to have embittered your life .... Or you of the tender heart have been disappointed and rejected, and your love has been thrown away. Or you of the energetic spirit have been foiled and driven back so many times that you perceive that your attempts are fruitless. Or you, a man of true integrity, have been cruelly slandered and you feel as if you could not bear up under the false charge that is in the air all around you."


It could be something else.  You've served God with all your heart, in the ministry, for forty years; and now, because of "church politics" or a new direction in your denomination, you've been dismissed, and you're too old to find another place of service. You feel that God has put you "on the shelf."  The closest person to you in life has gone to prison - - - whether innocent or guilty, the doors have clanged shut for many years, and you're alone, confused, and shattered.  You've just been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.  These things happen every day, and the people involved feel that the bottom has dropped out; this seems to be the end of everything worthwhile in life.

It's bad enough for an unbeliever.  But if you're a Bible-believing Christian, who has received Christ according to John 1:12, and been born again, as Jesus commanded in John 3:3-7 .... what now?  How is a Christian supposed to handle such a situation?

I'm not going to give you any pat answers, or sugar-coat the truth.  The fact is, you might react very much like a non-Christian: if you used to be a drunkard or a dope addict or a hedonist before God saved you, you might return to those activities, and "go on a bender:" for example, taking a drink for the first time in years, and indulging in a five-day binge.  This is partly due to the sudden feeling of hopelessness, of saying, "What's the use?  What's the point?"  And although such a reaction is sinful, God isn't surprised.  When the bottom drops out, and we react badly, The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy .... Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:8, 13, 14).  That doesn't excuse or justify the reaction, and if the behaviour continues, God will give you even more problems; but it means that God knows your heart, and knows that you're acting out of pain, not out of wicked desires.

But most Christians don't react so dramatically.  Some don't seem to react at all, on the outside; they may simply appear to be aloof and distant to their friends.  That's because there are times when, despite the good intentions of others, we just want to be left alone: if we could, we'd crawl under a rock and hide.  But whether dramatic or subtle in our reactions, Christians experience certain things "when the bottom drops out" that are almost inevitable. The most common of these is to become confused about God: "How could He allow this?"  Then comes the bitterness and resentment, toward God and toward man: "He has no right to do this!  I was following Him as best as I knew how!  And these other Christians don't have any idea of how bad I hurt!  How dare they try to 'comfort' me?"  This is far more dangerous than a ten-day drunk, because the Enemy, Satan, can (and will definitely try to) turn us away from God, either partially or totally.  We might just quit reading our Bible ... or we might throw the Bible in the trash, and never go near a church again.

I can't tell you exactly how a Christian should react when everything seems dashed and destroyed, because every person, and every situation, is unique.  But, as a Christian who's had the bottom drop out in my own life more than once, I can give you some things to think about.

1. Don't expect yourself to function normally for awhile.  Job was one of the three most righteous men in the Old Testament, along with Noah and Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14); people came to him for advice and counsel and comfort every day.  But when the bottom dropped out, when his family and all his possessions were lost, through no fault of his own, he didn't continue to be a "great spiritual leader:" he went and sat on an ash heap for seven days, mourning and crying out to God for answers.  Eventually, God restored everything to Job, and he resumed his most blessed life: but his immediate reaction to disaster was spiritual and emotional paralysis.  It'll probably take you longer than seven days to recover, because you have no alternative to functioning in life; but although you'll be scarred, the wounds themselves won't stay fresh for very long.  I repeat, however: the scars will still be there.

And before you complain about your scars (and I have plenty of them), ask yourself: when Jesus was resurrected, did He complain about the scars He'd incurred for your sake and mine? Is your suffering greater than His was? 

2.  Don't ask God why this happened.  Okay, I'll admit, this is almost impossible!  Job and David and Solomon and Jonah peppered God with the question "Why?"  But He answered them in His own time, in His own way. 

Even if you don't ask Him why it happened, you'll wonder.  You'll wonder and try to figure it out until your head aches.  But in all probability, you won't receive the answer for awhile.  You may understand it in ten years, or twenty, or fifty; and you will certainly understand when you get Home.  But not right away. 


3.  Okay, get ready, because this is tough: Thank God for what happened.  I know how hard that sounds.  When the bottom drops out, it is hard. (Even Job couldn't do it, but he came close.  When his lovely wife told him to "Curse God, and die," Job responded, What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? [Job 2:10]  He didn't thank God, but neither did he curse Him.  However, he did curse the day of his own birth.  I've done that, too.  If the bottom drops out, it's easy to do.) No matter what has happened, you simply must ask the question, "Could God have stopped this?" And the answer, obviously, is "yes."  So, it begs a second question: "Why didn't He?"

Well, first, go ahead and thank Him: maybe your heart's not in it, maybe you don't mean it, but do it out of sheer obedience: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  What's the will of God?  The disaster?  Not in this verse; in this verse, it is the will of God that you thank Him.

Then think about this: although God could prevent every tornado and every volcano, He doesn't.  We are fallen people living in a fallen world.  Don't be so quick to blame God for the diseased liver of an alcoholic.  Don't blame God for the treachery of a spouse, or a lover, or a business associate.  Remember that, whatever or whoever caused the bottom to drop out, God is the One Who holds you in the palm of His hand, and will not let you go.  He's "carried" me through places where I would probably never have gone, willingly, even for His sake.  He's that kind of Shepherd: He cares for us whether we want His guidance or not.  And sometimes His guidance comes from a whack of His rod.

And, every Christian should be reminded (although sometime we forget when the bottom drops out):  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose ...  What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28, 31)  No disaster, in your life or mine, can invalidate those verses.  But we emphasize again: God is not obligated to explain, at the time, how the thing is working for good.  We'll learn about that later.

4. Don't waste your sorrows. This is the title of a book by Paul E. Billheimer that is excellent, but I'm simply borrowing the phrase to encapsulate a scriptural principle.  When the bottom drops out, when the baby dies, or the career is shattered, or the spouse abandons you, you'll be almost drowning in sorrow.  Don't waste it!  What does it mean to "waste our sorrows?"

The Lord tells us in Hebrews that the pains and sufferings of this life are God's Fatherly "chastening," to bring us into maturity.  He warns us: And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Hebrews 12:5, 6). There are two ways we waste our sorrow and our grief.  On the one hand, we might "despise" the crisis that has overtaken us.  In this verse, to "despise" means to take it lightly, or try to be stoic, or "put on your brave face:" "Well, everyone has troubles.  This is mine."  (This is easier to do with "little" problems than when the catastrophe arrives: it's hard to be stoic in a catastrophe.)  On the other hand, we might let the crisis overwhelm us, and paralyze us, or ruin us: that's the "fainting" the verse mentions.  Although we'll be temporarily staggered, as discussed earlier, we can't let the crisis crush us, or end our lives, whether literally or figuratively. 

But your sorrows don't have to be wasted.  You can give them to God, and let Him use them to prepare you for Heaven (this is the thesis of Billheimer's book).  Because there's no suffering in Heaven; so God has to teach us our painful lessons here on earth.

When the bottom drops out, and you're mad at God, or disappointed in God, or resentful of God, tell Him about it!  Rant and rave if you must, but do it towards God; include Him in it, because it's all about you and Him!  Don't shut Him out, or think that "it's a sin to be mad at God."  Again: he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.  And He wants to listen to our cries until we're all cried out ... and then comfort us, as only He can.

I hope the bottom hasn't dropped out for you, and that it never does.  But if it does, I pray that you'll let it lead you closer to your Saviour, instead of driving you away from Him.

Because He is worthy, and He does all things well (Mark 7:37)!  

What a Saviour!  What a Friend!  What a Shepherd!

  

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for that heartfelt entry on what is a very difficult subject. It has or will help someone, I am sure.

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  2. Amen. Timely indeed.

    ~craig

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