A Way to Think; A Work to Do: Processing and Responding to Bad News

A Way to Think; A Work to Do: Processing and Responding to Bad News

Tulsa, Oklahoma; Centerville, Texas; Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas. 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 (the above cities are all cites of horrific mass shootings). Little ones’ lives cut short. Families shattered. Hopes and dreams destroyed. So many tears. So much hurt.   
How should we process such 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 our national leaders or media outlets).
So how do we respond in the face of death and suffering? First, we grieve. We lament. We mourn. 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 saw the news coverage from the recent 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. 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. Yes, 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? Will it provide any hope? Will we find another to save? Will a politician 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, in the midst of 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). This is how we process the bad news we read, see, and experience every day. 
Now, what should we do? What should we do as a people, as individuals, as families, as a church in a world assaulted by bad news? There are obviously many, many ways to answer this question (one of them would be ardently and enthusiastically confessing the good news of life and salvation in Jesus Christ, bringing our living hope into the midst of our pain!). I want to offer one answer with three parts. My answer will focus on human flourishing. In other words, what can we do to promote human flourishing, to advance and protect wellness and joy?  
The answer may surprise you. We need to build (or re-build) key cultural, institutional, and familial guardrails. Let me explain. When guardrails on the highway fail, when they are weakened or removed, bad things happen. To be more precise, when guardrails are torn down, accidents that might have otherwise been minor become major. The same holds true for cultural, institutional, and familial guardrails. Having good and solid cultural, institutional, and familial guardrails in place won’t necessarily prevent bad things from happening, but they will go a very long way in preventing bad behavior and in keeping it from escalating.
Scripture highlights at least three key guardrails that God has established: the family (the cradle of culture) (see Genesis 1:26-31), the church (the hub of our life) (see 1 Timothy 3:15, Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22), and the government (the defender of the good) (see Romans 13:1-7). We need to invest in and meaningfully engage in all three.
How? Here are a few concrete suggestions.

Prioritize family. Start by turning off your TV. Put down your phones. Eat meals together. Read Scripture together. Read books aloud to each other. Play games together. Pray together. Make intentional efforts to talk to one another. Ask open ended questions: “What was the best thing that happened in your day? What was the worst?” Get a pile of conversation cards and use them to guide conversations during meals (ask me if you need help with this!).
Be a family. Build family identity. Make it clear: this is who we are. This is what we stand for. But please, PLEASE, understand: parents must be all in. Parents must prioritize family life. Parents must turn off their TVs (and get them out of their bedrooms and their children’s bedrooms!). Parents must put their phones down. Screens aren’t evil, but they are dangerously powerful. They have the potential to fracture the family and to destroy this guardrail. Don’t let them. Rein them in. If you’re going to watch something, make it a family event. Watch it together. Talk about it together. Incorporate it into the family together. Make it part of the family identity.  
The multiplication of screens with individual family members separately watching content not only does nothing to build a family, but it does everything to fracture it, drawing individual family members ever away from each other and into the world of the screen. Save your family from fracturing! Be a family.
We especially need men to step up here. We need men who will be honorable men and women who will respect them (there’s way too much man bashing today!). It’s not that men don’t or haven’t behaved badly,[1] but we won’t get men to step up by beating them down. The statistical evidence is undeniable, when men stand for righteousness, families thrive. When men check out, families falter. We need men be men. We need men to be pillars of righteousness and honor.  We need men to invest in family.     
This will build belonging in and among the family and the guardrails that guide behaviors and make certain behaviors unacceptable. To be as direct as I can: we need men who will commit to women, marry them, raise children with them, and confidently walk the straight line of righteousness as a living example for children. This won’t solve every societal ill, but it will go a long way toward making things better. It will establish necessary guardrails and foster human flourishing.

Paul, writing to Timothy, writes of, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). These are astonishing words! God’s church is His household, His family where His presence dwells! And God establishes this Church as a pillar and buttress of the truth. Or, to use our word, a guardrail! Like the family we just discussed, we need the church. It needs to be strong. It needs to be unwavering. It needs to be consistent. And we need to invest in it. We need to participate in it. We need to hear the Word of truth, of wisdom, of accountability. We need to learn the fear of the Lord.
If we want to flourish as a people, we need to put the Creator before the creature, we need to honor His guardrails. Surprising as it might sound (and in opposition to what the world claims), God’s guardrails are liberating. Take a few moments to appreciate what the psalmist is saying about God’s guardrails for our life (revealed in God’s precepts):


The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).

There is great reward – human flourishing! – in honoring God’s guardrails. So, to do this we need to get ourselves and our families into church, into worship, into the life of the church. Sending our children to Sunday school is good; attending worship as a family and everyone studying God’s Word in Sunday school and Bible class is better – way better. Discussing the Bible readings from worship, the sermon, hymns, liturgy, and Sunday school lessons as a family (or with friends) is better still. Get involved in God’s church. Respect His guardrails. Experience human flourishing.

People love to lampoon and demonize the government. And many of our leaders, in response to the recent shootings have acted inappropriately, slinging a lot of mud in politically motivated rhetoric. This is shameless. The thing about mudslinging though, is that when you fling mud, you not only get dirty, but you lose a lot of ground. Mudslinging gains nothing. It must stop, especially by anyone who confesses Christ as Lord. We are called to honorable behavior. We cannot demonize and dishonor God’s governing authorities, no matter how strongly we may disagree with them. If we disagree, we must learn to disagree with grace and to offer what good we believe needs to be defended.
Government is not bad. Governing authorities may behave badly, but government has been given by God. Even more, it has been given by God for good, for human flourishing. In fact, Scripture calls the governing authorities God’s servants (Romans 13:4). Our job is to ensure they know what good is. In other words, we must know what God has called good, what God has established for our good and for human flourishing (which we can find, for instance, in the creation narrative and the Ten Commandments). Then we must tell the governing authorities what is good. We do that both by voting and by contacting our representatives. But to vote wisely, we must pay attention to party platforms. We must learn to consider individual personalities after platforms. Platforms govern the governing authorities.
We may even consider running for office. This is a good and honorable thing to do. Remember, governing authorities are God’s servants. Serving in government is one way to serve the Lord. Serving in a governing office is one way to facilitate human flourishing. Further, governing authorities have the potential to teach what good should be protected by passing and defending laws designed to protect that good. As we’ve highlighted before, laws not only protect what is good (because you build fences, i.e. laws, around the things you value), they reveal the things we believe are good and in need of protection (the unborn, for instance, which is why we need good pro-life, pro-natural marriage, pro-family laws). No, these laws won’t and don’t change people’s hearts, but that isn’t their purpose. They are the cultural guardrails that we erect to protect us from bad behavior.
Family. Church. Government. These guardrails are good. They need to be maintained, and in many cases, rebuilt because we have let them crumble. No, these guardrails won’t stop every tragedy, but they will go a long way toward lessening their severity and even further toward facilitating human flourishing. – Pastor Conner

[1] Space prevents a further treatment of this, but the sexual revolution and its separation of sex from marriage, the one-flesh union, and the blessing of procreation, has essentially given men the moral license to see women as objects of sexual pleasure and children as the unwanted result of the sexual act, the unwanted result that abortion “solves.”

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