by Neal Pollard
The news extracted from the coal mine in Upshur County, West Virginia, was a lode of agony for families and loved ones. Especially bitter was the false hope dispensed from one who will probably go to all lengths to keep from being identified, who told the world that 12 of 13 men survived. When word came that 12 of 13 were, in fact, dead, the news of one incredible survivor was buried in an avalanche of grief and disbelief.
Everyone was rooting for a repeat of the amazing rescue of the nine Somerset County, Pennsylvania, coal miners who lasted 77 hours and were dramatically lifted out of the hole before the eyes of an awe-struck audience. We want all such catastrophes and crises to end like this. The latest news from West Virginia is a wake-up call that some, even most, do not.
We can carry the same expectations in our Christian lives. We want every struggle, problem, and dilemma to turn out with the happy ending we imagine. We want them fixed to our specifications. We want cheers and elations where once there were pensive nerves and stressful anticipations. We want restless nights to give way to pleasant dreams and then awaken refreshed the next morning. Yet sometimes the stories do not have happy endings.
In the church, not all stories end well. While some who are disciplined are restored and may even thereafter serve Christ with distinction, not every one from whom fellowship is withdrawn comes home. Not every prodigal makes his way back to the Father’s house. Not all Christians take root and bring fruit to perfection. Some of the most nurtured and encouraged new converts turn away because of problems or worldly attractions (cf. Luke 8:11-15). Not every church split leads to two churches more effectively serving and doing more for Christ. Not every pulpit hero reaches the land of the hoary head with his faithfulness intact. Not every mean-spirited radical or haughty-minded liberal are clear-headed and humble enough to renounce their extreme, divisive ways.
Neither do all stories end well in the home. Sometimes, the unfaithful spouse does not repent and try to make amends with the offended partner or children. Not every abuser successfully reforms. Some, maybe many, slaves to addictions in the home crumble under the weight of such and leave a wake of destruction in their paths. Some never heal from bitterness, anger, or jealousy. Some in marriage and the home never can demote self from first place.
So, what do you do when the story does not end well?
First, trust God. He did not cause any evil to come (cf. James 1:13-15). Yet he will give you the strength you need to cope (Philippians 4:19).
Second, increase your craving for home. In heaven, there will be no tragedies, no emotional cave-ins, no spiritual asphyxiations (cf. Revelation 21:1-5).
Third, reach out despite your personal pain. This is not to minimize the greatness of your personal suffering, but to remind you that such suffering may better equip you to help the hurting who surround you on every side. Empathy is a powerful tool.
Fourth, see the trial as the gateway to the grace of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9) and an ultimately positive expression of the discipline of God in the refinement of your spirit (Hebrews 12:4ff).
How it hurts when the story does not have a happy ending! Yet, there is the promise of God that the ultimate ending for the faithful Christian will exceed what we imagine joy and happiness could be (cf. 1 Peter 1:8,9; 1 John 3:2). That’s a lifeline you can hold on to!
by Neal Pollard