I used to be a faithful listener to the national news. But it seems that more and more news reporting delivers more and more bad news. Not wanting to begin each day already down in the dumps, I’ve become more of a sporadic listener. Of course, I recognize that this is not a recent trend. Most news has rarely, if ever, been uplifting. The events deemed “newsworthy” are generally traumatic or catastrophic events. Since there are more than enough examples of ‘bad news’ each day those ‘good’ newsworthy items rarely get reported.
These “bad news” stories are even more difficult to deal with because they are not simply news stories affecting someone else; they are real stories of the everyday realities of people all around me, and including me. Close friends have loved ones in global conflict zones. Colleagues struggle to make ends meet, or are coping with their own traumatic events and struggles. For many, their own lives comprise the “bad news” stories of struggling to survive in extraordinarily dark times.
Trouble is part of every human experience, and every human will experience days of “bad news.” No one is immune. Even the greatest of leaders in the ancient world did not escape trouble and despair. Those who might critique religious faith as a flight from reality or an escape from trouble might be surprised to see the exact opposite detailed in the pages of the bible. Even those who claimed direct experience of God, did not escape the hard realities of life in this world.
Described as a “man after God’s own heart,” David, the great king of Israel, experienced many difficulties throughout his life just as he was the recipient of bad news. And when he experienced trouble, he turned to poetry. Psalm 18, as one example, appears to have been a poem written after the experience of deliverance from national enemies and the current king of Israel, King Saul.
The poetry composed by David expresses his grief and distress in the midst his trials. The imagery he uses is of a near death experience: “The waves of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord.”(1) His distress felt like drowning; being swallowed up by the mighty waves of the sea.
Yet, somehow David believes he will be delivered. In my distress I called upon the Lord. David hopes in God’s deliverance. Even though he feels overwhelmed by powerful forces at work against him, David affirms that “The Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”(2)
It is tempting to understand the Lord’s rescue operation as one that restores the equilibrium or status quo to David. As one commentator notes, the psalmists’ chief concern to give thanks to God are not chiefly found in regaining “physical health, or adding more years to life, or by enhancing the life they now enjoy with greater comfort or security. That is a modern conception of life, whose emptiness is eventually disclosed. According to Israel’s way of thinking, life is missed when people do not choose it: ‘See, I have set before you life and death… Therefore, choose life.’”(3) David’s life story continues to be fraught with difficulty and hardship even as he becomes king of ancient Israel. Yet in the midst of distress, there is always a choice to find life, to find what is good that remains.
God’s rescue was not simply a return to the “way things were” or always a salve of comfort and ease. To read the poem this way is to miss its main image of the God whose rescue shakes the deepest foundations. “The earth shook and quaked the foundations of the mountains were trembling.” God’s rescue often involves the overturning and upending all the things in which we place our hope apart from God. For the poet David testified: The Lord was his stay. Ultimately, salvation does not come from the things God does for David, or for us. God’s rescue sets one in a broad place opening up new spaces in which we can find room to trust. Salvation comes from God alone.
Sometimes, God’s rescue involves the deliverance from all the things we think make up true life. As Christoph Barth observes, “[W]hat the psalmists pray for in laments, or thank God for in thanksgiving is… its radical renewal through true life—that is the life that is given through relationship to God.”(4)
When we make God our stay we acknowledge that all other ground is like sand—even those things that appear as a strong foundation. Our notion of rescue is upended. And while we never want to deny that days are often filled with bad news, God can be our stay, open up a broad place where we want more than simply to be rescued and instead desire to become the means of rescue. We can have active hands and feet that swiftly move to help others in times of need, and in times of abundance, with God as our stay. As people living at times in want and in times of bad news, we can choose to seek renewal and restoration, choose to cultivate what is the good news: that the God who is the broad place invites all to stand on that sure ground.
Margaret Manning Shull is member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) 2 Samuel 22:5-7a.
(2) Psalm 18:19.
(3) Bernard W. Anderson, ed., Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 127.
(4) As quoted by Anderson, Ibid., 127.