Tuesday, July 10, 2007

When Things Go Wrong

How do you take it when things go wrong? Not just one thing, but many, like the car dying, the house breaking, children running wild, pests and storms and strife all cast at once–how do you understand this?

Superstition says you are cursed. Superstition says you should get out of town, change your luck somehow. I’ve known some people who have moved away when too many negative things happened to them. I don’t know if things got any better. Writers at NBC would have you go back and correct all the wrongs of your past. This makes good comedy.

The Christian often sees things in two different ways: the devil is attacking you because you are doing something right, something God pleasing, and our enemy wants you to stop. Somehow he receives the authority to attack, or manipulates our sins for ill effect.

The other response is perhaps you are doing something wrong and God is punishing you. There is a great German proverb, Kleine suende Gott straf sofort (Small sins God punishes immediately). This applies to all those times that you make a rude comment and immediately trip, or tell an inappropriate joke and in the next moment slam your hand in a door. But when serious matters go south, we sometimes think that God is handing out the punishment for the wrongdoing. Please note: for my Lutheran readers, this position is taken in our Confessions: SD I.4; SD V, et al. For any non-Lutheran readers, please chime in and let me know if your tradition teaches that God punishes sin temporally.

Obviously the problem is these two ideas are completely opposite of one another, and thus gives no guidance at all, and we go ’round and round with ourselves, “The devil because I’m right, or God because I’m wrong?” Our enemy would have it no other way.

The Christian response is to not ask the question. We are all sinners, certainly deserving of no good thing. That matters go wrong should not surprise us; we ought to be surprised when things go well, for if it is not I that ruin everything with my pride and passions, it is my neighbor, and I then sin in blaming him with anger.

Repentance and faith is the response of the Christian when things go wrong. All things are for our good, and what our souls need most is repentance and trust in our God who loves us. Such repentance is best expressed in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. St. Paul tells us to give thanks in every situation, all the more when the world seems staked against us, for we know that the Almighty is for us.

Instead of wondering if our household calamities are from our enemy or from God, we can be sure of one thing: our need for more repentance and faith in the God who loves all mankind. Give thanks for this reminder that life and goods are fragile, that repentance is lifelong, and then live your repentance quietly, knowing that our Lord will provide all for us.