In Good News and Bad
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life!”…
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. – Psalm 116
Earlier this year I had a health scare. It was the kind that comes with biopsy results that aren’t quite right, and talk about the “next step.” I spent a lot of time wondering about the “what ifs” and preparing for the worst. The doctor put me on a last-ditch medication and sent me to see a surgeon.
One day my wife and I drove to a hospital in Boston to meet with my surgeon. It was a consult before the big day, when she would outline the surgery and the risks. We drove into the city nervously, trying to joke with each other enough to get through the bad news we were sure was coming.
That day, as the surgeon came into the room, we braced ourselves for the worst, which made what came next even more dramatic. The surgeon pulled out the results from a second biopsy, smiled broadly, and said, “Well, good news…the medication worked…this biopsy is stone-cold normal.”
We were left reeling. No surgery? No more uncertainty? No more fear? We left the hospital that day smiling in disbelief. All afternoon we couldn’t stop laughing. It felt like a dream.
Today’s Psalm has the title “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Illness.” I can relate. But at the same time, I wonder about those who walk into the surgeon’s office and don’t walk out with good news. What would they think about this Psalm with its call to thank God for deliverance?
At first I thought maybe the answer was, “Thank God anyway…even when things are bad.” Then, I thought about all the hospital visits I’ve made through the years, and all the diagnoses people I love have shared, and I couldn’t imagine God demanding praise in a moment of such pain.
Instead, I think about this. I think about the praise that I was able to give God that day, and I know that it felt right. But I think too of the anger that people who have died too soon shared with me on their death beds, and I think that was probably pretty “right” too. And more than that, I think God could understand, and could take it.
God, thank you for the good news, and stay close to me in the bad, even when I’m angry at you. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.