“And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Nobody likes pain. Even fewer tragedy. They can strip us of our sense of control and leave us feeling totally vulnerable and helpless. We naturally seek to avoid these by almost any means we can. But, pain is a teacher. Tragedy an instructor. And for the soul that is lost and wandering aimlessly through this world, they can be a guide.
David was hurting. So were his men. While they had been away preparing to fight battles alongside the Philistines against their own people, the Amalekites came and raided their base and took captive all of their wives and children. He had led them on a journey away from the Lord when his faith failed and now they had all suffered loss for it. The men knew this was ultimately the fault of David leading them here and talked of holding him mortally responsible for the loss.
(As an aside, these were the same Amalekites Saul had been commanded to destroy completely. Had he been obedient to God’s command, this wouldn’t have happened. When God tells us to do something and we don’t, there are going to be consequences and we very well may not be the ones who bear them. Our disobedience often causes pain and tragedy for other people.)
When was the last time you experienced some pain or tragedy that could be fairly directly connected to a decision you had made to journey away from the Lord? What were you feeling then? What was going through your mind? How was your heart?
Here’s a truth about the pain we face: It is all a symptom of our sin-broken world. All of it. No pain is good in and of itself. It is all a reminder that things are not the way they are supposed to be.
But, while it is not good, it does exist, and that gives God a tool He can use to accomplish good. He never directly causes our pain (nothing not good comes from Him), but He does allow for the consequences of sin—both of our own sin and of others—to unfold in our lives and cause us pain. He never does this flippantly or randomly, but always for a purpose. Specifically, He does it for the purpose of shaping us by that pain to be more reflective of the particular image of Christ He designed us to bear. This is how pain and tragedy can be teachers. They can teach us to turn to Him and to rely more fully on Him.
David was on a journey that was leading Him further and further away from God to the point that he was about to commit an act on his own people from which there would be no going back. It was not pain that kept him from that, but it was the shock of pain afterwards that shook him into realizing just how far he’d gone afield and caused him to turn back to the God who was waiting to have him back.
Now, hear me well: I am not by any means saying that all of the pain or tragedy we face is a result of our own sinful choices. I have neither the wisdom nor the insight to dare to make such a claim. But, it is all caused by somebody’s sin and God allows it because He intends to accomplish some good work in and through us by it.
When pain comes, then, let us mourn it, yes, but let us also gird ourselves to learn through it. Let us turn or return to the God who has allowed it for some good and loving reason even if we can’t begin to see what that may be, and let us seek to learn the lessons He has to teach us through it. When we do this, the pain we face will not necessarily hurt any less, but it will not be wasted and we will not be shattered beyond repair by it. Let us do just what David did and strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God.