Misery

Preaching and Worship Resources about Misery

One of two main exhibits of the fall of creation (the other being sin), misery is significant distress owing to someone's sin, or to disease, or to divine retribution, or to demon possession, or to accident, or to natural catastrophe.

In Scripture

Dread in your heart "In the morning you shall say, `If only it were evening!' and at evening you shall say, `If only it were morning!' — because of the dread that your heart shall feel and the sights that your eyes shall see" (Deut. 28:67).

Misfortune "Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress" (Judg. 2:15).

"Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes" (Job 2:7, 8).

"The wicked writhe in pain all their days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless" (Job 15:20).

"`Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,' says the Lord; `I will place them in the safety for which they long'" (Ps. 12:5).

"See, O Lord, how distressed I am; my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death" (Lam. 1:20).

"And when [Jesus] had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones" (Mark 5:2-5).

"`The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor'" (Luke 4:18, 19).

Blessed are you "Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: `Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. `Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. `Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:20, 21).

"There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek" (Rom. 2:9).

"Three times I [Paul] was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters" (2 Cor. 11:25, 26).

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains" (1 Tim. 6:10).

Points to Ponder

Superficial distress (owing to food stains, lost car keys, bad hair days) doesn't qualify as misery. The distress has to be significant.

Examples: People feel walled in by loneliness. Whether homesick or obsessively nostalgic or exiled or romantically forlorn or alienated even from themselves, lonely people ache because they are separated. People also suffer boredom. People suffer from fear. They fear cancer, job loss, the death of love. They fear war and God and the IRS. Some must deal with anxiety, an enduring and free-floating fear. Some are overcome by a sense of futility. Their lives haven't turned out as they had hoped. They haven't married well, their work seems inconsequential, their children are a disappointment to them. Their faith, if they have faith, doesn't comfort them. Humans and animals are finite beings, as transient as the flowers of nature and just as vulnerable to its forces. Every season in every land, nature itself takes a terrible harvest of living creatures by way of fire, wind, water, or sudden burial under snow or earth. Birth disorders, disease, and accidents take more lives. Even strangers to these events, if they are compassionate, are sobered by them, or dismayed.

Some misery is owing to other people's sin. Violence in the Middle East (terror strikes, wanton destruction of homes and orchards, forced confinement) causes fear, anxiety, poverty, despair. Racism and other bigotries have similar effects. All the injustices detailed and condemned in Scripture — and especially against what Nicholas Wolterstorff calls "the quartet of the vulnerable" — widows, orphans, resident aliens, and the poor — are so detailed and condemned because they cause misery within vulnerable people's lives. Injustice causes isolation, indignation, despair, and poverty itself, with all its want, discomfort, and indignity.

Abuse Less dramatically, but just as systemically, abuse within a family causes suffering of its victims, who are then exceedingly likely to abuse or spoil their children so that sin causes misery which occasions more sin and more misery — all of it ricocheting down the generations with seemingly awesome inevitability.

But I may also cause my own misery. If my word is no good, people will not trust or befriend me. I have caused my own alienation. If I am thoroughly ungrateful, I am also likely to be thoroughly bored. If I steal and get caught, I am likely to face some combination of guilty feelings, anxiety, and captivity.

In Scripture, the connection between sin and misery is as old as Adam and Eve's disobedience and subsequent shame. The big pictures of shalom, especially in Isaiah, and Jesus' promised salvation in the gospels feature salvation from sin, but often — and sometimes especially — from misery as well.

Heidelberg Catechism In its Answer 2, the Heidelberg Catechism famously states that to be saved, the first thing I have to know is "how great my sins and miseries are." Diagnosis before cure.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.