The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days of the People of Hebrews 11 and what this tells us about the Prosperity Gospel3
I wasn’t able to see the movie that came out a few months ago, but I do remember when the book was first released in 1972. I’m talking about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven’t read it, you should. Continue reading . . .
I wasn’t able to see the movie that came out a few months ago, but I do remember when the book was first released in 1972. I’m talking about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven’t read it, you should. This one excerpt will give you a good sense for what it’s about.
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
At breakfast Anthony found a Corvette Sting Ray car kit in his breakfast cereal box and Nick found a Junior Undercover Agent code ring in his breakfast cereal box but in my breakfast cereal box all I found was breakfast cereal.
I think I’ll move to Australia.
In the car pool Mrs. Gibson let Becky have a seat by the window. Audrey and Elliott got seats by the window too. I said I was being scrunched. I said I was being smushed. I said, if I don’t get a seat by the window I am going to be carsick. No one even answered.
I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
At school Mrs. Dickens liked Paul’s picture of the sailboat better than my picture of the invisible castle.
At singing time she said I sang too loud. At counting time she said I left out sixteen. Who needs sixteen?
I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I could tell because Paul said I wasn’t his best friend anymore. He said that Philip Parker was his best friend and that Albert Moyo was his next best friend and that I was only his third best friend.
I hope you sit on a tack, I said to Paul. I hope the next time you get a double-decker strawberry ice-cream cone that the ice cream part falls off the cone part and lands in Australia.”
Now, what does this have to do with the men and women of Hebrews 11? Sometimes it is easy to be intimidated by them rather than encouraged. We read this chapter and can easily be overwhelmed by the remarkable lives they led. Their righteousness seems entirely out of reach for you and me. Their humility puts us to shame. Their faith, above all else, makes them seem almost super human. It’s as if we are reading about a special race of aliens, a different class of people from you and me.
We say to ourselves: “There’s no way that any of these people could have had a life remotely similar to Alexander’s. Certainly they would never have had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day! After all, wouldn’t their faith have elevated them above the normal struggles and obstacles of life? Wouldn’t their faith have delivered them from the sort of frustrating circumstances that seem to plague ordinary people like Alexander and like you and me? Wouldn’t their faith have insulated them against the attack of their enemies and protected them from disease and death? Wouldn’t God, as a reward for their faith, have guaranteed that they would never suffer lack or go without fashionable clothing? Wouldn’t their faith have assured them that they would always live in a nice, four-bedroom, three-bathroom, home with a two-car garage and plenty of food on the table?”
Well, no. The people of Hebrews 11 undoubtedly experienced great faith but they were also people who encountered opposition and suffered persecution and were the object of scorn and ridicule and endured physical and financial deprivation, some of whom were tortured and eventually slaughtered for their faith in God.
What we must never forget is that these people weren’t just people of great faith. They were also people guilty of great failure as well. They were sinners, just like you and me. Life wasn’t for them a carefree walk down the yellow brick road on the way to some heavenly Oz. May I remind you that for all his faith in building the ark, Noah got stone cold drunk! Abraham twice lied about who Sarah was in order to save his own skin. Jacob was known as the deceiver and is perhaps most famous for having stolen his older brother’s birthright. Moses committed murder. David committed adultery and murder. And Samson’s illicit involvement with Delilah has been the subject of more than a few Hollywood movies.
What I’m trying to say is that even though these men and women experienced triumphant faith throughout their lives they were not spared from suffering plenty of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. And when they did, it wasn’t because their faith had faltered. It wasn’t as if they prospered when they had faith and then suffered when their faith weakened. It was precisely in the midst of great faith and by means of great faith that they suffered intensely, and are here in Hebrews 11 commended for living the sort of lives that provoked the enemies of God to treat them with such disdain.
We enjoy reading Hebrews 11:1-35a. It’s encouraging to hear of the glorious exploits of men and women of faith. That strikes us as entirely reasonable. Of course God would bless and resurrect and shut the mouths of lions and deliver from the executioner’s sword those who have faith.
But what about those who suffer unimaginable pain and mockery and imprisonment and torture and go without food or clothing and eventually are killed? What about them? Did they suffer these things because God was punishing them for lack of faith? Is this what happens to people who don’t trust God and put their hope and confidence in him? No! Having true, lively, energetic faith in God is no guarantee that you will experience comfort and security and health and wealth in this life.
Don’t misread this passage. Our author doesn’t say in v. 35b: “And some [who did not have faith] were tortured and suffered mocking and floggings, and even chains and imprisonment.” We know the people in view in vv. 35b-38 also had robust and righteous faith, and that for three reasons.
First, note closely that the phrase “through faith” in v. 33a governs everything that follows. It was “by faith” or “through faith” that some suffered mocking and chains and stoning and death itself. There is no break in our author’s argument where he moves from describing faithful people to describing unfaithful ones. They are all characterized by faith.
Second, these who suffered are the ones, according to v. 38, “of whom the world was not worthy.” In other words, far from suffering these horrible things as punishment for their lack of faith, they are men and women who are of such stellar and superior faith and holiness that the world does not deserve to have them in their midst. How could it be said of them that they were of such remarkable holiness and godly character that the world doesn’t deserve them if they were lacking faith?
Third, notice how v. 39 opens. It says, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” The “all these” is obviously a reference to everyone he has just described in chapter eleven. He doesn’t say, “And only those whose lives turned out to be prosperous and healthy and famous were commended through their faith.” No, even those who barely had enough to wear and to eat and drink, even those who were persecuted and tortured and mistreated, even they are “commended through their faith.”
So what did these men and women of righteous and robust faith experience?
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (v. 35b).
“Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment” (v. 36a).
“They were stoned” (v. 37a).
“They were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (v. 37b).
“They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, . . . wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (vv. 37c-38).
In closing I want to make three simple observations.
First, if you are experiencing a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” or perhaps it’s a month now, or even a year, or, although I hesitate to say it, a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life,” it doesn’t necessarily mean you lack faith or that God has abandoned you or that you can’t be productive and honoring to the Lord and your life count for something.
Second, if you are experiencing a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day/month/year/life” it doesn’t mean that God won’t honor your faith by performing life-changing, Christ-exalting miracles like the ones mentioned in the first 35 verses in Hebrews 11. Neither the pain nor pleasure you feel in your body, neither the deprivation nor prosperity reflected in your bank account, neither the success nor failure of your professional life, is any measure or barometer of God’s ability and willingness to accomplish remarkable things through your faith.
Third, faith is not a magical formula that guarantees financial, physical, personal, or social success. Faith is clinging to God whether he parts the Red Sea for you or you find yourself living penniless in a cave. Faith is hoping in God whether you are promoted and praised or persecuted and afflicted. Faith is trusting him whether you are delivered from the sword or you die by its sharp edge.
So what does Hebrews 11:35b-38 tell us about the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”? It tells us that it’s wrong!