Let’s be honest. Bad days happen. In fact, there are times in life when it seems easy to string enough bad days together to create a bad month. This is true for everyone, those of us who trust in God are just as susceptible. And there is no great prize at the end of our race for calling bad days good, anymore than we can run a marathon by simply calling a broken leg fixed. Life doesn’t require us to be honest, but it also doesn’t believe our lies.
In Genesis 47 one of the Old Testament patriarchs, Jacob, has a moment of honesty and admits that things in his life had not gone as he probably would have hoped. Speaking with Pharaoh, the supreme leader of Egypt, the old man Jacob scratches out this unsanitized summary of his life:
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my residences are a hundred and thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and bad, and they haven’t attained the days of the years of my father’s lives, in the days of their residences.”
– Genesis 47:9
There is no need, and no benefit, in washing up the men and women in the Bible to make them seem more superlative. Children’s Sunday School lessons and even well-intentioned sermons have a tendency to elevate the character and integrity of the people in the Bible to unattainable heights where we can only observe them on their pedestals instead of walk with them in their follies. But in the lives of these remarkably normal people follies abound, faiths waiver and families break down. Jacob is no superhero of faith, he is, in modern language, a criminal who purloined another man’s inheritance. And even when we attempt to scrub him clean and hold him up as a shining example of a man of God we are thwarted by the very person we’ve tried to venerate. For even when we fail to be honest, Jacob does not.
He’s not had a bad day, or even a bad month, he’s had a bad life. It has gone poorly for him. He hasn’t been the man that his father and grandfather were. He isn’t even going to live as long as them. The text, the words of the man himself, are clear: even for the most esteemed of our faith heritage there can be legitimate regret and sadness in a life that God uses powerfully and profoundly.
Richard Friedman, commenting on this very transparent text, offers this wonderful encouragement;
…it may be said that by not glorifying its human heroes the text glorifies its other central figure, the deity. The message here may well be that God can work through anyone: through an all-obedient man, a passive, dim-eyed patriarch, or a deceiver.
– Richard Elliot Friedman
So, not only am I saying that you’re allowed to have bad days, I am saying that bad days – and even a “bad life” – are not necessarily days, or lives, that God tosses onto the scrap pile in search of a better, more successful or even more cleaned-up person. His plans for our lives more often work in spite of us, not because of us. This obviously doesn’t mean that we should strive for bad days, that would be senseless and more than a little bit stupid, but it does mean that we ought not lie when someone asks us how are day is going. There’s no martyr’s crown for the person who can’t admit that some days are worse than others.