Sunday, December 25, 2016

DISAPPOINTMENT WITH GOD





I have been so distressed to hear the many testimonies of young people who have left the church and its faith. So many of these testimonies involve a simple equation: Their expectations about God and His promises have not measured up to the reality of their lives. They have lamented:

·       I prayed and trusted, but God didn’t answer my prayers.
·       I asked for His guidance, but He always remained silent.
·       I was confident that He had led me into my marriage, but He clearly did not. My wife took off with another man. I can no longer trust Him; nor do I want to.

My story had been similar. I was trying to follow Christ the best I could, but it wasn’t good enough. I became overwhelmed with depression and panic attacks, and God refused to answer my prayers. I couldn’t understand why He was allowing me to suffer so. He promised me His comfort, but it seemed that everyone else had more comfort than I. He promised to love me, but I felt totally unloved, unlovable, and utterly rejected. He promised that He would never leave me, but I felt entirely abandoned. From my perspective, the Christian life was a huge fraud.

If I had a viable alternative, I would have turned away, but I didn’t have one. I had already tried out every promising option, and each had all failed me. Either God would somehow come through for me or I was finished.

His silence convinced me of either of two things. Either I was so worthless that God wouldn’t waste His time with me, or God didn’t exist, and everything that I had experienced was just a matter of self-deception.

However, since I had nowhere else to turn, I began to read the Psalms and found that the Psalmists had the same problems. David had complained:

·       How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

This Psalm made me think. David had been the man “after God’s own heart,” and yet he suffered such torment. His God had promised David that He would never leave him, and that He would establish an everlasting kingdom through his descendent. How then could David feel so forsaken? Clearly, he had been praying to God, but God didn’t seem to be answering him, and it wasn’t because He had rejected David. Perhaps He hadn’t rejected me?

Many of the Psalmists also complained that their suffering didn’t match up with their glowing expectations based on God’s promises. This was also true for His Chosen People, the Nation of Israel.  The Psalmist Ethan reviewed God’s glorious promises to King David:

·       “I [God] will maintain my love to him [David] forever, and my covenant with him will never fail…I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered…that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky." (Psalm 89:28-37)

However, by the next verse, Ethan’s tone dramatically changed. Now, he began to accuse God of unfaithfulness:

·       But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins…O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Psalm 89:38-40)

According to Ethan, God had betrayed His people and had reneged on His promises. Israel’s present degraded status failed to measure up to what their God had promised them. Ethan seemed to be rejecting the faith of his Father’s.

I was drawn into this perplexing drama. It seemed that I wasn’t alone. The Psalmists also felt betrayed by their God, who had failed to live up to His promises.

The Psalmist Asaph had also felt betrayed by God. It was apparent to him that the arrogant enemies of God were living far better than the righteous. He therefore complained:

·       Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (Psalm 73:13) 

According to Asaph, it had been a disappointment to serve God. However, these Psalmists had been the exemplars of the faith, and they were concluding that their faith had been a waste of time, just like the testimonies of those youth who had departed from the faith.

Even the Messiah claimed that His Father had abandoned Him:

·       Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

However, we know that this abandonment had only been temporary. By the end of the Psalm, He proclaimed that this “abandonment” had not been the end of the story:

·       For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24)

Was there a lesson here for me? Perhaps I too had failed to see the big picture. Perhaps I was suffering from myopia. Did the Psalmist Ethan resolve His conflict with God? He simply concluded:

·       Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen. (Psalm 89:52)

It doesn’t seem that Ethan was able to see the big picture – that God would once again exalt His nation and show Himself faithful to His covenant, His promises to David. However, it does seem that he had concluded that there was more to the picture than what he was presently able to see.

Perhaps there was more to my suffering than what I was able to see. Perhaps my Savior had secretly been loving me in the midst of my tears, and even suffering along with me (Hebrews 4:15).

However, the Psalmist Asaph was subsequently blessed with a revelation. He entered the Temple and was shown the big picture – the prospering of the arrogant and the suffering of the righteous were only temporary. After this revelation, he gratefully proclaimed:

·       I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:22-26)

Asaph had not been able to contemplate any possible resolution for his conflict. The arrogant were prospering and the righteous were suffering. However, he had been shown otherwise. He had been enabled to see beyond his limited experiences and observations.

Perhaps also there was something that I was missing. Perhaps there was a purpose for my suffering as there had been for Asaph’s. Perhaps I was demanding too much – an immediate understanding about what I was suffering.

Perhaps also those who had left the church were also expecting too much. Perhaps they weren’t ready for the big picture of God’s plan. Perhaps, instead, God was requiring them to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Why do some persevere and continue to look towards God, even in their perplexity, while others leave? I cannot answer this question. I just pray that they will return to our only possible Hope.

Meanwhile, I thank God for what I had suffered. I liken myself to the Psalmist David who confessed:


·       It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:71-72)

2 comments:

  1. My heart bleeds with the likeness of these emotions. Prayerfully I ask to be shown that "bigger picture" before I lose myself to the heartbreak of feeling left with no answers for the trials that never seem to relent. Lord, don't let me fall.

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    Replies
    1. God will show you the "bigger picture." Keep asking and waiting. Do you regularly meditate on Scripture?

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