Diagnosing Disappointment with God When Trouble Comes

Disappointment with God is one of the unmentionables in the Christian community. There are some things you don’t say out loud. It’s like family problems that some folks prefer to sweep under the rug.

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Though everyone in the room is thinking about Mable’s estranged marriage, nobody dares to talk about it. As far as Christianity is concerned, everybody in the body of Christ has experienced disappointment, but too many of us are unwilling to say it.

The danger with not talking about it is that you will be tempted to internalize your troubles. This reaction can open the door to all kinds of sins of the heart like unbelief, fear, bitterness, and anger.

Expressing your disappointment with the Almighty is one of those things that is hard to approach or articulate. Some would even argue that saying it the way I have framed it here is not the best way to talk about your disappointment.

I agree with that perspective to a degree because it can sound like an accusation. When I talk about disappointment with God, I’m not saying it like it’s an accusation. I’m merely saying that I am God’s child and I can be disappointed. Those are two realities for me to discern.

  1. The accent mark goes on me, as far as what is wrong. But it does not preclude me from acknowledging the other person in the relationship–my heavenly Father. It is helpful, within the right contexts and with the right attitudes, to talk about your disappointments as a Christian, as a child of God.
  2. There is a difference between being negative, critical, angry, and bitter versus being honest, vulnerable, transparent, and open to change. If you can talk about your disappointments with humility, you’re in the right place.

The reason it is a challenge for some people to talk about their disappointments is the tenuous juxtaposition of inevitable disappointment with God’s sovereignty. Those two big ideas can feel too close to each other. There is a reason for that: they are always contiguous to each other.

Humans will be disappointed. That is not only a given, but a promise from God (Genesis 3:18). And God is in control of all things. He is Sovereign God. At some level of our awareness, we know these things to be true. I don’t think it would be wise to ignore these two fundamental truths: The doctrine of God and the doctrine of sin.

A Disappointed Friend

I was talking with my friend, Biff, about this very subject. He brought it up. We have been friends for a long time, and he has never shared on this level before–expressing his disappointment toward God.

I purposely changed the preposition here from “with” to “toward” because there is a difference. Being disappointed with God is talking about personal disappointment in a relationship, but not necessarily accusing the other person in the relation.

Expressing disappointment toward God is a different matter. It places the accent mark of the blame on God and not on the individual. This kind of thinking will lead to a trap, which is what Biff was acknowledging. He was in a trap (Galatians 6:1).

Though we have talked many times about disappointment, frustration, mistakes, bad ideas, and sad things that have happened in his life, he has never stepped up and mentioned the unmentionable–his anger toward God.

It reminded me of a time in my life when I suffered several devastating losses during one season. During that period of torment, I would never be truly honest with myself about what I thought about my troubles, especially what I thought about my heavenly Father.

I blamed nearly everyone involved for my ongoing disappointments–including myself, but I could never bring myself to telling the whole truth. Though I was biblically wrong, I had an evil attitude that I was not bringing to the Lord–I was mad at Him.

In my recent conversation with Biff, he acknowledged the in-depth issue of his heart–he had been angry at God. Interestingly enough, he did not say it this way. I was the one who attached the biblical category of anger to what he was expressing.

He talked about his expectations for his life and family. He talked about how his dream for his children was not coming to fruition. He spoke of other things that had not turned out the way he expected.

While he was talking on one level, I was listening at another level. Though he did not use the words anger or disappointment, that is what he was talking about with me. He was clearly articulating his anger, frustration, fear, bitterness, and disappointment–all of which he directed toward God.

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Listening

Listening Note – When you are listening to a person, make sure you are not only hearing what he is saying, but you are filtering what he is speaking through the grid of Scripture. If you do this, you will be in the best possible place to help him.

Biff was talking about his life, but he was not connecting what he was saying to how the Word of God would interpret what he was saying. This process is the essence of discipleship–biblically crystallizing what a person is saying so he can have a better understanding of God’s perspective on his situation.

I gave Biff some categories to think about what he was saying. The two main ones were fear and anger. As we continued our discussion the next day, he asked me if his problem was mostly pride, fear, or anger, which was a great question. I said it was all three.

Pride

It is crucial that you understand what pride is. It has been defined many ways by Bible scholars, all of which will say it is some version of “without God.” Pride means doing what you’re doing without God. It is an anti-God, self-centered, “I don’t need You,” way of thinking.

With that in mind, you should easily deduce that all sin is some form of pride. When you sin, no matter what the act is, you’re making a clear statement: you are doing what you’re doing without God.

The reason this is important is that to say a person is proud is like saying, “I am a man.” That does not mean a lot. If 1000 men are standing in a parking lot, you would not have much to go on if you wanted to find me.

But if you began to break down what kind of man I am, you could make progress in your search. The same goes for the word pride. Yes, Biff is struggling with pride, but what he needs to know are his manifestations of pride so he can repent with specificity.

Pride is like a basket category that all sins manifest. It is the flower-pot from which all the poisonous flowers grow. The question is not so much about being proud, but how is your pride manifesting itself today?

Anger and Fear

Though we all have many manifestations of pride, Biff was only asking about two of them–fear and anger. Those were the two I wanted him to think about and hopefully repent from so he could mature in his relationship with God.

Whenever a person is expressing disappointment toward God, it is because he is not getting something that he wants. Whatever that thing is, it has control over him. It controls him to the degree that he is disappointed if he does not get his desire met (James 4:1-3).

There is a difference between not getting something and being okay with it and not getting something and being disappointed, especially if the disappointment is ongoing. If it is constant, the thing desired may become an idol, no matter what it is. One of the ways you can figure out if it’s an idol or not is by filling in the blank to this question: “I could be happy if ____________.” There is only one right answer to that question. Moses said it this way:

Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! – Deuteronomy 33:29

Biff listed quite a few things that he needed to be happy. Incidentally, none of those things seemed to be abnormal, e.g., a good church, God-loving kids, etc. But some of the things that were on his “happy list” have not come to pass yet.

And they may never come to pass. The necessity of Biff’s desires coming to pass was the impetus for his disappointment toward God. God has not come through for him yet, and Biff is angry about it.

He is also afraid. There is always a fear element when we are not getting our way. For example, Biff was fearful for his children. He had an idea of how they should turn out and that has not happened yet.

Not only did this cause fear in the way that you would understand it, but it caused other forms of fear too–like regret. Regret is a “would of-should of” kind of attitude. It’s a person who reflects backward to reassess his past actions, wondering if he did the right thing.

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How to Overcome Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance

There is a spirit of self-reliance that a person connects to his anger, fears, and regrets:

  1. Anger is a self-reliant way of making things happen. If I blow-up in anger, I will get what I want. You see this kind of manipulation in children. They don’t receive what they want, so they throw a tantrum. Adults have their way of doing this.
  2. Fear is a twisted kind of self-reliant thinking. It is the opposite of trust or faith. The self-reliant person chooses not to trust in the All-Sufficient One, and because he is making that choice, he has no choice but to be afraid. He fears because he knows he can’t change things under his self-reliant strength, but that does not stop him from trying.
  3. Regret is a self-reliant person looking backward to figure out all his mistakes, so he does not repeat them. If he does a better job in the future, he may get what he wants, plus he can continue to be self-reliant.

All three of these categories is how Biff functions. These are the three specific ways in which pride works out in his life. These are his anti-faith sins that are at war with what God is calling him to–faith in Him.

Biff is not willing to fully trust God because there are some things on his list of preferences that he wants and he is not sure if God will come through for him. These things are non-negotiable. He is essentially saying,

I will be happy if you come through for me in these specific ways. When you do, I will be satisfied, and I will fully trust You.

As you know, this will never work with God. His ways are not our ways, and He will not allow us to barter with Him (Isaiah 55:8-9). We have only one choice if we want to be happy and that is to trust Him regardless of what that may mean.

Will you trust God alone? That is the only question that God will ever ask you. Ironically, that is all the Lord wants, while Biff wants several things from Him. Biff has a list, but God has a single line item–will you trust me?

Let’s Be Honest with Each Other

We are going to continue our dialogue. He was humble and honest enough to say that his struggle was not with any particular human, but with God Himself–his disappointment is toward the Lord.

In one great big way, that was an awesome thing to say. Now we know where to go to work. Biff is not getting what he wants, and he is mad about it. That is it in a nutshell.

He has taken a course of action through the years that has been a self-reliant way of getting the things on his list. This behavior has not gone well for him; he has responded with fear–I’m afraid I’m not going to get what I want, and anger–God has let me down.

He is learning what Paul and millions of other Christians have learned: God will go to great lengths and allow many things in our lives to save us from ourselves. If He so loved us that He would crush His Son, rest in the assurance that His love won’t be any less intense. Here is how Paul said it,

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

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