God Loves Us Enough to Disappoint Us

by Zach Barnhart April 6, 2017

Tucked away in an article by Sammy Rhodes on a different topic, I found a phrase that has stuck with me for quite some time now. It's one worth expounding on:

"God loves us enough to disappoint us."

At first reading, that may seem a bit baffling. After all, John 3:16 doesn't say, "For God so loved the world, He disappointed us." What does this phrase really mean? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed not only right, but God-glorifying.

I wake up on Thursday morning. The world, from my spouse to family to Facebook friends, continues on as usual. And yet, my Thursday is spent uniquely compared to many others before it.  I stare at the laptop screen and begin to sort through my newly-created bookmark folder: "Jobs." Inside the folder are dozens of links to ministry positions. It's a mixed bag of postings from church staffing sites, networks, seminary job boards, and more. Some down south, some out west, some right down the street. I sort through qualifications, questioning my sufficiency, figuring out how and where I want to sacrifice. I examine church websites carefully. I look up cities, stretching my brain to wonder if we could actually live there. I check the job board I checked 24 hours before, and there's only one new posting, for a position I couldn’t do.

I refresh Facebook. A friend has announced that he has gotten a job offer. I am supposed to be happy for him, but I am not.

I go to a lunch appointment. A friend asks me what's next, a question I’ve already answered three times earlier in the week. All I can say with confidence to him is, "I don't know."

As I'm leaving lunch, I get an e-mail. We are in the tough situation of saying no to many people like you who no doubt have a lot to offer.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I have been disappointed by how my job search in ministry has gone thus far. And that disappointment is perhaps one of God’s greatest blessings to me in this entire process.

God loves us enough to disappoint us. What I mean is, God often wants to give us something greater than we can see. He often wants to teach us through our trials, instead of making our life trial-free. He wants to bring us to the end of ourselves, so that we will stop trying to earn our righteousness. He wants to undo us, that He might bind us together.

You see, the very worst thing God could do for us is give us the life we want in our flesh. The god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith) is a little-g god, for he does not exist, and thank big-G God for that. To think of God as our moralistic, therapeutic deity is really to think of ourselves as God, and God as our bondservant. That’s not exactly how Paul ordered the hierarchy in his letters. It is a terrible tragedy when the human heart considers itself to be at the center of the universe. And it is even more tragic when God gives the heart what it wants. Consider the glory exchange of Romans 1:21-32. Consider the rise and fall of prideful Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. Let the reader understand.

I’m not wrong for wanting a ministry job. I’m not sinful for wanting this to work. But my heart is also prone to wander. The prophet Jeremiah warns against trusting our hearts with our salvation. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Thankfully, God is not waiting at our beck and call to keep us from disappointment and give us everything we want – at least, everything we think we want, since the real hole in our hearts is indeed God-shaped. A God who disappoints us could never be a God of our own invention.

The gospel is the good news that God is set on giving us Himself more than anything else. What hope could we have had if God had given us some promises of manna and land without giving us Christ? The echo of Spurgeon’s words can be heard clearly here: "We have a great need for Christ; we have a great Christ for our need."

That means our circumstances, big or small, may not be affected or turn out the way we expect. We may be disappointed along the way. It is in this season where we must count it all joy, because faith and steadfastness are being born in us (James 1:2-4).

What if God, in my season of waiting, is trying to show me that I am not powerful enough to do this on my own? What if He is inviting me to a deeper trust in Him, a better understanding of patience, and a real commitment to a long obedience in the same direction? What if this season drives me into the spiritual disciplines with greater hope to know and listen to God? It feels like disappointment to my human heart, and that’s precisely the point. “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezek. 36:26-27).

There are thousands of reasons why you may be feeling the cloud of disappointment rain on your parade. It might be a job transition, or infertility, or loneliness, or an unrelenting relationship. My prayer for you is that the Lord will make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, even if that means He must first disappoint you. I am hoping that whatever my lot, that He will teach me in time to say, “It is well with my soul.”

God loves us enough to disappoint us.

A blessing indeed.