How to deal with the pain and possibilities of disappointment
“Did God ever lie to you?” How would you answer that question? That question was asked recently by a brokenhearted child to her father, whom I know well. I have been wrestling with that question ever since.
My philosophical training can offer arguments explaining why God cannot lie. That’s pertinent and true, but it wasn’t what she needed in that moment. She’s struggling with crushing disappointment, seeing that what she’s been waiting for and has set her heart upon hasn’t arrived, and appears unlikely to do so. The truths of philosophy might bring her clarity later, but she wouldn’t now be able to see them through her tears.
Her father might have succumbed to the temptation to blunt the sharp point of her question with the flat end of a platitude: “Everything is going to be OK! After all, the Bible says, ‘Nothing is impossible with God!’” True—nothing is impossible with God—but that assertion wouldn’t help her if it were offered merely to silence her. That’s the trouble with platitudes: they can be a disservice to the truths they contain and to those who ask, because they can be used to stifle the voices and pains of those who raise uncomfortable and unwelcome questions. The father didn’t resort to platitudes because he has too much respect for his daughter’s intelligence and God’s majesty to do so.
And still we’re faced with her difficult situation: “I sought God’s will and acted accordingly. I waited to receive what God told me to wait for. And nothing’s happened. Worse than nothing’s happened—because the window of opportunity for me to receive what God directed me to wait for is starting to close. Has God lied to me?”
Here we can see the limitations of the consolation of philosophy and the truths of pious platitudes. Neither leads a confused and brokenhearted person to the cross of Christ. It is to that terrifying place, where evil tried to crush and erase faithful love that the wounded must go. It is there that we must behold the cost of absolute trust in God’s goodness. And it is only from there that we can find the power of the resurrected Christ.
At the foot of the cross, let’s echo the haunting words of long-suffering Job: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Job will not settle for pat answers or platitudes. He seeks an audience with God. We should do the same—but we must know, in a way that Job could not—that confronting God means confronting the crucified and resurrected Christ. We go to the Suffering Servant of God who surrendered everything, was plundered by evil, and was, after a time of darkness, vindicated by God. We must understand that if we brokenhearted turn to Christ, we mustn’t expect “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” No! Turning to Christ in our pain is to step on a dark road of blood and glory.
We can begin our embrace of Christ crucified-and-risen by echoing Job: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) God’s ultimate purpose is to unite us to Himself for eternity. Our temporary pains and joys in this life must be measured in light of the eternal glory God offers us.
We earthly pilgrims on the way to Heaven inevitably suffer, and finally die. Some of us may be martyred. Some of us may die while looking back on a pleasant life—most of us won’t. Along the way, none of us have the wisdom to understand fully how God’s grace and providence work with human free will, disappointment and dumb luck.
We have, however, the Church teaching us that if our hope in God rests upon what we may grasp in this passing world, we will be disappointed. Our hope in God can only rest upon the obedience of Christ crucified and the fidelity of Our Heavenly Father Who raised Christ to sovereignty and glory.
Poet John Keats spoke of this world as “The Vale of Soulmaking.” This finite, fallen and passing world, with its real and temporary joys and sorrows, can be used by God and the docile disciple of Christ to prepare a soul ready for eternal union with God. Grief and disappointments, though agonizing at the time, needn’t be thought of as “wasted” but can be redemptively used in purifying a soul for the happiness of Heaven.
So, how might that father have answered his daughter’s question? He might say, “No, God has never lied to me. And I know that He is faithful and loving, because what He has done for Christ, He wants to do for you and me.”
When I write next, I will speak of optimism, wishful thinking, and hope. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.