Ultimately all disappointment carries with it the sense of a broken appointment with God. I expected God to show up and He didn’t. God is the one who could’ve prevented that illness and He didn’t. He didn’t show up. A broken appointment. A disappointment. One of the reasons we hate hope so much is it requires us to live a “both-and” kind of life.
Christians are meant to constantly hold together both death and resurrection. This is why Paul says we’re to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And many of us would rather live either/or. A life focused solely on resurrection is not hope, it’s optimism. Hope has nothing to do with optimism. Optimism is a denial of the darkness that permeates this world. We don’t live both/and well. We live primarily either/or.
Some of us focus on the darkness of this world, and we see it everywhere, but we have a hard time seeing the thousands of places where the Spirit of God is working everywhere and doing beautiful, redemptive things. Others of us focus on the beauty in this world but we turn a blind eye to all the evil right in front of us.
But Christianity is both/and. A life of both/and means that you are just as apt to be weeping one moment as you are to be laughing the next. You are never far from weeping, because you have your eyes wide open to the darkness of this world. And you are never far from laughing, because you also see the thousands of places of God’s redemptive work all around you.
There’s a spirit of optimism that has invaded the church. It appeals to us because it allows us to escape staying connected to the longings of our hearts. It allows us to turn away from darkness and pain, to pretend it isn’t real.
Much of what you hear in Bible studies and small groups are sentences that shame you for admitting that you have longings, that you groan, that you yearn. What do you do in a group when someone expresses an unfulfilled longing? When someone expresses disappointment over not getting into a particular school, or anger over not being married, or sorrow over not being reconciled to their father? The tendency is to subtly do one of three things:
1) encourage them to believe more in the sovereignty of God. “Maybe it’s not God’s will for you to get into that graduate school.”
2) Wonder if they are idolizing that which they long for. “It kinda sounds like you’re making an idol out of being married, like that’s too important to you.”
3) Suggest that they are wanting too much. “Aren’t your expectations for your Dad too high? Is it really reasonable to hope for reconciliation with your Dad given his background?”
When you respond in one of those three ways, what’s going on? The expression of the other person’s sorrow, anger, disappointment, exposes your deep discomfort with those emotions in your own life. That’s often times what’s happening. And you respond to the person with the same set of sentences you use on yourself to keep your desires under control. You’re not being hypocritical. You’re not even necessarily being cruel. You’re just telling them what you tell yourself.
Are you familiar with the parable of the persistent widow? Jesus tells this story in Luke 18. A widow keeps going back to a judge to demand that she get justice against the person that harms her. And because the widow keeps coming back to insist on her case, the judge finally relents and helps her. And then Jesus says this: “will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night. Will He keep putting them off?”
Here’s the point: it’s not called “the parable of the widow who learned to surrender to God’s will”. The whole point is that she refused to take “no” for an answer. She knew nothing of “maybe it’s not God’s will for me to get justice against this particular adversary”. She refused to take “no” for an answer.
So, how much hope do you have? The danger is thinking you just need to conjure up more hope. Two problems with that, first, that you can’t. But the bigger problem is that you actually have far more hope than you realize. You may not be fond of it, but will you have the integrity to confess how much hope you actually still have.
Think of all the disappointments that you’ve endured in your life. Think of all the prayers you’ve prayed, all the times you’ve called out to God and he has not come through for you the way you’ve wanted. And yet. You’re still interested in God. You’re still talking to God. You’re still pursuing God. You haven’t given up on God. You’re wanting healing or help in some are of your life, and you’ve gone to God about it, and the healing or the help has not come. That’s tormenting. And yet you still come back to God. You still pursue God. You think about God. You may pray, you may read Scripture, but you keep coming back. The Bible calls that hope.
The people who have suffered trauma, abuse, heartache, often have immense love for Jesus and immense hope. They often hate the hope that they have, but they have it. What Paul wrote in Romans seems to be a good description of what happens in their life: suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Do the math: suffering leads often to creation of a robust hope in the very people who have the least evidence to suggest that hope is reasonable.
In a very real sense, our hope is not merely in God – our hope IS God. The essence of rescue is not primarily receiving that which you asked for, but rather experiencing the responsiveness of God to the hurt in your heart. It’s not the school or the healing or the relationship that satisfies us; it is the satisfaction, the rest of knowing that I have a Father in heaven who is deeply involved in the desires of my heart. I have a Father that cares. I have a Father that responds. Will you hope? Will you entertain your longings and give them an audience before God? Will you give your disappointments back to God to keep your desires alive?