The dogs are quiet today, so I want to put the topic I introduced yesterday—how to generate promotion in an overly promoted culture—on hold while I write about something that came up recently. It’s the issue of being disappointed with God.
Rightly or wrongly, as I wrote back in March, I’ve traced the current fad of expressing anger toward God from Philip Yancy’s book Disappointment with God. (If you’re interested, you can read that post and others on the topic here, here, and here.) The subject has come up again.
In one instance, a good blogging friend has written an “if only” post. If only God would … In a second instance, my pastor mentioned Yancy’s book in the context of his sermon, saying it was one of the finest books he’s read. A third instance was from a radio sermon in which the pastor placed the equivalent of disappointment with God squarely on the shoulders of people creating a god in the image of their wishful thinking, and it is with this erroneous god they are disappointed.
All these thoughts were stirring through my head, and I decided I needed to re-read Yancy’s book. After all, I respect my pastor, and I thought his sermon, entitled “Jesus Is Enough,” from Colossians 2, was far from a message giving us permission to vent on God.
Maybe I was missing something. As I recall, I never did finish Yancy’s book, so possibly I missed something critical, like his final destination!
Today I read about his encounter with Richard, a young friend, new in the faith. He’d written a book on Job and wanted Yancy’s input. But as time passed and the book was about to release, Richard poured out the truth to Yancy—he no longer believed the things he’d written. He no longer believed in God.
Some time later, Yancy ran into Richard again, and they spent some time together. The young author admitted that his loss of faith wasn’t exactly as he’d portrayed it—a slow slide resulting from a series of unanswered prayers about health, job, relationships, and so on.
Rather, when he first heard about the claims of Christ, he wanted some kind of assurance that God was real and could be trusted. He heard about a faith healer holding services within driving distance, and he went. There he saw people of all stripes with all kinds of illnesses praying and claiming healing. One man particularly impressed him, a physician with cancer, who had been confined to a wheelchair for several months. He walked across the stage, claiming complete healing. Here at last was the tangible evidence Richard needed. God was real and did amazing, powerful things. Now he could believe.
Several weeks after the healing service, Richard decided to contact the doctor, to tell him how much his testimony meant to him. When he called and asked for him by name, the woman who answered hesitated, asked why, then upon learning the reason for the call, said simply, the doctor was dead.
The “tangible evidence” Richard thought he had found was yanked away from him.
Here’s why I bring up this story. Yancy wrote his book in part because this young man’s experience made him realize that people had three questions about God they weren’t asking out loud. One was, Is God unfair? The other two are, Is God silent? and Is God hidden?
But I’m thinking, was Richard even a Christian? He reminded me of that magician in the New Testament who followed the apostles around and wanted their same power. Not God, or so it would seem. The power, the signs. The same stuff people asked Jesus for. “Prove you are God.” As if healing people, feeding thousands from a few loaves, raising the dead, wasn’t enough.
Sometimes I think none of it is enough because we want God to be what we imagine Him to be, not who He actually is.
Where was Richard’s confession and repentance of his sin? His falling at the foot of the cross, his willingness to die to self, his coming to God through Jesus as The Way, the Only Way? I suggest, his unanswered prayers which made him feel so betrayed, were prayed to a God he did not know, with whom he had no relationship. He said as much. For a time he was at a Christian college and would hear people talking about a personal relationship with God, and about His giving them direction, and he said he even talked like that on occasion though he never actually experienced that kind of connection with God.
Interestingly, Yancy points out that the people of Israel had exactly what people supposedly want from God—they had tangible evidence of His presence in the cloud by day and fire by night. They even heard His voice and asked not to again because it was too frightening. They had His precise day-to-day direction—and disobeyed anyway. And He laid out a competely fair contract with them—do this and I’ll bless you in these ways; disobey and I’ll send you these consequences.
Just so! Whatever disappointing feelings people experience in connection with God are more a reflection of our state than they are of Him. After all, our hearts are deceitful and wicked, and we are consequently susceptible to the lies Satan would have us believe, especially about God. And just as he did with Eve, the old liar dresses it up to make us look perfectly innocent: Surely, it couldn’t be wrong for you to want to be equal with God! Surely God didn’t really, actually, literally mean you would die. Surely, you deserve something so beautiful, so tasty.
What’s changed in the enemy’s approach? Not much. Which is why God gave us His Written, God-breathed Word as testimony of His Word made flesh, and gave us His Spirit to guide us into Truth.