When God Disappoints

- - Life With God, Popular

Life is disappointing.

Things don’t work out the way we dreamed they would. Hopes are crushed; expectations go unmet.

And we press on. Disappointed? Yes. Out of the game? Not today.

I am well-versed in disappointment.

In my own experience, the most difficult kind is when God disappoints.

Can we talk about this?

Unanswered prayers

Apparent absence

Unprotected from terrible pain

Simple Bible verse formulas that don’t work – for me anyway

Blessings going to the undeserving while I get nothing for all my efforts

My guess: I’m not alone. You’ve felt this too.

 For Shari and I, we experienced being disappointed by God in our years of fertility struggles…

At first, we just asked Him for help. It seemed like the kind of thing God would be in to – you know, His people being fruitful and multiplying and stuff like that. Plus, wanting to love and care for a child isn’t exactly selfish on the level of asking for a record deal like Bieber or having ginormous bank accounts like Russell Simmons.

But for some reason, God wasn’t coming through for us. So we upped the ante. We “built our faith” – worked on getting rid of doubt, confessed all the right Scriptures, got faith-filled friends to be praying with us, etc. And even after being higher than a kite on a multiple day faith binge, we still didn’t see our mountain move.

Next, we searched frantically for potential obstacles to our prayers being answered. Perhaps God was more picky than we’d been led to believe. Was there some unconfessed sin holding us back from having our prayers answered? Maybe a little bitterness and unforgiveness against someone who had hurt us in the past? We searched and we cleaned; we confessed and we repented; we forgave and we released…

And still, nothing from God.

We decided to put it all on the line. Go big or go home. Faith is action, right? We found one of the most renowned fertility experts in the U.S. and signed the papers. Hundreds of injections, several procedures, and $30,000.00 later, we eagerly awaited the doctor’s call. This time, God had to reward us for all our faith and effort. We had done everything.

The call came. Shari cried. Not happy tears of relief and joy. Tears of sorrow. Tears of disappointment.

That was almost 10 years ago. And you know what? It still stings.

We have wrestled with this disappointment and we have wrestled with God. We don’t have all the answers, but we have figured out a perspective that works for us.

Some people have the theological view that says God wills our pain and suffering, and it is for His glory. These same guys believe some are predestined to be damned eternally “for God’s glory.” I’m not in this camp. At all.

I don’t actually have answers for the whys. Why are my prayers unanswered? Why does God appear to be absent at times? Why are we often unprotected from terrible pain? Why don’t simple Bible verse formulas work? Why do undeserving people seem to be blessed by God while I get nothing for all my efforts?

I. Don’t. Know.

I am suspicious of people who do “know.” For those who have God and His ways all figured out…

I roll my eyes at your certitude.

He cannot be tamed or contained in our categories for how He works.

If there’s not some mystery and wonder in our conversations about God, I suspect we have made Him too small and possibly in our image.

Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? —Romans 11.33 MSG

Those questions in that verse – they’re rhetorical. The answer is obvious: NO.

Some of the other translations use this word in that verse to describe God’s ways: “Unsearchable.”

Why does God…

Why didn’t God…

Why won’t God…

Yeah. Good questions. Great mystery. We don’t know. Maybe we should focus on what we do know.

I’m less interested today in attempting to answer all the whys and I’m much more interested in finding God in my disappointment – even when it’s Him I’m disappointed with.

Here’s what we know: Jesus IS God. He suffered on our behalf. He understands rejection and He understands disappointment (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).

He is present in our suffering. With us in our pain.

Even when He’s the disappointer, He is there. And He will also be our encourager.

Brian Zahnd said, “The world is full of unjust suffering. This is true. But God has not exempted Himself from it. In Christ, God has joined us in the reality of human suffering. If the question is ‘Where is God?’ – the Christian answer is, ‘There, upon the cross, joining us in solidarity with our suffering.’”

Despite how we feel, God has not abandoned us. He doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we hoped He would, but He is with us in our pain.

Last week my daughter had a particularly difficult day, complete with some really bad news. She was disappointed and hurting. She ran upstairs and hid.

I found her in a guest bedroom behind the bed, huddled up in the corner with a blanket. She had tears in her eyes. My heart was breaking for her. I didn’t have speeches or solutions. Her disappointment was real and not to be glossed over – so I got down on the floor, cuddled up next to her and stayed.

No words. Just present. Sharing in her pain. Experiencing disappointment with her. That’s all.

I believe God does the same thing with us.

We always tell people they weren’t created to survive but thrive, blah-blah-blah. But in some seasons, surviving is no small thing! —Jonathan Martin

This is part 2 of 3 posts this week. Come back tomorrow for “Maybe Disappointment is OK After All” and check out yesterday’s “Life Is Disappointing.”

Will you join the conversation?

QUESTION: What perspectives have helped you deal with being disappointed by God?

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

29 Comments to When God Disappoints

  1. Being honest, I feel disappointed by God all the time…

    But then also being honest, It’s because I have unrealistic expectations of what He should do for me.

    He already did more for me than I could ever repay!

    I tithe, but then I get disappointed when I don’t feel His blessing more.

    I toil, but then get disappointed at a harvest that is less than satisfying.

    I pray for healing, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally, and then get disappointed when the prayers go seemingly unanswered.

    I lost my Grandpa and three of my cousins on the same day in a fishing accident off the coast of Washington. For my Aunt and Uncle it was their only two sons. The crazy thing was for almost 2 weeks they were just “missing,” we believed for a miracle only to have 3 of the 4 bodies recovered floating in the currents, my grandpas body was never found. Disappointment.


    Thousands of people came to know Jesus, not because of their death but because of their life.

    Constant disappointment, means constantly finding a hope in Jesus.

  2. Brian Dolleman

    God would be far less disappointing if he would just be easy to figure out – like a formula. We put 10% in and 100-fold comes out. Yay! We pray in faith and do not doubt, persisting in that prayer and it is answered to our exact specifications. Yay! We work hard, as unto the Lord and not unto man, and we are promoted. Yay!

    He just doesn’t seem to be that figure-out-able. Not in a formulaic sense anyway.

    This is why I’m committed to a wonder / mystery / and “I don’t know” perspective when it comes to the whys.

    Thank you for sharing real disappointments Robb. Appreciate you.

  3. Your writing is on point right now.

    For real.

    Next book has to be on disappointment.

    Perspective is required when dealing with disappointment.

    Remembering how faithful and good God really is key to moving forward through pain.

  4. I wish I knew. The story of my life. I don’t really know how to overcome it at this point. Just been feeling really mad at God about it. :/

    • Brian Dolleman

      Nicole – thank you for adding your voice & experience. It’s OK. OK for you to be mad at God, and not know what to do next. I’ve been there. Probably will be there again. The good news is, I’m still going. And I think God has shown Himself a little more to me.

      In the Old Testament, Job was angry with God and he let God know: “I shout for help, God, and get nothing, no answer! I stand to face you in protest, and you give me a blank stare! You’ve turned into my tormenter—you slap me around, knock me about. You raised me up so I was riding high and then dropped me, and I crashed. I know you’re determined to kill me, to put me six feet under.” —Job 30.20-23 MSG

  5. Several years ago, while we were packing to move from Spokane (a move I did not want to make), a friend came over and told us that while praying for us, he was impressed with the thought that God would give us prosperity and we would have more than what we needed. I grabbed on to that as a comfort-thought while leaving a place I loved. The following 10 years drug us financially through the ringer, with several job changes and moves. We had groceries delivered to our door, I took in some day-care for a time to be able to buy food, watched as others “had one interview and got hired” while Scott filled out 100′s of applications. I railed against God, was angry and hated that memory of what our friend shared with us–just short of calling God a liar. It taunted me.
    But finally it came to my attention that we had always had food in our house and rent was paid. Not much else, but the essentials were covered, always. I remembered how God had broken through our despair and self-focus to show us things that needed change–the greatest was our focus–Who our provider really is. I realized that His grace of cementing our “non-negotiables” of tithing, commitment to the marriage, living on one income and continually reading the Bible were my lifeline.: Ps 73 (David’s rant against the worldly prosperous), Rom 9:16, 20-21–God has mercy where He chooses, and He makes us and fits us according to His will–His sovereignty; the last chapter of Job, where God answers, in His sovereignty; and Rom 8:26-27–The Holy Spirit helps me in my weakness and intercedes for me. These are only a few of the many Scriptures God has pounded into my foundation. Without the lean years, and dealing with need, I would emotionally and spiritually be where I was in 1985–scary thought. God knows every disappointment and perceived and real need–but is bigger than any of it. I have a certainty that even when things currently are unsettled and curves will be thrown to us down the road, none of it is a surprise to God and He has taught me that He does come through, in one way or another. Sometimes by providing, sometimes by changing me and giving me His perspective.

  6. I second Andy’s comments. All of it!

    Your writing is off the charts with these topics…Love it!

    I love it because if we were to be (honest-like last weeks posts), we all have been disappointed by what God did or didn’t do. Unmet expectations and unfulfilled prayers. Just questions.

    Sometimes I wonder if the reason why we can’t figure God out (besides that he’s God and we aren’t) is so we’ll keep pursuing Him. Human nature gets bored with things we have all figured out. The mystery of God intrigues us and leaves us longing for more.

  7. Your posts the past two days have been so good. Something that I’ve really needed to read. I don’t want to sound negative and I partly know the answer as I write what I’m about to, but I’m just thinking out loud.

    The bible tells us to have faith. So right there I know that we should. What I’m struggling with, that you wrote today is, in your situation with infertility. You had faith and your prayers weren’t answered. You don’t know why. We know that God can do anything, but doesn’t always choose to do what we are asking of him. At what point do we accept that what we pray for isn’t going to happen? I’ve been struggling with some dissapointment of my own for years now, and I’ve prayed so much and it doesn’t seem like it will ever get better. Do I accept that God doesn’t want to answer my prayer or do I keep asking? For me it seems like the more you pray, the more your faith is built, and you believe more that it will happen. But then if your prayer is ultimately not answered then the dissapointment is that much greater. The pain is much deeper and almost unbearable. It would be easier to just accept that things will be as they are, and there is no point praying since it wasn’t going to happen anyway. I don’t know if I’m making sense. I just feel at a loss.

    • Brian Dolleman

      I was going to write this in today’s post, but it was already getting too long, so I left it out…

      I don’t pray for weather or sports anymore. Used to, but I refuse now.

      Ashah asked me the other day to pray for sunny weather for some important event. I told her no and said, “I don’t pray for weather. It depresses me because I know what James 5 says about Elijah being a man like us, how he prayed and it stopped raining for years, then he prayed again and it rained. It goes on to say that the earnest heartfelt prayer of a righteous man/woman produces much. I’m tired of comparing myself to Elijah. I’m tired of being a failure. My prayers for weather and sports have never worked out, so I quit. Someone else will have to pray about those things.”

      Maybe that sounds stupid and I should just lighten up – but I’m serious. Sometimes I just want to pray, “Go ahead God, do whatever you were going to do anyway, because I’m probably not going to be able to do anything about it.”

      Then I kinda get saved once in a while and I think, what I really need to be praying is, “God help me. Help me deal with this. Help me change. Help me see you here in all this crap.”

      Thank you for voicing in Andrea. You’re one of my favorites. Really proud of who you are.

  8. Dave Washburn

    This is incredible. Thank you for setting these things down in words, something I’ve been trying to do for ages. In my case, it was my mother. She was the most godly person I ever knew, and from my earliest memories, she suffered indescribable pain, first in her back and then in a shattered arm. I couldn’t understand how God could let one of his most beautiful servants endure all that, and I nearly lost my faith because of it. She wouldn’t let me. She explained, not for the first time, that it’s not our job to know the why. Our job is to do the what and worship the who. Her all-time favorite song, which I got to sing at her funeral, says “Known only to Him are the great hidden secrets…I know not what the future holds but I know who holds the future; it’s a secret known only to Him.”

    The older I get, the more comfortable I am with that answer. Why did this happen? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The real question is, what am I going to do about it? Any more, that’s enough for me.

    • Deanne HIlburn

      Dave….The older I get, the more comfortable I am with that answer. Why did this happen? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. The real question is, what am I going to do about it?

      Brian… God help me. Help me deal with this. Help me change.

      Andy… Perspective is required when dealing with disappointment.

      Robb… Constant disappointment, means constantly finding a hope in Jesus.

      Lynette… No matter what happens in this life, I am so blessed

      Love and Amen

  9. Whenever I have entertained the idea of ever admitting that I have been disappointed by God it would make me feel like there was a crack in my faith.

    I come from a family of people that is interspersed with people who love and follow God. The greater population of my family is very intellectual, cynical, negative and for the most part depressed.

    Sometimes I have felt like this half crazed crusader that wields their sword of faith in the face of any circumstance so that the vultures of doubt wouldn’t surround me and pick apart the very core of my heart.

    What I have learned in this disappointment is that God’s character does not need to be defended by me, and I don’t have to try so hard.

    From that little understanding it has allowed me to love myself and others where they are at and stop trying to put a timeline on everything.

    I have far from figured out disappointment. And in part because of the work I do and the complicated intricacies of my life and family, disappointment is reoccurring.

    Just like when you sat with your daughter and were just there, that is how I function on a regular basis in my relationship with God.

    Life is not always awesome or seemingly fair, but I know that He is always holding my hand. That’s enough.

  10. Christopher Kueny

    I have had many instances where I had unanswered prayers and started to be disappointed with God, but then I thought to myself, “Who are you to be disappointed in him? The times when you earnestly prayed for him not to take his gift of your daughter away, Twice! He answered and granted your request. And twice, you were completely undeserving.”

    I have come to the realization that God has every right to be disappointed in me. I don’t follow all the rules, I don’t read my bible everyday, or even every week. I struggle with tithing. I think, my money is so tight I don’t have spare for God. I’ll give of myself instead let him use me and my time for his cause instead, but that’s not what He asked for.

    My point I guess is, every time I start to allow myself to feel disappointed in God, a good hard look in the mirror erases those feelings. Yes, I said feelings because that’s exactly what it is. Thoughts are logical, analytical, and without bias. Disappointment in God is akin to a child being mad at their parents for not getting what he/she wanted.

    Sorry my response was so long, for those people who are much more deserving than me, I don’t know the answer for you, just sharing the answer for me.

  11. I’m sitting on the floor, tears coming down my face, heater on my feet. Thinking of the losses, the hurts, the disappointments. I’m so there. And I’m thankful for a Daddy who comes beside me and puts a big warm blanket over the rest of me, brings me chocolate and and a tissue and says, “It’s going to be ok, honey. It’s pretty tough. I understand. I love you. I’m not leaving.”

  12. I am often disappointed that things don’t go “my” way. But, then I remember that His plan is perfect. I try to trust that He knows more than me. :)
    I know He carries me through the tough times. Abram was counted as righteous because he believed even though it looked impossible. I love that kind of trust.
    So, even though I am disappointed at times…I can read His promises and know He is in charge of my life and He knows the beginning from the end. And He loves me!
    No matter what happens in this life, I am so blessed to know my beautiful Abba!

  13. Thank you Brian for sharing such a personal and emotional experience. You are blessed with a gift of writing. Your writing is wonderful and helps so many people. Without God, these experiences are hard to handle, that I know. With God, we know his plans are greater. Thanks…

  14. As a mom and grandma I like to think of the many times I held on to a struggling child to keep him safe. So many times I’ve looked, asked why, and then am reminded of the kindness of holding on, of the need to say no. This doesn’t make me feel better at the time but it invites me to rely on Him and trust again,

  15. Danielle Pridgen

    I have also experienced disappointment, and I apologize in advance for the length of this comment, but my experience of disappointment and grief was also quite lengthy, so I hope this (comparably shorter) version will do it justice. What perspectives have helped me in dealing with being disappointed by God? The perspective of Jesus as he prayed the night before his crucifixion. To paraphrase, “God, my Father, I know that all things are possible for you. If you wish, you can take this cup from me. Nevertheless, let it not be as I will, but as you Will.”

    The themes in that verse really helped me in dealing with the disappointment I experienced after leaving my church. I left because I got to a place in my thinking where the message I was hearing at church did not line up with the things I was experiencing in my spirit. I guess I realized that I needed a sanctuary in which I could continue the process of working out my faith, with fear & trembling.. (And I had come to notice that it seemed like a majority of people at my church were more interested in, shall we say, ‘the process of assembling the heart-shaped boxes which hold the sugar cookies and warm milk we served to each of our first-time guests’….There were more than enough people working on that project, and I wanted real spiritual food, so I thought I would step out in faith and allow my curiosity to lead me to a place where I could find the answers to my more difficult questions.) So, I ended my relationship and stopped going to that church. It had simply become unbearable for me to try and merge the easy bible verse fixes I was being taught, with the incredibly real and in-my-face problems I was experiencing in my life. I needed a God that was real and powerful, not cliché and marketable. When I left, the lifestyle change alone was horrible. Then there was the feeling that I was suddenly insignificant to all of the people whom I thought I had built lifelong friendships with. But I think the hardest part was sensing that God had distanced Himself from me due to my human choice to no longer participate in something which my human heart & human mind were so opposed to. And that was the most disappointing thing.. I felt, “God, God, why have you forsaken me? Yesterday I was part of Your ‘A-Team’ and today I am a hungry dog in the street, I thought You and Me were ‘good’, ya know? I thought that following my discernment was supposed to make me feel better, not worse…” Wow, disappointed by my God, my church, my friends, self, and my overall pitiful life all at the same time.

    Fast forward through a couple years of emotional and mental suffering as I worked on wading through the truth, lies, scriptures, teachings, and culture I had programmed into my brain as Law, and I heard the same thing as Andre Green mentioned hearing, “Your struggles are not for you, they are for someone else.” And in the midst of my pain, that message lit a spark in my mind. It must have come at a point in my life when I was wrestling with the options of live/die, believe/give up, because the Word’s message was more promising than any other option I had been mulling over. So I took it to heart, and I made it a sort of mission to find the center of my darkness, and to be fully, and fearfully present within my storm. And it hurt every day. A lot. And there was still no recognizable sense of God’s protection. There was no “sense” of God’s presence at all, because my whole paradigm of what that meant had been shifted.

    And what I truly learned through the years of exhaustive searching that followed, was that there is no magic button, or pill, or prayer that can heal my wounds, and reconcile me to peace with Gods plan for my life. Until God builds within me the new vision, there is only the loss of the old vision, and there is only time.. And either I will sit in the pain of mourning my loss, suffering until God says it’s over.. or I will sit in the pain and suffering, absorbing & learning everything I can about the experience of loss, until God says it’s over.

    So that’s what I did… since I could see no hope of an early rescue, I had to come to terms with my pain possibly being a tool for something useful in the future. “You can take this cup from me at any time, but yet I want Your plan for my life more than my own.” I made it my mantra, “If this is what You have for me, then I will share in the suffering of the cross. I will dwell richly in the deepness of this darkness. And if my God is real, that is where He shall find me.” I feel that He called me out to the wilderness, to experience the humanness of my state, to learn to wait on His timing, and in the end to discover that He had been there in the breeze whispering, watching like the stars, and healing my heart all along. Now, that’s a poetic description of an awfully painful experience, but now when disappointments come, I give them time to sink in and saturate me with their importance before I react with resistance. (If you read that through to the end, then thank you) -Dani

    • Brian Dolleman

      Thank you Danielle. I so appreciate your words. “Since I could see no hope of an early rescue, I had to come to terms with my pain possibly being a tool for something useful in the future.” Coming to terms with our pain and disappointment is always difficult, and I believe God is in that work… it is messy and troubling and beauty emerges from the struggle. I love your story.

      • Danielle Pridgen

        Thank you. I really liked this series on disappointment, its the first I have read on your blog. And its really refreshing to see people’s comments. I like the conversational tone. I have to say that agree that it’s always hard to come to terms with pain and disappointment, and I also agree that God is purposefully there working within it.

        We are all trying to help a hurting world. But unless we know what it means to hurt, to bring the whole tangled mess to God and to not be ashamed of our pain, then we will never be able to truly comfort others in their pain, without passing judgement. I have a clearer compassion for people now, and I have no bitterness over being broken down. I find it encouraging to remember that a house built upon sand will fall, and when it does, God gets right to work building a stronger foundation. We can all appreciate a solid spiritual foundation, but sometimes that doesn’t happen on the first try, so again we gather supplies and we rebuild.

  16. Amber Richards

    Disappointment is inevitable and I have found that in Celebrate Recovery, to never have a disappointment or a “let down” in your life is just downright weird. I felt for years that I had to have the mask on and if I didnt I was the weird one or maybe I didn’t have enough faith (my own thinking). I have also thought about all the people who have helped me through these seasons of my life and it struck me–there is a difference between people who cry for you and people who cry WITH You. Sometimes saying nothing but just being there Is what helps heal the wounds of a person the most. Glad you could be there for Shari and Ash and they can be that for you. You’re a blessed man.

  17. Chris Wyatt Bohannon

    I know this one is a bit old but I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents from being one of those annoying people who claims to “get it.” Although I will say right now that I can’t possibly understand all of His reasoning because there is so much that goes into all of it. But I can say that over time I learn and understand some of the main reasons for why he allows me to suffer. Every time he lets me trip, drown, fall off cliffs (metaphorically I might add) He teaches me an important lesson every single time. I’m past asking why because most of the time I now already know by now what He’s doing. There is a verse somewhere in the bible where it says that God loves those he burdens the most. He burdened me with so much pain and agony that I nearly took my life 3 times but because of all of that I learned the meaning of life. I think I finally understand a little bit more of what he was asking the day that I met Him in heaven that day. It wasn’t just about my salvation; he was explaining alot more than I ever thought he would in only 3 words that were never actually spoken. All that pain and suffering was to help me understand and love the hearts of others and to see past all of the mistakes in their lives. All of that suffering was to show me how to connect them to His Love. Because of that I now understand the meaning of life whether others agree or disagree about the answer is not a matter to take up with me. Love is not only the greatest commandment but it’s also the meaning of life summed up in one word that is the most powerful feeling and action ever displayed. Once God taught me that lesson; no matter how many times I curse him out and scream at Him I always know that He’s there watching and waiting. I put all my trust in God no matter what now and I don’t question His motives, I give Him all of my life and trust Him only. I used to cry every day and wished every moment to die and now I smile every day because I love Him now and I finally see Him as just… Dad.

    • Hey Chris, I like what you said there. “All that suffering was to show me how to connect them to His Love.” I feel that, man. It’s something beautiful, if that’s the real purpose of suffering. <3 To learn how to experience God's Love during our suffering, so that later we can give someone else that same experience and blessing, of being comforted & understood.

  18. You know how we have “should, coulda, woulda’s” in our lives? Usually like when our plans don’t come through, or we mess up?

    When God disappoints, I usually process it like my own failures too, “God, you coulda fixed that, you shoulda worked that out, I know you woulda, but for some reason You didn’t.”

    I know Gods plans are better than my own. It’s just a difficult process sometimes for me to stop and change directions. Especially when I thought I saw a way for God to work something out, but He doesn’t. I had to tell someone yesterday, “Give me some time to just cry about this please. I thought that God was going to bring something good from this situation. But things have fallen through, and seem more messed up now than they ever did before. And unfortunately, due to my theology, I don’t have the option of believing that God allows anything to happen without reason. I know that this is the way it must be. And for now, I just need to cry for the dreams I’ve lost, and for the people I had better expectations for.”

    Life is hard, but I’ve noticed that even in really big hurts and disappointments, God doesnt allow anything to be wasted. Maybe I learned yesterday that God doesn’t always redeem situations like I know He COULD.. But I also am reinforcing the idea in my mind, that God can still use every drop of my suffering to open my awareness to others who’s suffering I SHOULD notice… And use the things I feel, to help me empathize with people who God WOULD comfort, if he had arms & ears & some time on his hands…

    So, these are just some thoughts on the subject, from a freshly disappointed person…
    God allows suffering… But God never allows a drop of human suffering to be wasted.

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