It may be easier to say their is no god than to believe in one that disappoints. It is down-right un-American to say that God is not true blue and always comes through. But what about when God indeed disappoints us? Is it wrong to admit that fact? Years ago a grieving grandmother said concerning the loss of her granddaughter, “It did not turn out right.” Then she remembered she was talking to the pastor and rephrased, “It didn’t turn out the way we thought it should.” I took a deep breath and said, “No. You said it the first time. This is not right.” But it was no comfort. Sometimes there is no comfort.
When Father or Mother Disappoints
Simple logic indicates when parents promise something and do not fulfill the promise they have lied to the child. But the older we get the more we realize simple logic does not always work. Saying, “I can not,” is not the same as saying, “I will not.” One statement is about ability while the other is about volition. But what happens when the parent in question is supposed to have the ability and the will to do something. Are we back to the simple logical problem?
We are left with some possibilities. There may be a condition to the promise the child did not fulfill. Or there may be a misunderstanding on the part of the child involved. Therefore, an anticipated outcome that was never promised was expected. The grandparent mentioned above was mourning the loss of what a future she expected. But there is still something unjust about the death of a child.
We ask, when emotions are not so high, if we are disappointed about unjustified expectations or real promises.
The Thorn in the Flesh
St. Paul had an affliction. We do not know what it is. The senior minister I once worked with told me, the associate, the thorn was Timothy. Some claim Paul may have struggled with same-sex attraction. One person considered the possibility that it was addiction. It may have been the problem of greed and covetousness mentioned in Romans 7. But here is his description of it. “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me…Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7b-9a)
“I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14) Too many people throw this text out there to “prove” that God promises to grant all our wishes. Experience shows otherwise. When this point is made, most of these people argue that we need more faith. The promise goes from “anything asked for in my name” to being conditioned on faith. I disagree. Faith is not the issue. The issue is grace.
When Grace Disappoints
Grace is a gift. I remember receiving gifts on my birthday and holidays that I never asked for. I also remember not receiving gifts I requested. Paul asks for a gift of healing. Instead, he has sufficient grace. Paul concludes then it is to keep him from being too elated and boastful. Yet, he is probably disappointed every time “the thorn” reappears. Who would not be?
The option that we misunderstand is always open to us. I do not truly understand my need. So God gives me what I need not necessarily what I want. This is the reason I got clothes instead of toys from my parents on occasion. And yet, something still feels wrong about the death of the granddaughter. Something is definitely wrong when evil continually overcomes the good and even the lovingkindness we are to practice. It is hard to accept “my grace is sufficient.”
What are we left with? Our disappointments. The death of my friend’s granddaughter put me in touch with many more people who lost small children. It taught me, at the very least, to gauge my disappointments. There are few occurrences as tragic as losing a child. But there are many children who suffer and die. There are many people whose futures are stolen from them because of unjust incarceration. Other children are never given the tools to make a future for themselves. And none of my disappointments measure up to any of these tragic situations.
I should be able to accept Divine grace for any time life or God disappoints me so far. But Paul does not say or even imply that sufficiency is to be applied to another person’s life. Paul’s theology is open-ended here. He accepts his suffering. But he does not say we should accept the suffering of other people. And it is helping other people that let’s us out of wallowing in self-pity. It was wrong for my friend to suffer the loss of her grandchild. It was my job to help her through the loss. Do not let your own disappointments from allowing you to help others through theirs. And when we suffer severe disappointments or reversals, please God, may we have the grace to let others help.