We all find it difficult to maintain hope when hope has been dashed. For many people walking away from the faith, God didn’t come through when they felt they needed him most.
For some, it was the constant efforts to conceive a baby for years upon years that petered out in a dead-end when the doctor said there was nothing more that could be done. Every time the pregnancy test was negative, they died a little more. Every time they got close to the second trimester and then miscarried, God seemed a little less loving and more like a distant, uncaring, and heartless deity.
For others who worked so hard to obtain financial freedom and opportunities for their family, only to encounter misfortune and unexpected hardship, it was too much to continue to believe in a God who could easily provide but didn’t.
For some it was the agony of seeing their daughter diagnosed with autism and facing the overwhelming realization that their little one would struggle all her life, probably never marry, and never have children of her own. That they would forever have to explain to strangers and friends alike why their child was the way she was, only to know that no one else would ever understand.
The list goes on and on: a sister who dies of cancer at twelve, failed romances, dead-end jobs, a husband’s betrayal, a wife’s coldness, children that make disastrous decisions, parents who never give approval, a coworker who constantly undermines you, a neighbor who slanders you in the neighborhood, a good church that closes its doors while the heretical church down the street grows, a pastor who reveals confidential information publicly, a son who goes to prison for molesting a neighbor, a daughter caught shoplifting, the recurring thought that life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
All these disappointments in life are made worse by a belief in a sovereign God who could intervene, could change hearts, could prevent all this heartbreak from happening. Why doesn’t he? Where is he? Doesn’t he care?
The truth is we live in a sin-cursed world where brokenness, suffering, grief, and grinding poverty are the lot for many. When we compare what God could do with what how things really are, it seems untenable to take belief in God seriously. It seems more likely that we live in a universe where no one is in control and no greater fate awaits us. For some the prospect of ceasing to exist seems like a relief from the unending pain that faces us. Giving up belief in God is for some the first step in reliving the pain of disappointment. If no one is in control and no one can help, then they can accept that the world is a hopeless place and stop wishing that it wasn’t.
This despair is clearly seen in the lament of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes:
Again, I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 4:1–3)
Compounding this grief is the apparent inoculation some seem to have that keeps struggle far away. This was Asaph’s lament:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind…
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning. (Psalm 73:2-5, 12-14)
This despondency over the state of the world, the obvious unfairness of it all, and the unrelenting disappointment of dashed hopes that drives some away from God.
The irony of it all is that God himself subjected himself to the futility of the world to ensure that we would never truly experience hopelessness and abandonment of God. Jesus, the perfect, eternal God subjected himself to the tragedy of humanity, under no compulsion other than the overflowing love of his essential nature, in order to deliver us from this hopeless state.
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:8–10)
Those who deconstruct away from God because of disappointment cut themselves off from the only hope there is in a world that groans over the futility to which it is subjected (Rom. 8:19-22).
For some, the problem is they are simply not willing to wait for eternal glory to experience what they long for. They have mistaken a desire for all things to be made right with a belief that if God were just, he would fix things now. But God never promises paradise in this life, let alone justice, peace, and perfection. We can work toward those good things now, but they will never be fully realized until the Just Judge, Prince of Peace and He who is perfect comes. To hope in something God has not promised is surely a path to disillusionment. All these things will come to pass, but only when Jesus returns.
For others, no amount of glory in the next life will be worth the suffering and injustice experienced in this life. They either refuse to accept the nature of life in a sin-cursed world and want glory now (a futile and fatal act of reality denying, for sure), or they lack the faith to believe that what God promises will be worth the suffering in this life. This is understandable. After all, even Peter voiced that doubt to Jesus.
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27)
I feel Peter’s pain sometimes. Things don’t compute for me. I don’t see how this will all be made worth it. I lack the patience with the brokenness of the world. Yet, only when I trust the God who has promised that all things will be made right can I rest from my dashed hopes. Only when we align our hopes with what God has promised and are willing to walk by faith until he completes his work will we keep the faith.