Disappointed in God (Giving Up on God Part 1)

Two friends

By Mark Vermilion

“My friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

Not long ago, I talked with a friend (we’ll call him Jason) who had given up on God.

I asked him why.

Jason told me that he had given up on God–if there even is a God–because God had given up on him.

I asked him how he knew that.

Jason told me that God hadn’t been answering his prayers. He told me that his life was full of hardship, and God didn’t seem to care. He said God seemed distant. He told me that it’s a whole lot easier to give up on God than to have faith in Him.

He was shocked when I agreed. (Well, I sorta agreed.)

And Jason was further shocked when I told him that I had been on the brink of giving up many times. (If people knew how many times, they would stop inviting me to speak about God from their stages.)

Now, he was asking the questions.

Jason asked my why I hadn’t given up.

“Because the more I read Scripture, the more I realize that suffering and waiting on God are a part of what I signed up for when I made Him God of my life,” I replied.

“That’s not what they told me when I signed up,” he said flatly.

“It does’t matter what they told you,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he replied defensively.

“I mean there’s a part of the American church that has edited suffering out of the equation of being a Christ-follower. But if you serve God long enough, He will let you down. That’s not a negative judgment on Him; it’s the reality of our own false expectations. For every verse about God answering our prayers, there’s a verse about how he lets us suffer and wait on Him. Both are part of the equation. He answers prayer, and he makes us wait. He alleviates our suffering, and he let’s us go through it.”

“Jason, it’s not either/or. It’s both/and,” I added. “And the sooner you and I get that, the sooner we will stop being disappointed in God.”

Then something bold kicked up inside of me. Something that came out of a deep place of my own past struggles.

“Jason, I think that’s more the reality for you,” I told him. “You’ve given up on God, not because he’s given up on you, but because he hasn’t met your expectations.” I paused. “I know that feeling. I’ve been there so many times!”

He looked at me as if I’d just exposed something that he hadn’t realized himself.

I then became a Christian cliche. I struggled to do it. It went against everything in me, but I grabbed my iPhone and began quoting Scripture to Him. (Even as I write that sentence, I’ve lost credibility in my own eyes! I am a Christian stereotype!)

I quoted 1 Peter 4:12-13: “My friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ.”

“Suffering is a part of it,” I said without any sense of apology. “Of course, we pray for God to alleviate us of all suffering. So, guess what? We shouldn’t be surprised when He doesn’t answer all our prayers the way we want. He’s okay with us suffering. No, he’s more than okay with it. It’s so often how he works in our lives.”

I then quoted James 1:2-4: “Consider it joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“I know that in my head,” Jason responded. “But it feels like God is abandoning me when the suffering is so hard.”

I nodded my head in agreement.

“Yeah, it really does. But think about it for a moment. Suffering is really the evidence of God’s faithfulness to us. It’s proof that he hasn’t abandoned us.”

Jason’s face curled up as if he wasn’t sure he agreed with me.

“I don’t understand.”

I then showed Jason that suffering is evidence that God is at work in our lives. I quoted Hebrews 2:10: “It was fitting that God should make the author of (our) salvation (Jesus) perfect through suffering.”

“If God were going to spare anyone from suffering,” I added, “wouldn’t he spare his own Son, whom we know he deeply loves?”

I stopped for a moment to let Jason respond, but he stood speechless, so I continued.

“Just like Jesus, God is perfecting us in our suffering. Maybe God is allowing you to go through hardship so that you’ll become more pure in your love for him and others.”

I then made a bold statement about suffering that caught Jason off guard.

I told him, “Suffering is not the evidence that God has abandoned us; it’s the evidence that God loves us.”

“I don’t get that at all,” he declared.

I quoted Hebrews 12:7: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?”

“That says it pretty clear: Hardship is God’s way of loving you as his son,” I added.

I needed to end our conversation for the moment because of another commitment, so I left him with a final thought: “Jason, you said you were giving up on God because he had given up on you. You then told me that the evidence of his abandonment was that he hadn’t answered your prayers to alleviate your suffering. But scripture is clear that suffering is proof that he’s being faithful to mature you. It’s evidence that he’s loving you as a son.”

“If you’re going to give up on God,” I added, “you can say it’s because he’s disappointed you. You can say it’s because he’s allowed life to be too hard. But you can’t say it’s because he’s abandoned you. Your hard life is evidence that he hasn’t.”

Jason said nothing as he stared away from where I was standing.

“Okay, I need to go,” I concluded, “but I’ll call you soon to check up on you.”

Jason mumbled softly, “Yeah, okay.”

To be continued…