My Conversation with Chris Fabry

It’s always a pleasure to be on Chris Fabry’s program on Moody Radio (http://chrisfabry.blogspot.com/). Here is a link for those who are interested in listening to my conversation with Chris about disappointment with Jesus. Scroll down to the August 12 program: (http://www.moodyradio.org/brd_programarchive.aspx?id=46489

While you are at it, you might listen to the program he did on August 13 about small churches (a subject that is near and dear to my heart).

Four Reasons We Are Disapponted With Jesus

We know God is perfect. We know that he can do no wrong. So why is it that we are sometimes so disappointed with Jesus? Four of the most common reasons include:

1. Unfulfilled Expectations: This is the fundamental cause of all disappointment with God. He does not act as we expect him to. He does not do what we want. This is so common as to be universal. Ocassionally we are disappointed because our expectations were unrealistic. But often they are not. The single who wanted to be married, the childless couple that wanted to be parents, the parents who hoped their child would walk a different path all have reasonable expectations. What makes this especially difficult is that the ordinary nature of these expectations means that every day we are confronted with examples of others for whom these same expectations were fulfilled. This kind of disappointment is often related to God’s plan for us. (cf. Luke 24:21 the two on the road to Emmaus who said, “We had hoped…”).

2.  Misinterpretation of my Circumstances: We may be disappointed with God because we look at our circumstances and draw wrong conclusions either about God’s motive or his intent. Things go badly for us and we see this as a sign that God hates us or that he ignores us. Or our circumstances are difficult and we think that all of this is working for our destruction. Jacob thought this way when his sons tried to take Benjamin back to Egypt in Gen. 42:36. “All these things are against me” he said. In fact, the opposite was true. God was orchestrating these things to preserve his life and keep his promises.

4. We blame God for what others have done: Often we blame God for things that others have done. Sometimes it’s Christians who have hurt us. We attribute to God the bad behavior or evil motives of those who represent him. Or we may suffer at the hands of those who are evil. God’s plan for our lives may mean that we suffer at the hands of others. We are right in concluding that God is ultimately in control but wrong about the motive. Job is a good example of this (cf. Job 2:3).

4. Drawing the wrong conclusions about answers to prayer. We may think that we or someone else is God’s “court favorite.” When our requests are not granted or if there is delay, we become embittered. In a wonderful essay entitled “The Efficacy of Prayer,” C. S. Lewis points out the folly of such thinking. “Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God” Lewis writes. “It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that.”

Lewis points to the “hard saying” he once heard from and older Christian. The Christian said: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion or soon after it. AS the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”

“Does god then forsake just those who serve Him best?” Lewis asks. “Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God at his greatest need.” Lewis rightly concludes that there is a mystery here and urges those whose prayers are sometimes granted not to draw hasty conclusions. “If we were strong, we might be less tenderly treated” he warns. “If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far  more desperate posts in the great battle.”

Disappointed With Jesus?

I just started reading the new Ravi Zacharias book Has Christianity Failed You. I have enjoyed Ravi as a speaker but I came away from the first chapter disappointed. I am not able to assess the book as a whole, since I haven’t finished it yet. But I did find myself wondering how you engage someone who is genuinely disappointed with Christianity. I know several people who fall into that category, some who are very dear to me, and have not yet discovered the secret to connecting with them on this subject.

The first step, I suppose, must be to at least acknowledge that Christianity can be profoundly disappointing. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to do this without adding some kind of caveat like: “Christianity may disappoint you, but Jesus never will.” I do not believe this for a moment. I find that Jesus often disappoints me. He is almost as disappointing as the church. He works out his plans without regard for my opinion of them. He has almost as much disregard for my plans. The suggestions I make for the advancement of my personal interests are frequently rebuffed. He does not rebuke me openly like Peter. Instead, my good ideas are treated, or at least seem to be treated, with silent disregard.

If I sound ungrateful, I do not mean to. It is not anger but embarassment that I feel. I do not attribute such treatment  to contempt so much as to dismissal. Like a child who has said something in the midst of adult conversation and knows by the ensuing silence that what they have uttered is foolish.

Maybe a book about disappointment with the church ought to begin with a chapter that says, “So you’re disappointed with the church? Me too. That’s not the half of it.” But I don’t know what I would say after that. Probably that I am even more disappointed with myself.