Indeed, the Christian life is a life of tension. In this world, we are continually confronted by immorality, corruption, sin, and temptation. On the other hand, the Bible assures us that as believers, we are the precious children of God, beloved and guarded and treasured by him. Society (especially the media) wants to bring us down, while God desires to bring us up. Most of us know this tension, and many of us experience it on a daily basis.
Disappointment is one big “downer.” We all know the pain of disappointment, from a “bad hair day,” to being passed over for a promotion at work, to the death of someone we love. People disappoint us; broken promises disappoint us. Products disappoint us (that device does not make me look 20 years younger). Perhaps the most bitter disappointments are divorce and death. In the end, disappointments are basically human expectations dashed against the solid rock of reality.
If we avoid and deny our disappointments, they tend to multiply and grow until they choke out all goodness. If we spend too much time wallowing in our disappointments, we can become bitter, cynical people. It has been suggested that there is a dangerous “downward spiral:” unchecked disappointment can lead to discouragement; discouragement can lead to despair; despair can lead to depression. Sadly, it may seem that there is no way out of this spiral except to bring an end to life itself.
The heart-breaking news today is full of concern about the rise of suicides among young people – youth with all of life’s potential ahead of them, but who have experienced severe disappointments in life already. In light of alarming statistics, mental health has become a pertinent issue in our culture. Post-Covid-19 pandemic, we have a pandemic of distraught, discouraged people, too beat down to find a way up. Isolationism, loneliness, violence in the streets, turmoil, financial loss, negative news, blame, and all kinds of fear have paralyzed some people – young and old. There is little wonder that human beings cannot always pull themselves out of this quagmire of disappointment, despair and depression. The best tools we have to overcome this seemingly hopeless situation are from God’s Word, and many people do not know that.
In the Gospel of John, there is a woman named Martha. She and her siblings, Lazarus and Mary, were good friends with Jesus, and he “loved” them all very much (Jn 11:5). They lived outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany, but Jesus was traveling outside of that region. Lazarus became very ill, and it took a while for the sisters to get a message to Jesus about his illness. Even so, when Jesus got the message, he delayed his visit for “two more days” (11:6). In the meantime, Lazarus succumbed to his disease (11:14), leaving his sisters very disappointed that Jesus did not hurry to their house and heal the situation.
In fact, Martha was one of very few people in the Scriptures who actually confronted Jesus with her disappointment in him: “Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21). Filled with her own disappointment and sorrow, she could not see that ultimately, what Jesus was about to do was far better than anything she could imagine. Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead for four days, and then, in front of the whole crowd, he miraculously raised Lazarus from the grave! He had a better plan in mind than what Martha had asked for. Jesus did revive her brother, but his actions also pointed to a higher purpose – to Jesus’ own divine identity, and to his own death and resurrection which would take place within a very short time (11:25-27). Jesus used a disappointing situation to demonstrate the truth about himself — not only is he life, but he conveys life to those who “believe!”
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own disappointments that we forget that God can (and does) work things out in a better way beyond our thoughts and schemes. His way is a better way if we wait and let God work things out. A divorce is surely disappointing, but later, God can bring another person into one’s life that is better than expected. A person can lose a job, but God can bring another job into the picture that is better than before. It is true that our timing is not always the same as that of God, but like Martha, we can wait, since we know he does have a better plan. Furthermore, his timing is always perfect.
It comes down to trust. Placing our trust in other human beings or in material things is misplaced, and surely can lead to disappointment. Martha trusted Jesus; there is “no disappointment in Christ.” The promises of God are sure; we can know that, beyond doubt. I cannot fix the world and the government and the people around me, but God can. I trust him. He has shown his faithfulness to me, and I must show mine to him.
The Apostle Paul, too, had severe trials and disappointments in his life as he ministered for God. He, too, lived with the tension of the pressure to succeed, only to face failure. Even Paul “despaired of life itself” under great opposition (2 Cor 1:8). Yet, he informed his readers that, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:8, 18).
Let us pray for one another, to lift the cloud of disappointment and despair, and to deliver us from death and destruction to life in Jesus. Amen.