Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when desire is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.
We’d like to think our faith is so strong that we’re invulnerable to disappointments, but Solomon reminds us that we’re still very human. Disappointment hurts, and in fact, it makes our heart sick. The depth of our disappointment, of course, depends on the height of our hope. Small hopes, when thwarted, produce only minor setbacks, but shattered dreams devastate us. Our pain isn’t a sign of immaturity, we’re just responding normally.
If we think we should never be affected by unfulfilled hopes, we need to read the psalms. The writers often pour our their complaints about people who have let them down and situations that didn’t go the way they had planned. These writers, though, didn’t make the mistake of turning away from God. They pursued Him with gut-wrenching honesty, and sooner or later, God reminded them that He was still in control and that they could still trust Him.
When God answers our prayers and our hopes are fulfilled, we feel like jumping up and down, and we grow in our appreciation of Gods goodness to us. We thank Him, we praise Him, and we rest in His goodness.
Either way, then, in disappointment or in fulfilled desires, our emotions are genuine and normal. The proper response in both cases is to turn to God, to pursue Him with all our hearts, and dig deeper into His grace and wisdom to find comfort- or to praise Him for His grace and wisdom because He answered.
Some see things the way they are and ask “Why?” I dream of the way things could be and ask “Why not?”
George Bernard Shaw
Romans 8:28 tells us that God takes every situation and uses it for our good. Some have incorrectly believed that God is the author of every thing that happens in our lives, but that’s not what Romans 8:28 says. Paul doesn’t consider the source or cause of circumstances in our lives. He just says that if we bring them to God and lay them down that He will use them for our good. In the Old Testament story of Joseph, we hear Joseph saying virtually the same thing:
Now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to save life and preserve our family.
In Joseph’s life, we read that his brothers first put him in a pit to die but a slave trader happened by and the brothers sold him instead. Joseph is bought by Potiphar and for a time life was looking better. Resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife, Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned. While in prison, God uses him to interpret the dreams of two men. The cupbearer promised to remember Joseph and to help him be released but forgets his promise. As Pharaoh dreams a dream that no one can interpret the cupbearer remembers Joseph and Joseph interprets the dream and is elevated to second in the kingdom. In Canaan there is a famine so his father sends his brothers to buy grain. Joseph recognized them and they were in his power to do with them as he wished. He chose forgiveness and kindness. His words reflect an understanding of what Paul is telling us in Romans 8:28. I realize that it would be easy to think that God orchestrated each piece including the pit, the slavery and the prison, but James tells us that God is not the giver of anything that is not “good and perfect.”
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes].”
You may say that since God is sovereign that everything that happens is under His control. However, we must never forget that God also has given free will to His creation. We read that Satan at one time was the cherub who led worship in heaven and yet he chose to rebel against God. We are told that in that rebellion, one-third of the angels chose to rebel against God. We are certainly aware that God gave Adam and Eve free choice and they too chose to rebel against God. The Israelites under the leadership of Moses rebelled against God. Often we suffer adversity because we ourselves make unwise choices. Sometimes we suffer adversity because others make unwise choices. Sometimes we are the object of Satan’s work as in the case of Job.
The disciples, one day, asked Jesus why a man was blind. They wanted to know if it was because of his sin or his parents sin. Like us, they wanted to find someone to blame for the situation. Jesus’ reply is startling. He says, “It’s neither. This is an opportunity for God to be glorified.” Some have interpreted that to mean that God set this up so He could be glorified when He restored the man’s sight. James says,
“Not so, for only good can come from God.”
What is all of this saying to us? I believe that God is saying that while life can be hard, confusing and troubling, we have hope in Him. Over and over again, He tells us of His love and care. The psalmists teach us to come before God and pour out our hearts, including the bitter, the angry, and the hurts. When you read the psalms, you discover the raw emotions of the writer many times were very ugly. By the time you get to the end you discover that in the process God has worked in their hearts, healing their hurt, binding their wounds and giving them comfort and peace. They move from a complaint about the unfairness of life to a trust in the help from God.
Both Joseph and Paul suffered in ways few of us thankfully ever will. What they learned and what they are teaching us is that somehow God takes everything and uses it to bring about good in our lives. Somehow God can take hurt, disappointment, adversity and even distress and use it to bring out something good. Sometimes it may take time so we can’t hurry it along. Think of the years the man was blind before his encounter with Christ. I’m sure the disciples were only echoing what others in his life were saying. Can you imagine such suffering and then being told it was because you or your parents were being punished by God for sin? Or think about Joseph and other than being the typical arrogant spoiled little boy, really wasn’t a bad person at all. Maybe we could understand if he held a grudge against his brothers for their conduct toward him. Maybe he thought about how he had treated his brothers and that he was getting what he deserved. I’m sure there must have been some feelings of unfair treatment by Potiphar and his wife. Or perhaps we could think how Paul suffered at the hands of fellow Jews and even sometimes at the hand of other Christians. Any of this and all of this could be cause to draw away from God and His people. We can easily become bitter and mean and vindictive when life treats us unkind and unfair. But if we consider what Paul, Joseph, and the psalmists are trying to teach us and remember what James says about how God only gives good and perfect gifts, our sick hearts can be healed as we grasp the fact that God loves us and that if we give every situation to Him, someway, somehow, He makes lemonade out of lemons. This is not our feeble attempt to try to put a positive spin on life. It’s learning to trust in the goodness and grace of God.
The reason we need to bring everything to God is that our perspective is a limited, finite one. We view life through the lens of our knowledge, experience, and understanding in this limited season called life. God views everything from an eternal view, both past and future. As I look back over my life, I can see now that the situations I thought were hopeless, hurtful, and seemingly futile, have been used by God for my good. Because of that, I can now to some degree also believe that everything going on in my life currently is working in the same process for my good. I confess I haven’t liked everything, haven’t understood everything and would have gladly changed a lot of things at the time, but I must also confess that now on the other side, I must give God praise for how He not only brought me through but also for what He has worked in my life for my good.
There’s no doubt that life can be scary and troublesome at times. It can be filled with overwhelming doubt, fear, despair and depression that can dog our steps. I think to some degree this describes our present world on a large scale along with our small scale adversities. I have no idea how things will turn out. We pray for an easing of inflation. We pray for an ending of violence and shootings. We pray for peace among nations. We pray for unity rather than division in the cultures of the world. We pray that the church would become healthy and whole and engage together in the work of God rather than a continuous demand for preferences. We pray that the encroaching darkness will be driven back. We pray that there will be a reversal with believing in God and more so in receiving Christ. We pray that those who are suffering, those who are sick, those who are lonely, those who have almost given up on life be restored.
While we pray these things, we are also aware that anxiety, frustration, and even anger can try to seize our hearts. So we pour out our hearts to a loving God, trust His keeping power and “hope against hope”(Romans 4:18) until “desire is fulfilled.”
Paul says that “if in this life only we have hope, we are truly men most miserable.” Sometimes we need to remember that this life isn’t all. As a matter of fact it is really only a brief span of our existence. Psalms says it’s like the dew on the grass or like the vapor on a cold morning. It’s seen only for a brief moment. The gift we have as Christians is faith to believe in the life after this life. I realize that none of us wish to suffer and I wouldn’t by any means make light of any one’s suffering. Suffering is painful, hurtful, discouraging, and real. We dare not make light of suffering. But having said that, I also insist that we who are Christian dig deeper and reach higher with our trust, hope and confidence in Christ and receive from Him the peace that passes all understanding that He alone can give us. His peace is not subject to our situation. His peace prevails over all things and operates just as powerfully in the storm as it does in the calm.
Pour out your heart today to God. Let the hurt, bitterness, confusion, questions, anger, fear, and doubt pour out of you in the presence of God. He won’t be offended. And when it’s all spilled out drink from His fountain of life, hope, and peace.
Dr. John Thompson