Disappointment with God / Philip Yancey

Dedicated to my brother, who is still disappointed


After I had begun work on this project, I received phone calls from a few people in my church who had heard about it. “Is it true you’re writing a book about disappointment with God?” the callers would ask. “If so, I’d like to talk. I haven’t told anyone before, but my life as a Christian has included times of great disappointment.” I did interview some of those callers, and their stories helped set the direction of this book.

I found that for many people there is a large gap between what they expect from their Christian faith and what they actually experience. From a steady diet of books, sermons, and personal testimonies, all promising triumph and success, they learn to expect dramatic evidence of God working in their lives. It they do not see such evidence, they feel disappointment, betrayal, and often guilt. As one woman said, “I kept hearing the phrase, ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’ But I found to my dismay that it is unlike any other personal relationship. I never saw God, or heard him, or felt him, or experienced the most basic ingredients of a relationship. Either there’s something wrong with what I was told, or there’s something wrong with me.”

Disappointment occurs when the actual experience of something falls far short of what we anticipate. For that reason, the first half of this book explores the Bible to see what we can rightfully expect from God. I hesitated to start there since I know that some people, especially disappointed people, have little tolerance for the Bible. But what better place to begin than by letting God speak for himself? I tried to rid myself of preconceptions and read the Bible like a story, with a “plot.” What I found there astonished me. It was very different from the story I had been told most of my life.

Actually, I set out to write two different books, and did so; but I ended up putting them both between the same covers. Book II moves to more practical, existential issues and applies the ideas I have developed to actual situations — the kinds of situations that foster disappointment with God. Ultimately, I concluded that the two approaches belonged in the same book; either would be incomplete on its own.

Once as I explained this project to a friend, he frowned and shook his head. “I guess I’ve never tried to psychoanalyze God before,” he said. I hope that’s not what I’m attempting! But I do wish to understand God better, to learn why he sometimes acts in such mysterious ways — or does not seem to act at all.

A few words of caution, however. This is not a book of apologetics, so I will not travel the path of pointing out evidences for God. Others have done that effectively, and, besides, I am dealing with doubts that are more emotional than intellectual. Disappointment implies a hoped-for relationship that somehow has not worked out.

Nor will I debate the question, “Does God ever perform miracles?” I take for granted that he has supernatural power and has used it. Yes, God can intervene; so why doesn’t he do so more often? Why handicap himself among sincere skeptics who would like to believe, if only they had a sign? Why permit injustice and suffering to thrive on earth? Why aren’t God’s interventions “ordinaries” rather than “miracles”?

One last caution: by no means am I presenting a balanced view of the Christian faith. I am, after all, writing for people who have, at one time or another, heard the silence of God. Studying someone like Job as an example of faith is a little like studying the history of civilization by examining only the wars. On the other hand, there are many Christian books that leave out any mention of the wars and promise nothing but victory. This is a book about faith, but it looks at faith through the eyes of those who doubt.

And finally, I should explain the way I have chosen to handle Bible references. I resisted putting them in footnotes or parentheses within the text: that creates an awkwardness in reading not unlike listening to someone with a stutter. Instead, I have indicated the sources of direct citations at the end of each chapter. True sleuths should be able to track down the correct passage.

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