A disappointment is when something you thought was going to happen and really wanted to happen doesn’t happen.
It’s not a good feeling. In fact, most of the time it feels downright terrible, and is accompanied by a cloyingly sour aftertaste that is both immensely sad and empty.
My most recent experience of a disappointment was when France lost the Euro Cup to Portugal earlier this week. Clearly, I got over it pretty quickly, seeing as I’m neither French nor related to the players; and certainly, I’ve experienced worse disappointments.
To be sure, life’s disappointments generally come in much harsher fashion than your favourite football team not winning a major tournament.
A pledge that was made and not honoured; losing a loved one in their prime or youth when they should’ve enjoyed a long full life; a long-time prayer that seemed on the verge of coming through but in the end remained unfulfilled.
In moments like these, it is hard not to allow the incessant parade of “what if”s and “if only”s to overtake your mind, much less ignore the all too glaring question from popping up: Why is this happening if God is good and He hears my prayers?
Can God still be considered good in the midst of life’s worst disappointments? We all know the correct answer is yes, but correct answers go very little in soothing our hurting hearts or making sense of the madness in our minds. In the midst of the pits, our every instinct and logic points us to doubt God’s goodness and answer the above with a “I guess not” or “I don’t know”.
No doubt God Himself would want to vindicate and glorify Himself and set our minds and hearts at rest, by revealing the truth about Himself. And thankfully He leaves us sufficient substantial evidence in His Word to give us a glimpse of what may lie beyond the doldrums.
Perhaps one of the best examples in the Bible of someone who went through protracted and repeated disappointments was Joseph.
Born to Rachel, Jacob’s younger and more beloved wife after years of waiting, Joseph was immediately favoured above his 10 half-brothers by his father Jacob. He lived an easy and carefree life, privileged and preferred, dreaming of greatness.
Until one day at the age of 17 when his jealous brothers conspired against him and threw him into a pit, tearing off his special many-coloured tunic and every last shred of privilege off his body, and then selling him to slave traders for 20 pieces of silver. Joseph was betrayed in the worst way by the very people whom he thought would love and protect him.
He remained close to the Lord, and found himself working for an Egyptian captain of Pharoah. Things started picking up, his master liked him and gave him charge over all things. Then his master’s wife tried to seduce him and get him to sleep with her. Joseph did the right thing and refused, but then found himself framed by the spurned woman and thrown into the dungeon.
He still didn’t give up on the Lord, and soon after became well-liked and promoted even in prison. He ended up meeting the Pharoah’s butler and baker one day in the dungeon and interpreted their dreams correctly, thinking that he would soon be on his way out after the butler so promised upon his release. The butler left free as Joseph had predicted, but Joseph waited, and waited, and ended up waiting for another 2 years in prison.
In the midst of that long wait, Joseph probably battled with disappointment. He had done everything right, but no real reward seemed to be coming. Finally, when it seemed like nothing was ever going to happen, Joseph got summoned before Pharoah to interpret a distressing dream of Pharoah’s that no one else could decipher.
Joseph attributed the interpretation to God, and explained Pharoah’s dream as God gave him speech. And this time he found himself promoted and given charge over all of Egypt, second only to Pharoah himself. He got a wife, then sons, and later on the opportunity to provide food for his father and brothers in the famine.
And at last, Joseph realised, that even though the disappointments along the way were bitter, his God had turned them into stepping stones for him to fulfil the destiny of greatness that had already been pre-written for him.*
Joseph’s is not the only story which has a good ending following disappointments.
Job, who lost all his children and possessions in one day, got a greater restoration of more children and double possessions at the end, and in the process also learnt from his error of self-righteousness and sin-consciousness, and learnt to see God truly.
Abraham and Sarah received their promised child Isaac after decades of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
In fact, everyone who came near to God – throughout the Old Testament and the New – got their promise, got healed, got delivered. God tells us through Hebrews 11:35 that those who suffered torture and martyrdom did so not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection and reward.
Life can be cruel, but God never is. He is a God who delights and is rich in mercy, not judgement nor wrath.
Disappointments in the way of accidents, sickness, and death are never from God. But He can sure turn and make them – and all other kinds of disappointments and delays – to work for our good, just like He did for Joseph.
God, who knows and sees the end from the beginning, can’t bring us to or show us the end outcome of our story when we are at the point of disappointment. The closest thing He can do to give us a hint of what’s to come is to show us through the stories of others like Joseph, Job, Sarah, and David – in seeing how theirs ended, it gives us a fair idea and a confident hope for ours too.
No doubt knowing what might happen in the end won’t necessarily take the sting out of the present disappointment. Jesus, God Himself, certainly knew what was to come, but still He wept at Lazarus’s tomb, felt grieved at the Pharisees’ hardheartedness and wounded at Judas’s betrayal, and experienced great anguish in the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross. Simply, disappointments hurt.
And yet it was Jesus who also reminded and encouraged us that even though we will certainly meet with tribulation and disappointments in this world, we can still be of good cheer, because He has overcome the world for us, and He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world causing disappointments (John 16:33, 1 John 4:4).
The cross of Jesus is the sure proof that He has overcome the world and the devil. It is the only place which continuously and relentlessly declares and demonstrates God’s unending and unwavering love and grace to us, regardless of when we turn to look at it.
And along with the stories from the Bible, the cross gives us a solid assurance of God’s heart of goodness towards us, assurance that brings a confident hope that God is working something good for us behind the present disappointment – it may be protection, it may be restoration, but it is surely good.
We may never be able to understand some disappointments this side of heaven, until the day we see Jesus face to face and He shows us the whole picture that we were missing.
But we can be sure that if we have Jesus and we continue to trust in Him, we can expect good to come out of every disappointment.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.
* Joseph’s story is recounted in Genesis 37, 39-45.