A woman who had come to my house for lunch one summer day went away with the determination to read some of my books. She started, unfortunately, with a novel (the only novel I’ve written), and later wrote me a very nice note thanking me for the lunch and saying she had read the book but would like to have more “added on” to it. She thought it should end, she said, with a “deeper understanding, and no disappointment in Jesus.”
I know exactly how she feels. A lot of us would like to have “more added on.” We would love to be able to rise up in the congregation of the righteous and say, “I have never known any disappointment in Jesus.”
The trouble is that to make the book true to life, and I have found that life takes me up a lot of blind alleys and into dark places and trackless jungles where what I would like to have added on just doesn't get added on, and the explanations I am dying to find never appear.
And what’s more, I find things this way not only in my own experience of life but also in the descriptions of it recorded in the Bible, which is exactly true to life. We have all heard it argued that where sin is depicted in the Bible, it is clearly labeled and punishment follows. I swallowed this for years, but one day I decided to check on the statement and found it was not true. There are some horrible deeds recorded in the Old Testament that people apparently got away with (the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 is one example). There are countless incidents of lying, cheating, and selfish scheming. There are failures, defeats, collapsed hopes, deaths—and many stories end far from satisfactorily. Nothing is “added on.”
Well, but the New Testament is added on. It throws a great flood of light on the Old Testament and describes the hope of the world, redemption by Christ and all that that means. But even in the New Testament, in the life of Jesus himself, who came to show in the flesh what God is like, there are occasions where people were disappointed. They were, as a matter of fact, specifically disappointed in Jesus.
The wise men who came to find the newborn king were nonplused to arrive at the king’s palace and learn it was not there that the birth had taken place. It must have been embarrassing for them, and confusing, and disappointing.
When he was twelve years old Jesus hurt his mother by going off on his own without telling her. After several days’ travel and agonizing worry they found him, and he had an explanation ready, but Mary could not stifle a rebuke. “Why have you treated us so?” It was a human mother’s reaction. How could she possibly have understood him?
I have often pictured things that must have happened when Jesus was a carpenter’s apprentice. A man leaves a wooden saddle for repair and finds the shop empty when he calls for it. Jesus has again gone about his Father’s business. I can easily imagine Joseph’s distress when his timing did not match that of Jesus.
The Gospels tell of times when the disciples looked everywhere for Jesus, needing him desperately, and could not find Him. Crowds tagged after him, mobbed him, pled and wheedled until he had not the time even to eat. He must have disappointed and infuriated some of them.
It is a simple matter for us now to look back at the Scriptures' record and see that no one ought to have been disappointed. But the truth is that many were-because they were human.
What did the friends of John the Baptist think when they told Jesus of John's imprisonment and imminent danger of execution, and Jesus did nothing at all about it except to send a strange message? He did not so much as go to visit John in prison, let alone have him released. The word he sent must have seemed cryptic at best, if not a mockery in such circumstances: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” But the Son of God knew that John could be trusted with that message, and trusted, further, to die what looks like a senseless death—a silly dancing girl and her scheming, wicked mother managed the whole thing.
To disappoint is to fail to satisfy hopes or expectations. We are human, and therefore ignorant, blind, selfish. How shall we help feeling let down when God does not act according to our hopes? Many men in Scripture were disappointed, and cried out their complaints against God—Job, for one, in almost unbearably vivid language; and the psalmist, who again and again asked, “How long, O Lord” “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?”
What a relief it is to me to find these human cries in the inspired book! I know that I am not alone in my disappointments. I have not been left in some howling wilderness while all who really love God steadily ascend the gleaming heights far beyond my vision. Jonah felt the weeds wrap about his head. Peter began to sink. Job felt he had been abandoned in a place of dragons, and said so—he asked his friends, those “comforters” who knew the answers to Job’s problems, “Will you speak falsely for God?”
So, to be quite candid, I cannot claim never to have been disappointed. If I could, I would be omniscient, or at least a prophet, for things would turn out precisely as hoped and expected.
The kind woman who wrote the letter wanted me as an author to be omnipotent and fix everything. Why couldn’t I have added on enough to make it come out right? Because I didn’t know enough. My heroine didn't know enough, and in this I was trying to be true to life. It’s in life, in the real world, down here where things do and do not pan out, that the just are supposed to live by faith. When we are honestly disappointed in the way the God we trusted has handled things, when what has happened was not at all what we wanted—then statements like “Not my will but thine be done” have powerful meaning. What a sinewy kind of trust old John the Baptist had as he lay in chains—captive, doomed, lonely, blessed, and not offended.
Elisabeth Elliot is the author of seven books, including Through Gates of Splendor, The Savage My Kinsman, and No Graven Image. She holds the A. B. from Wheaton College and was formerly a missionary.
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