It doesn’t take very long in life to realize the unavoidable, annoying presence of disappointment. Disappointment is no respecter of persons. Regardless of our age, sex, color, or social standing, disappointment is a human reality that all of us will be become acquainted with sooner rather than later.
A toddler learns this hard lesson when he receives a spoonful of green peas when he is expecting banana pudding, or a young boy wants a new bike for his birthday but instead receives underwear and socks. Some disappointment cuts deeper than others, though.
People disappoint. Circumstances disappoint. We disappoint ourselves, but the most heinous disappointment is that which is directed toward God, as can be found demonstrated in real lives throughout the Bible.
The most obvious example of disappointment found in the scriptures is that of Naomi. Naomi’s life reads like a tragic novel leaving the reader asking, “How much more can one woman take?” Naomi was the wife of Elimelech, and along with their two sons, they lived in the town of Bethlehem (Ruth 1), which name means “House of Bread.”
The problem is there was no bread in the House of Bread, only famine. This famine was taking place during a time described as “the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). It was the very same period of time characterized as a day when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Not only were Naomi and her family living in a land void of faithful, godly leadership, but now there was no food on the table, and apparently, there was no prospect that things would change in the near future. Just as people are prone to do when their backs are against the wall, this family decided to take things into their own hands. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s unclear who concocted this drastic plan.
Was Naomi simply following her husband and reluctantly submitting despite unspoken misgivings, or was she the mastermind who plotted the course to Moab? Either way, their bags were packed and there was no turning back. Moab would be the family’s temporary, self-imposed exile until the rains returned and God smiled on His land once again.
To become a “resident alien” (Deuteronomy 24:17) was not as unusual as was the place the family chose to “sojourn.” Moab was traditionally understood to be an enemy of Israel (Numbers 22), and the nation’s shared history was anything but mutually hospitable. It is in this pagan land that we soon learn of Elimelech’s death after which the Bible sobers us with these words, “Naomi is left with her two sons” (Ruth 1:3).
It seems even to the most casual reader that Naomi was being stripped of all that she held dear. After some time, Naomi’s sons took Moabite wives, and maybe she experienced a fleeting hope that her luck was changing with the prospect of grandchildren on the horizon. But if this were the case, any hope was short-lived when both of her dear sons died in Moab like their father before them. Could it get any worse?
Remaining in Disappointment
Eventually, the word began to spread in Moab that the famine in Bethlehem was over and the land was bearing fruit again. It appeared to Naomi that there was no reason to remain in Moab, and she set out for home but she was not alone. Naomi was unable to dissuade her daughter-in-law, Ruth, from accompanying her, and the two set out for the House of Bread.
Naomi’s return was undoubtedly a far cry from what she might have imagined it would be, and certainly, she must have played and replayed this hypothetical scene in her dreams countless times. Instead of open arms and kisses, she was met with whispers, suspicion, and shock. “Is this Naomi?” Ten years and hard living can take a toll on a person’s appearance, so much so that they are barely recognizable as the person they once were.
Maybe this was the case for Naomi. But one thing is for sure, Naomi’s outward appearance was not the only transformation. She was not the woman she had been, and this was confirmed by Naomi herself through her infamous statement, which epitomizes a soul disappointed with God.
When the ladies of the town speak Naomi’s name, she responds, “Don’t call me Naomi,” which means pleasant, “but call me Mara,” which means bitterness. “I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty…the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Naomi’s words betrayed the depth of her despair and disappointment, and ironically, it was not what Naomi felt but rather who her disappointment was directed toward that is most striking. In Naomi’s estimation, it was “the Almighty” himself who had brought the affliction and loss into her life. The famine, Elimelech’s death, the loss of her sons, and now a humiliating return home had all come by the hands of “the Almighty,” according to Naomi. She left Bethlehem “full” despite the famine but returned “empty” despite the harvest of plenty.
In broad, general terms, what does disappointment expose about the one who harbors it? Does it not reveal that there are expectations that have gone unmet or unfulfilled in some way? Any time disappointment stirs inside of us, it is because we have our hearts set on one thing and we receive something less than what we expect. Without question, Naomi believed that her family would only sojourn to Moab but would someday return to their home together when it was profitable to do so.
She probably dreamed of growing old with her husband by her side and grandchildren at her feet. Up to this point, her life has failed to live up to her own expectations, and I have to suspect that anyone who reads this article will be able to relate to Naomi’s disappointment.
Responding to Disappointment
Joseph was also a man who had his share of disappointment, but his response counters that of Naomi and reveals that he had eyes to see something that Naomi early on could not see. When Joseph finally unveiled his true identity to his brothers, he reassured them that they were not the ones ultimately responsible for the path his life took when he proclaimed, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).
Imagine how different Naomi’s own outlook might have been if she could have somehow measured her expectations against the purposes of God. Imagine also how differently our own perspectives could change if our emotions, desires, and expectations were to be shaped by a faithful understanding of the character of God instead of maintaining an idolatrous hold to sinful affections.
Disappointment in God reveals that we’re more concerned with what we want than what God wants and that we simply don’t trust that God is able or willing to perform what is good for us. Disappointment in God implies that what God gives or does not give is somehow less than what we would do for ourselves if we were capable. We think we know better than Him.
Peter, having listened as the Lord predicted his upcoming suffering and rejection, was driven to do the unthinkable when Peter’s own expectations were threatened. Peter was still hoping for a Messiah who would set up an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem and expel the Romans from sacred Jewish lands. Such a feat would require a strong king with power and authority.
Consequently, when the apostle heard Christ speak of his upcoming rejection, suffering, and death, he “rebuked” (Mark 8:32) the Lord. The English translation here fails to communicate the severity of Peter’s rebuke. The word which Peter uses here is used almost exclusively to refer to the exorcism of a demon.
It is unthinkable that the possibility of his unmet expectation would cause Peter to use such radical language with the Lord, implying that possibly Jesus himself might be under the spell of a demon. What other explanation could there be for Jesus to speak such non-sense on what the disciples must have believed was the dawning of a new kingdom era? Jesus’ response demonstrates the severity of Peter’s accusation and the disciple’s continuing blindness when Jesus discerns the blasphemous source as he rebukes, “Get behind me Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s” (Mark 8:33).
What Does This Mean?
Are you disappointed with God? Has God failed to heal, provide, protect, restore, or deliver in ways that you had expected? My challenge to you is to “set your heart on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Ask the Helper to reorient you to God’s ways and trust that He is good and kind, and whatever He does or does not do is for your good and ultimately for His own glory. May each of us come to desire, in ever-increasing ways, the things that God, himself, desires, and may we never be disappointed with our God.
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Dr. Rick Kirby, along with his wife and children, lives in Anderson, South Carolina. Rick serves as a corporate chaplain in the upstate of South Carolina, in addition to shepherding micro-church movements, which he does in partnership with the Evangelical Free Church in America and the Creo Collective. Rick has written as a freelance writer for organizations such as The INJOY Group, InTouch Ministries, and Walk Through the Bible. Rick holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary. Through the years, Rick’s family has been deeply engaged in discipling efforts globally in India, Romania, Brazil, Ecuador and most recently in Puerto Rico. Among the many things Rick enjoys are woodworking in his woodshop and roasting (and drinking) coffee. You can find other works by Kirby at www.rickkirby.org.
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