A friend of mine who was raised in a fundamentalist home told me a disturbing story recently. One Sunday morning, the youth pastor at her Southern Baptist Church passed out three-inch galvanized nails to all the students in his care. He instructed them to keep these in their pockets at all times. Whenever they had an impure thought or disrespected their parents or sinned in any way, he told them to place their hand into their pockets and poke the nail into their finger.
“That way you’ll be reminded of the pain your causing God,” he said, “and you’ll know how disappointed He is with you in that moment.”
The spine-tingling actions of this minister raise an important question: does God get disappointed with us?
The two elements that comprise disappointment are surprise and frustration. Accepting the first—that God is surprised with our most tragic failures—tests our belief in His sovereignty. God knows the events that will unfold tomorrow, and they never take Him off guard. Additionally, He created our “inmost being” (Ps 139:13) and knows our hearts better than we do. We cannot take God by surprise.
But what about the frustration element of disappointment? Is God angry or frustrated with us? The theological roots of this belief run deep.
Jonathan Edwards expressed this view in his now famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” when he said that God “abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”
The view is echoed by modern day fundamentalists like super-pastor Mark Driscoll who preached a sermon in which he shouted at his congregation: “God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you.”
Is this the God we seek to serve? One who is sick of us and frustrated by us?
Such a belief overlooks a critical aspect of the Christian gospel—namely, the cross of Christ. All of God’s anger, wrath, and yes, frustration was emptied out on Christ in that moment. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” God has no wrath left for us because He gave it all to Jesus.
God’s primary emotion toward us today and each day is love, and we receive it knowing we have done nothing to deserve it. There is nothing we can do today to make Him love us more, and nothing we might devise to make Him love us less. He simply loves us because He loves us. That’s just who He is. And God does not dangle His love on conditional strings like a divine marionette.
As the late Brennan Manning described God in his classic book The Ragamuffin Gospel,
“He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this almost too incredible for us to accept.”
Too incredible indeed. Which is why many Christian today have created a God who seethes at our failings and falters, blunders and mishaps. A God who peers over our shoulders clicking His tongue and whispering, “You’re going to pay for that.” A God who is irritable and rigid—perhaps resembling our earthly fathers.
But this is not the God of the Gospel. That God is capable of laughing at our mistakes, smiling when we bumble down the wrong path, and overlooking our misguided attempts to live the “good life” and follow Him well.
As I have discovered what G.K. Chesterton called “the furious love of God,” I’ve accepted that God is never disappointed with us. But I think God may often get disappointed for us. He wants the best for us—lives of joy and abundance and fulfillment—but He recognizes that we often choose paths that lead us away from those gifts.
My friend Tony cheated on his wife a few years ago, and as result, he ruined his marriage. Today, Tony harbors a lot of guilt. “Do you think God is disappointed with me?” he asked recently. I told him I didn’t think so, but I wondered if God was disappointed for him. “Oh, Tony, I wanted you to have a healthy marriage and a loving, stable home for your children,” God may have thought. “I am disappointed for you because, like you, I wanted something better. But I’m walking with you even still.” This is the response of a loving, empathetic God whose mercies are new each morning.
Today we remember that Jesus came for the spiritually weak, for broken people who live imperfect lives, for those who don’t have it all together, for the serial failures and habitual mess-ups.
If that sounds like you, be liberated today.
God is not disappointed with you.