If God is So Faithful, Why Didn’t He Keep His Promises?

by Andy Wood on June 14, 2012

in Since You Asked

Promise.  It’s one of the most charming words in the English language.

Do you realize that so much of what we experience, of what we know about God, of our spiritual maturity, and of our success or failure in the Christian life has something to do with how we respond to the promises of God?  Peter says, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (2 Peter 1:4).

But what do you do when you are standing on the promises and it doesn’t turn out like you expected?

What do you do when you wait on the Lord, and all you get in return is more waiting?

What do you do when you know – you know you’ve heard from the Lord about a specific situation, and it just doesn’t happen?

In short, what do you do when you’re disappointed with God?

With Friends Like That…

I want to introduce you to two people who experienced that kind of disappointment.  They were sisters, and friends of Jesus.  And so was their now-dead brother, Lazarus.  These siblings from Bethany offered Jesus and his troupe a home away from home – a refuge from the madness of His schedule and demands.  So when Lazarus became gravely ill and they sent for Jesus, these women knew He would be faithful to save the day.

But there were too many days to save.

Day one – no Jesus.

Day two – ditto.

Day three – my God, where is He?

Day four – Jesus finally appears, and on separate occasions, both of these women said the exact same thing to Him – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Disappointment Collides with Hope

Other than those who traveled with Christ, nobody loved Jesus more than Mary and Martha, and the feeling was mutual.  But loving Jesus didn’t make them immune from disappointment, nor will it spare you.  In fact, sometimes the promises of God seem to directly contradict what we are experiencing.  Do the math here…

  • Day 1 – Lazarus gets sick, so Martha sends a message to Jesus, who is a day’s travel away.  Sometime just after the messenger leaves, Lazarus dies.
  • End of Day 2 – the messenger returns with no Jesus – just a promise:  “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.”  Seriously?  My brother is graveyard-dead and you’re sending a messenger with promises?
  • Day 3 – Jesus still doesn’t show up.
  • End of Day 4 – Finally He appears.  Thanks, Jesus. Glad you could make it.

What to Do with Your Disappointments with God

We know how this story turns out.  Martha and Mary didn’t.  They were hurt and confused and had no clue what this pain had to do with the glory of God that Jesus had promised.  And the ways they responded to this sense of unfulfilled promises from God can give us some anchors for our times of spiritual disappointment.

1.  Appeal to the love of Jesus.

“Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  That’s the message they sent to Christ.  We don’t know what made Lazarus so special, but to Jesus Lazarus was more than just a believer or a follower.  He was a friend.

One of the reasons this is so important is not so you can try to manipulate God to do what you want Him to, but so you can keep in mind that God has never forsaken His ultimate promise to you – to love you unconditionally.

2.  Move toward Jesus, not away from Him.

“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him” (v. 20).  Oh boy, here it comes.  We pick on Martha a lot because she’s easy to pick on.  But one thing I love about her is that even in her times of disappointment, pain, or lack of understanding, she moved toward Jesus, not away from Him.

That doesn’t come naturally to me, so when I see it in others it challenges me.  My tendency is to go into my cave and hide or pout.  But what neither Martha nor Mary knew at the time was that He was about to redefine what miracles look like if they would just trust Him and move toward Him.

3.  Respond to God’s call, whether you feel like it or not.

True to her personality, Mary waited back at the house until Jesus sent for her (v. 28).  Then she came to meet Him, just as Martha had done.  Did she feel like it?  I doubt it.  Did she respond because she knew what He was about to do?  No way.  She responded to His call because He called her, and she trusted Him – even when she didn’t understand Him.

Don’t be surprised if, in the midst of your spiritual disappointments, you feel pressed upon by God to do something.  Be somewhere.  Say something.  It could be something as simple as showing up in church or getting alone with Him.  But when He calls, respond.

4.  Express your disappointment to God.

Mary and Martha used the exact same words, but produced different reactions in Jesus.  But both were true to who they were and how they felt.  I don’t think God expects anything less from you.

Jesus, you could have done something, but you didn’t.

Jesus, you could have been here, but you weren’t.

Jesus, you could have warned me that something bad was going to happen, but you didn’t.

Jesus, you could have protected me from this hurt, but you didn’t.

One thing is sure – when you’re honest with yourself and with God about your pain, Jesus will respond as personally to you as he did to Mary and her sister.

5.  Focus on a relationship, not a religious system.

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said.

“Sure, at the Resurrection,” said Martha.  That’s what her religious system (and the Bible) taught. What Martha didn’t understand was that the Resurrection is not a thing – it’s a person, and she was looking at Him!

Promises aren’t things. They’re extensions of the heart and character of God.  They are gateways through which we partake of the divine nature, Peter says.  When you’re disappointed in God, set aside your systems for a minute and let Him be Father to you.  Talk to Him.  Listen to Him.  Give to Him and receive from Him.

6.  Look for the greater glory.

This is hard to see, much less hear from somebody else when you’re heart deep in sorrow or anger.  But I’ll say it anyway… Maybe it’s time to raise the bar of faith.

Sometimes we believe that when God didn’t seem to keep His promises to us it was because we’d raised the bar too high.  Maybe it is because we had it too low.  Twice in this passage, Jesus said they would see the glory of God.  And boy, did they.

If you’re standing on a promise and it doesn’t happen like you’d envisioned, gird up!  You’re may be about to see the glory of God in ways you hadn’t imagined.

Your disappointing experiences are opportunities for you to experience greater glory and deeper faith than you ever could without them.  Bring Him your hurts, your confusion, your broken heart.  Bring Him the sting of your disappointments and the fear you have in ever trusting Him again.  Bring Him your humiliation and your heartache and hurl it for all it’s worth at Him if you need to.  I think He’s big enough to take it.

But while you’re there, maybe you can prepare yourself to receive something back from Him.  After all, He’s faithful to deliver on what He has promised, whether you can make sense of it all or not.  Faith in the face of confusion and hurt is still faith.  And if you don’t see the promise on this side of eternity, guess what?

You’ll just have to plan to enjoy it forever, not just for your short time on this planet.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Skye July 9, 2014 at 12:24 am

This was nice, mainly because it was honest. It wasn’t just some generic blah about how we must’ve done something wrong or didn’t do something-as the cause of the prayer being unanswered. I’m so tired of hurting. I’m so tired of struggling and more than anything, I’m so tired of being faithful and not ever getting a yes. Now, I’m 48 hours away from being evicted, me and my disabled toddler. Called every church in the county, none would or could help. No social services. No money left in the car or in a jacket. And no God. That’s the part that hurts. Being this hopeful and dutiful to serving Him and he doesn’t answer or maybe he did as this seems like a big fat ‘no’ to me. Anyway, at least you didn’t do what other people do. You just told it like it is. Sometimes, the answer is no. The faithful ones will get it on the other side. I doubt if I’m included in that bunch. Pray for me, if you have faith, that I don’t wake up tomorrow. Thank you.

Richard January 8, 2016 at 1:57 pm

I’ve given up on believing. .I’ve prayed in agonizing tears for help and each time,and I do mean each time,it only gets worse. He said ask and it shall be given,but hats not true. I’ve been on my knees begging in utter dismay and and wailing with tears flowing heavily. What did I get?..only more grief. I can’t take being rejected by a loving God anymore. Either I’m eternally damned or he honestly just doesn’t love me. Either way my soul has been shredded by his rejection. I’ll do my remaining time on earth the best I can. My soon to be ex committed adultery and seems blessed beyond reason. I’ve lost everything while trying to raise a grandson who is also affected by his not caring. I can’t in my heart believe anymore that he helps if we humble ourselves before him because he doesn’t . It ALWAYS gets worse!

Joshua February 15, 2016 at 5:37 pm

I am EXTREMELY disappointed with God. I do my best to do the right thing, I even go out of my way to be humble and let others go before me, in traffic and in real life. Oh you’re hungry so am I, but you go first. Oh do you need something? Though I have little I will give you what I have.

All of these I have done!!!! Many times!! And now I am starving yes literally, and I have nowhere to go, the homeless shelter will not let me in! Yet even though I did not feel like thanking God I got on my knees to give thanks in a freaking bathroom! A public bathroom in a dirty floor! most people barely bow their heads, I got on my knees, BOTH OF THEM!!

Yet God has not fed me or anything! I have to get to work and I am running out of gas! When I had little money I STILL GAVE TO SOMEONE ELSE, I even GAVE TO MY CHURCH OUT OF WHAT LITTLE MONEY I HAD! I could have used that money to eat and get gas, but no I didn’t!!

Today I let some people in traffic go and this super arrogant man in his faster car makes me look like a fool! Because I humbled myself to care for others! THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!! None of this is right!!

I change my ways, I don’t drink when I could have, I didn’t have intercourse when I could have, and in spite of these circumstances of sleeping in my car in the cold and being terrorized and humiliated by people who drive by looking at me, I still give thanks to the Lord!

And I get nothing! I am still here now at this dreaded school typing this crap!

What loving God lets his followers starve, be out in the cold and suffer like this after I make MANY MANY ATTEMPTS AND GO OUT OF MY WAY TO DO GOOD TO OTHERS JUST TO SUFFER!?

You know that money I gave to the church, I could use that, that food I bought some homeless lady (like myself), I could have used that!

Job did not go through what I have been through! NO ONE DID!!!

IF there is a God this God is EVIL AS CRAP AND I REALLY THINKING OF WORSHIPING SATAN.

I cannot EXPRESS MY DIRE DISAPPOINTMENT! WHERE IS MY GOD EVEN WHEN I PUT HIM FIRST, EVEN WHEN I PUT OTHERS FIRST!!!! WHEN I HAVE NOTHING!!!!

Andy Wood May 5, 2016 at 6:55 am

Dear Skye, Richard and Joshua,

Thank you for taking the time to write out of your pain, disappointment, and obvious anger toward God. Many of the situations you describe are ones I can deal with personally. Others, obviously, I can’t and have no clue what you are feeling.

It is interesting to me that some of the language you use is also found in the Bible, as people like David, Jeremiah, and Job hurled at God out of their pain and disappointment. Jeremiah actually called God a liar and lived to tell about it. I have learned He is big enough to take it.

The one thing I wish in reading the story of Job – or my story or your story – is that God had actually given Job reasons that made sense to Job. He never did. He simply said, “I am here and I am God and you aren’t.” What I do know, both from personal experience and from what scripture teaches, are some foundational truths I have lived long enough to see.

1. God has forever settled His love for me, regardless of my circumstances. There is no injustice, grief, pain or loss that could ever take away the scandalous love that He displayed for me, a hopeless sinner, in giving His Son as a sacrifice for my sin.

2. There is no possible way to estimate or describe the depths of evil that this world has reduced itself to, driven by three forces – pleasure at the expense of your pain, profit at the expense of your poverty, and pride at the expense of your humiliation (1 John 2:16). In addition to that, we ourselves have added to that misery by our own actions or failures to act. And regardless of our failures, sorrows or victimization in this world, they aren’t God’s fault.

3. There are times when it feels as though I have earned something from God because of some good things I have done. Therefore when he doesn’t come through as I have desired or expected, He seems to be terribly unfair at best, “evil as crap” as you put it, at worst. But that perception is the voice of my pain and disappointment or the voice of an enemy whispering in my ear – an enemy that seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). But the honest truth is that if we all got what we deserved, we would all perish – not just immediately, but eternally.

4. For a true believer in Christ, he or she can cling to the promise that no Christian has ever suffered alone or without help. Sometimes the help comes in the form of relief. Sometimes it comes in the form of walking with you through the sorrow, suffering and unanswered questions.

5. The end of the story has yet to be told about you. David once described his agony like this (my paraphrase): “My tears have been my only companion day and night, while they taunt me – WHERE IS YOUR GOD?” Based on some of your reactions, I think you can relate. I know I can. But I also know that we’re all still on the journey and your story is still being told/written.

6. For whatever reason, things have a way of getting worse before they get better. This one has never made sense to me, at least not emotionally. I lost count of the number of times it seemed as though I made good choices (at least they were good in my view) but continued to get painful results. At one point I said, “I have done everything anybody asked or suggested I do, and nothing works!” At another point I wrote in my journal, “If one more person tells me my solution is to wait on God, I think I’m going to punch him in the face.” But you know what? They eventually got better.

7. Regardless of what you have lost, and your losses have been great, as believers in Christ there are two things we always have. You still have Jesus and you still have a choice. I wish I could say I had made that up myself. But my pastor actually said those words to me as I was on a pay phone in a behavioral hospital, having lost everything that meant anything to me. I would say the same things to you. Regardless of what is taken from you, you still have Jesus and you still have choices.

8. Our greater hope is not in this life, but in eternity. We often live as if this world is all there is, and people who pine away about happier days in heaven seem like escapists. But it’s true. The day will come when He will wipe every tear from your eye and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, poverty or pain.

9. God loves it when we trust Him. But one thing is greater than faith, and that’s desperation. This is where we pray things like, “Lord I believe… help my unbelief!” When we are hurting it’s hard to find a place of faith to hang onto. So I dare you to pray that biblical prayer: “God give me the grace to believe you when really right now I don’t trust you at all.

I know the pain feels endless. I know it doesn’t seem fair. I know it all appears to be God’s fault. But pain is a mocker and appearances are deceiving.

Whether you can feel it or not or see evidence of it or not, the truth is that you have never been loved more by God than you are right now. And though He may feel a million miles away, in truth He is as close as your next breath.

Dorine June 23, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Exhausted….it’s where I’m at. I’ve struggled All My Life. Many nights of crying and at any time of the day…While gardening, taking a walk, in the shower I find myself feeling so alone. Asking myself the same question “where is God?”. I’ve Prayed so much …I’m all prayed out. I’m so exhausted that I find myself lost in words. I’ve been a Christian for many years and I’ve never felt so abandant. I’ve become so depressed. I found that everyone I’ve talked to tells me the same thing.
The Bible talks about Gods Love, Grace and Mercy….
How does anyone attain any of these? God has a Plan for us…How are we suppose to have Faith in God? We know that God can, We need to have Faith that God will. Really? What if what we’re asking God for isn’t in His Plan for us and we continue to beleive that God will…..Anyone would eventually lose Faith.
The thought of asking God for anything anymore makes me feel sick to my stomach (literally). I try to keep my mind off of God. It pains me to even think that I have a God who’s suppose to love me unconditional and knows all the hurt I’m going through but doesn’t show any Grace, Mercy, or Peace. I can’t do this anymore. God chooses who he wants to Favor. Unfortunantly I’m not one of them.

Anna July 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Dorine,
I feel exactly the same way! You’re not alone! I do not understand why God acts this way and articles like the one above used to cause great pain before, but time heals. Now, I look at them objectively and see this type of Christians as ones with a veil over their eyes, as this type of suffering is not open to them, they have not experienced such grief and rejection by the one who promised to never leave us or for sake us, to always be there when we call, to be our strong tower, our shepherd that will leave 99 sheep to go look and care for the lost one… They try to explain to people like us something that they have no answers for and talk about something they themselves have not experienced. If Old Testament according to the author above has promises only for Israelites, then what about all of the promises from New Testament? So according to this logic God requires and asks us for obedience, and sacrifice but in exchange offers suffering, rejection not only by others, but himself as well while we are in the flesh? Also, God himself said: “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.…” (Mathew 7:15-17) I apply this principle to everyone in my life including God. Why should one believe that they are loved by God if they pray and he does not hear, they ask and he does not reply. I don’t care how many times Bible or God or a person will say “I love you,” if it is not followed up by action from him/her then it is just empty words to me…What helped me to start feeling better in relation of feeling as if God time after time rejected me, while he showered other fellow Christians with love and attention, is to stop going to church and spend time away from all Christian people, music etc. Just spend time focusing on happy thoughts, learning what it means to love yourself inside and out, do things that bring joy to you and try to seek answers outside of the Bible. See what else is out there that talks about what God is like, how spiritual laws work, who we are as spiritual beings and why some suffer great deal and some very little. . Three years later, I am able to read the Bible again, but this time with a sole purpose to find the answers as to why God treats some of us so different and what is it that maybe was taught incorrectly to me, or I personally maybe misunderstood. I also look at other religions, theories and beliefs and examine them in order to find clues and explanations as to what I am experiencing. I do not follow any of those religions or beliefs, but I use them to make sense of my experience. I feel as if the Bible has missing pieces or that we deeply misunderstood something. I still feel pain inside and rejection by God sometimes, but not anywhere near as to what it was in the beginning. I feel happy most of the time and I am asking you to Love Yourself like you would want to be loved by God, take care of yourself and NEVER GIVE UP ON YOURSELF! There is a reason why Jesus said that KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS INSIDE OF YOU! I believe that our soul and spirit are the biggest treasures, LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF! USE YOUR PAIN A STEP ON THE LADDER TO A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND GROWTH! Look at different perspectives on who we are as beings in different cultures and faiths, see if something will help you feel less abandoned and rejected by the Creator…It helped me, maybe it will help you.

Dorine July 11, 2016 at 8:56 pm

Thank you Anna for such an honest response. As much as I try not to, I find Myself continuing calling out to God. Im so tired of praying to God and hoping to see a difference in my day but end up feeling so empty and disappointed at the end of each day.
Thank you again Anna for taking the time to help. Knowing that I’m not alone in the way I feel is so comforting. Your Freind, Dorine

David July 16, 2016 at 1:02 pm

My Christian experience began in 2003 when I started to listen to sermons. I lost all my friends because I became a Christian. I read the bible from cover to cover, prayed for strength and victory over my sins and power to become a blessing to others.
Gods word is full of promises but in all honesty for me these promises have not been realized. I know that this is not only a problem for me. Anyone who denies this doesn’t do God any favors. What hurts most is coming to the realization that you were wrong in your assumption that God would do what you believed he would do.
It’s like a death of self. I don’t know the answers to this obvious problem. Maybe the answer is somewhere in the words that Jesus spoke about the poor in spirit being blessed and the first being last and the last first.
Cold comfort for a person who is suffering now.

Helen Schirmer July 25, 2016 at 6:04 pm

The parable of Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha is not an example of the broken promises from God we experience at all. Jesus ended up bringing back to life after delaying his arrival by only 2-3 days. Such a short period of time to wait and Jesus brought him back to life. This topic was referring to scriptual included in the Bible. No comparison to reading scripture where we are told to pray to God the honest desires of our hearts and he will give them to us. You wait a few years and see nothing in spite of deep loneliness and depression. Now tbat is a broken promise.
We cannot beg, nag or cajole God into action. Our tears do not move him either. We understand that. We are not even permitted to know why he does nothing or won’t answer. We are flawed humans with limited brains to reason intentionally made to not know God’s mind. To avoid disappointment in your prayers, do not have expectancy or certainty. There is no pattern or consistency to see demonstrated from God. We should always realize he is unpredictable. We are told there is a huge litany of reasons why he does not take action for us, even if it is good thing and the Bible declares he will do it. It appears it is intentional that we cannot understand.
Of course, we are always faulted for giving up and no longer have faith. Christianity is a religion of constant guilt and self blame for our shortcomings. It kills our prayer life.

Helen Schirmer September 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm

God does Not deliver on his promises. He is random and capricious. He even get glory from our suffering and pain which is stated in the Bible. Must be why he allows it so much in people struggling to believe. Yet deliverance is NOT promised.
Only says he is with us. I guess sitting back in a lawn chair and feeling glorious and watching us suffer. How does being told God is with you who has the control to
stop the pain or deliver you from it, give you comfort or hope? It only shows we do not understand God and neither does he intend us to. He hears our cries but is not moved to action. Yet expects us to have faith in him. Then scripture
guilts and condemns us for lack of faith. It is a losing battle.

Jonathan September 18, 2016 at 6:20 pm

I’m exactly where dorine is. It makes me sick to think the more loving and good people tell me God is, that should make him be here and more caring. It makes him look even worse and even less likable. But guess what? The end times are here, and we have bigger problems to worry about. Personally God promised me a wife. I was very excited to meet her, God would share things about her. 23″” now how do you expect me to be married when tribulation is here? We will have hard enough time not being pulled into fema camps and tortured and finding food let alone finding a woman or a mate to enjoy life with. That dream and promise flew out the bag pretty quick. Will I lay down my Isaac? Sure, what choice or hope do I have ? Who cares anymore what I ever wanted. Gods plan, his way. So much for hoping. Heaven is a bigger hope though, cause I had a feeling if I did get married he would make it al problems trials and issues anyways. I just don’t like promising more then you can deliver. Especially from a God. Especially. My sadness is gone, my anger is gone. I really could care less. Do not get your hopes up. Just shit up and deny yourself so you’re counted worthy.

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