Philip Yancy recounts in his book Disappointment with God the story of a young man called Richard. Richard had recently become a Christian and struck up a relationship with the author Yancy, however not long after becoming a Christian and attending Theology school he was beset with a number of major setbacks.
His parents divorced, and his prayers and attempts to save their marriage ended in failure. A job opportunity he was promised fell through leaving him with school debts and no source of income. And at the same time his Christian fiancée left him and with no warning broke off contact. These events and a sequence of other unanswered prayers and wrong turns left him wondering if God was even there.
A little later he attended a service in which it was mentioned earlier that week a plane carrying nine missionaries had crashed in the Alaskan outback, killing all on board, and the pastor brought on a person who had escaped an unrelated plane crash so everyone could praise God for his miraculous escape. Seeing the warped way in which these issues of hardship were addressed Richard abandoned his faith.
Why am I reading a book such as this one by Yancey lately that recounts such grim stories? I can't say I am strictly disappointed with God at the moment. Okay, but I must admit that sometimes I am. It's been an interesting stretch of life so far trying to serve God and seek his guidance in some way on career and relationship fronts but having no clear guidance on what he wants me to do.
Nearing the end of my twenties now I am no clearer on this than when I was a fresh faced eighteen year old starting my first degree. However I have added a patchwork of experience to my Resume, and more maturity and experience in life than when I started. Perhaps I can take some solace in something Baz Luhrmann said, and I've also heard expressed with similar sentiment, "the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't."
The problem of disappointment in God, or divine hiddeness, is so ubiquitous it's even been turned into a formalised Philosophical argument against God's existence. For the atheist or agnostic he wants to know, 'If there is a God why doesn't he show himself to me in an obvious way in which I would be forced to acknowledge his existence?', or similarly, 'Why do people seek God honestly and yet not find him?'
Wouldn't a loving God reveal himself to everyone so all are without excuse, especially if our eternal destiny depends in some way on this choice? Since God is not at all obvious when we look for him this seems to be a good argument against his existence. On the typical Christian front we want answers to our prayers and guidance.
When we look to God for clear guidance on career or other big decisions why doesn't he come through for us? I've been looking for God to guide me on this question for ten years or so now. Should I become a teacher, a banker, a lecturer, a pastor, a writer, or any other of the various professions I have also considered? I still have no idea. This essentially still places my life up in the air.
Questions on answers
So now I have been thinking about answers. Not just to these ongoing practical dilemmas, but to the Theological questions as well. Questions about where is God's guidance or presence when we want him to come through to us. And I think I'm tapping some small cracks in the walls of my own disappointment, so that some light might shine through.
Tracing God's relationship with Israel in the Old Testament, his chosen people, it's clear that even though on a number of occasions such as during their wanderings in the desert, under the reign of Solomon, and with Elijah sending down fire from heaven, God made his presence obvious to all in a tangible sense but this did not mean Israel would follow him.
In fact despite his obvious existence they often, and during all these occasions, turned away from following him. Israel also went through periods of hundreds of years during with God said nothing at all, that's multiple generations. Just between the last prophets of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus is around four hundred years. This is to say it is not unusual for God to be silent, and his obvious presence in the past has not always meant we will follow him.
The reality is God seeks with human beings a relationship of love and choice. We must approach him, and chose to love and follow him. His obviousness doesn't always result in a relationship of love and faith which takes primacy. This was clear in the biblical narrative from the very beginning.
These days with Christ in the mix there are further factors at play. And God has given to the church, and each individual, the Holy Spirit to guide their everyday choices. It might not be a lightening bolt from heaven but we need to dwell in it so that we can make good decisions in our day to day life.
Maybe God will never tell me clearly what I am meant to do with myself. But I have a sneaking suspicion it will consist of a succession of experiences and small choices. Let's begin with that.
Peter Rope is a Financial Economics and Theology graduate from Auckland
Peter Rope's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/peter-rope.html