I just got an email from someone who is going through a bible study workbook. She asked about the veracity of following statement:
“Every circumstance of life is to be accepted willingly and joyfully, without murmuring, complaint, or disappointment, much less resentment. There is no exception”
She raises a very important question. This is a very strong and all-encompassing. My first thought was “Is that really true?” It came from a very respected source and I wanted to be very cautious before I responded. Because if this is in fact true, there’s a significant amount of sins committed by God’s people that are undetected. If this is true, I have a lot of soul-searching to do. So, what does the Bible have to say about disappointment? Is all disappointment sinful?
Let’s begin by defining disappointment. Webster’s 1913 edition defines disappointment as, “The act of disappointing, or the state of being disappointed; defeat or failure of expectation or hope; miscarriage of design or plan; frustration.” I would like to suggest that disappointment is a whole-person, emotional and intellectual response that occurs when one’s desires are unfulfilled, one’s hopes are dashed or one’s expectations are not realized. Disappointment therefore is a universal, human experience. Humans are motivated by desires. In a fallen world, one will experience daily disappointments; life rarely turns out the way one plans or hopes. Disappointment is a natural aspect of living in a fallen world. I would argue that disappointment for a human being in a fallen world is unavoidable. Of course, one is totally responsible to glorify God in his/her response to the disappointment(s). This is an especially painful truth for the believer whose hope is that their loved one will love and follow Christ. However, if God does not in fact choose them and draw them to himself, disappointment will no-doubt be immeasurable. However, they can choose to trust and honor God, even though His sovereign acts cause great disappointment and grief.
Solomon gives us a succinct description of the effects of disappointment:
Pr. 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Pr. 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
Disappointment should be used as a diagnostic tool for the heart. When a person experiences the emotion of disappointment, one should step back and ask, “Was my desire or hope for something that is good and godly? If not, then disappointment is a call to repent and turn from sinful desires. It is a time to praise God that He orchestrated your life in such a way that you were prevented from further sin.
Disappointment Over Good Things is a Part of Loving God and Seeking His Glory
However, if your disappointment has come from an unmet, good, God-honoring desire, hope, objectives or outcomes, your disappointment is a natural outworking of your desire to please God. I don’t believe that the emotion of disappointment is sinful, it is natural and even right to experience disappointment. Of course, one must make a conscious effort to avoid sinning in the disappointment.
God’s people will by nature love the unbeliever, the rebellious, the wayward. I believe this guarantees that a believer will often experience disappointment. Many people we love reject God. Many people we love will pursue their sin to self-destruction. Furthermore, God doesn’t call people to himself within our time-table. When God’s children see others choose sinful life-styles, it brings disappointment, perhaps even sorrow and grief. This is a very grievous experience which is common to many parents, pastors and family members.
Here are some examples in Scripture of people who experienced disappointment over failing to obtain good outcomes or expectations.
Parents rightly grieve or experience disappointment when their children dishonor God and fail to live lives that are obedient to God.
Pr. 10:1 A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Pr. 17:21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.
Samuel loved Saul. Samuel prayed for Saul. Saul rebelled and Samuel experienced deep disappointment. Samuel grieved over Saul’s horrific end.
1 Samuel 15:11 - “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.
1 Sam. 15:35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Of course, there came a point where God had to confront Samuel because he failed to respond to the disappointment in a timely fashion, however I believe his initial response of disappointment, anger and grief was normal, right and to be expected.
1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
David expressed disappointment time and time again throughout his life, many of the psalmists cried out to God and expressed deep lament and disappointment.
Ps. 39:12-13 12“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. 13Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!”
Ps. 10:1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Habakkuk expressed his disappointment and confusion about how God was dealing with violence and injustice. It was his expression of disappointment that gave us the rich, powerful book by his name.
Habakkuk 1:2-4 2O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?’ Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Paul experienced disappointment throughout his ministry.
2 Cor. 2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
2 Cor. 12:20-22 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
1 Thess. 2:17-20 17But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face18because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20For you are our glory and joy.
Jesus expressed what appears to be frustration perhaps disappointment, in his humanity, in Philip for his lack of discernment.
John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Therefore, I would conclude that disappointment is a natural response to an unmet hope, desire or expectation. Disappointment is an unavoidable human experience. Disappointment isn’t necessarily sinful. However, as with righteous anger, God is extremely concerned about how we respond to our disappointments. Disappointments can quickly morph into sinful responses. One can blame others, fail to take personal responsibility, blame God, shut down emotionally, attack others, and over-compensate with manipulation, etc. The list goes on and on.
Responding to disappointment
God calls us to trust Him, obey Him, and glorify Him as we express our disappointments to him in prayer and supplication.
God calls Habakkuk to wait patiently for what he desired to see take place.
Hab. 2:3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
Mary’s disappointment in Jesus for not being there to save her brother was great, however her hope remained in the goodness, grace, mercy and power of the God-man.
John 11:19-22 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Psalm 42 gives us a good theological process and foundation for responding to disappointment. Here, the Sons of Korah show us how to preach truth to ourselves as we turn our attention from disappointments, even though they may be good, to something more sure, more beautiful, and more satisfying; namely to God himself.
Ps. 42:5 5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Ps. 42:9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” 11Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Seeking God and His will in our disappointments
God commands us to turn to him in our disappointments and express them to Him with the intention of placing our hope in Him (Lam 3:20ff), trusting in His character and goodness that He will work all things for our good and his glory (Rom. 8:28-29). He commands us to train our minds to not allow our disappointments to turn us away from Him, but rather think biblically and truthfully about our situation (Ja. 1:2-12; Phil 4:4-19) and respond in obedience and perseverance in our suffering (Heb. 12:1-14; Rom. 11:36-12:3).
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has this to say about disappointment,
“In spite of his circumstances, the psalmist learned to trust in God who, in the end, overcame his disappointment (Pss. 22:5; 40:1; 42:5b). Isaiah saw a day when all who were feeble and fearful would become strengthened (Isa. 35:3–4). In the meantime, Jesus commands that those who are disappointed continue to wait on God, pray, and not lose heart (Luke 18:1; cp. Matt. 5:4). Every believer is called to recognize that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces a hope in God that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:3–5).
I believe disappointments are inevitable, but we must first discern if our desires and expectations are God-honoring. If they are not, the sense of disappointment is a call to repent, reject those desires (Jonah 2:8) and exchange that desire for a God-honoring one (Ps. 73:25).
If our desires are in fact God-honoring and yet remain unfulfilled, our experience of disappointment is an invitation to run to God (Ps. 46) and cling to Him (Ps. 63:8), cry out to Him (Ps. 56; 130; 142), persevere in prayer (1 Thes. 5:17) as we wait for Him (Is. 40:31; Ps. 40) with hope (1 Tim. 1:1) and joy (Ja. 1:2) as the trials refine and conform us to the image of Christ (Ja. 1:3-4).
 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph. 4:26-27
 Wright, P. H. (2003). Disappointment. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 424–425). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.