What Are You to Do When God Does Not Respond Like You Hoped?

What Are You to Do When God Does Not Respond Like You Hoped

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Humans were created for worship; it’s part of our ontology—the nature of our being—as determined by our Creator. You will worship something. If you worship the living God in spirit and truth, you will be transformed into His likeness; if you worship any version of a false god, you will be spiritually deformed.

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 A Changeable God

We become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration. – G. K. Beale

Whenever you read sensory malfunction language in the Bible, understand that it’s talking about idolatry and its effects on the human soul.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them (Psalm 135:15-18).

In the past hundred-plus years or so, the church has moved away from teaching the robust doctrine of God as laid out in the creeds and confessions of the faith. I am told that up until fairly recently in church history, words like impassibility and immutability were not relegated to ivory-tower jargon but were woven into the hearts and minds of faithful Christians everywhere.

The motive for moving away from such concepts, to be sure, was at least in part to make God accessible to the average person. But the result in many cases, has been the creation of an anemic, emasculated god: an idol. Instead of the God of the Bible, a God who cannot be changed by anything—from within or without—the God of the current Christian climate is highly mutable, capable of having his heart broken over his children’s suffering.

Immutability means God does not change in any way. Impassibility, a corollary to immutability, means that God does not experience emotional change in any way; he does not suffer. —Matthew Barrett

In Need of Nothing

Where does that leave his followers? How can a Christian be steadfast and immovable (1 Corinthians 15:58) if her God is just as moved by her circumstances as she is? To whom can she anchor herself, to pull herself out of the quicksand, when her God is in there with her?

Think about this: if something in you caused God to be different in any way than He was, He is dependent upon you for His new state of being. Further, ask yourself whether He changed for the better or the worse and what implications this has on His perfection. These are not insignificant questions.

Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you and enters into judgment with you (Job 22:2–4)?

Eliphaz was right about God, even though his accusation toward Job was incorrect. God is in need of nothing, and nothing any creature can do adds anything to Him whatsoever. As one theologian says, God is the I AM, not the “Not Quite Yet” in any sense.

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An Unmovable Lover

As I said here, this does not mean God doesn’t care for you. He does, perfectly and unchangeably. His compassion doesn’t leave you where you are but always seeks to draw you into greater perfection. By definition, to be a creature is to be moved; but fully to bear the image of God means to be stable, relatively immovable, and fixed completely on God and the hope of eternal life.

I’ve always been grateful for the lament Psalms and have often encouraged believers who can be miserable comforters to take note of them. No two people make it from “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you!” (Psalm 22) in the same timeframe; it’s unloving and unwise for us to attempt to drag them to where we want them to be.

But with the rise of the concept of empathy, fewer people are making it to the end of the Psalm at all. Words like “validate” and “support,” coupled with admonitions to be as non-directive as possible, have left victim, helper, and God alike in the quicksand with no hope of rescue.

Truth and Love

As in God, human love and stability are not really distinct from one another because when they are authentic, they reflect God Himself, whose love is described over and over as being simply steadfast. It’s become common to equate great emotional display with great love; on the contrary, though, often, a love that is greatly moved is fear-based and, therefore, fickle and immature (1 John 4:18).

It’s not wrong to help a person who has been relentlessly manipulated to see what has been happening to him and not to accept the blame for it. For the sake of the person who has sinned against him as well as for the wounded one, it may be right to pursue justice, whatever that may look like in a given case. Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices in the truth; when we love in this way, we bear the image of the one true God. Literally, everything we do must be done in love, or it is an affront to God.

Love and truth go hand in hand, just like love and stability do; they are united and identical to God’s person, and it’s impossible for an image-bearer truly to have one without the other. A person can’t be loving without being filled with truth, and they aren’t fully in truth if they aren’t loving. Here’s the rub, though: you might have unloving attitudes in your heart and also have eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear, and a heart that doesn’t understand truth.

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:11).

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His Gracious Discipline

Are you afflicted with spiritual blindness? Would you know if you were? That’s a trick question, of course. Every human being since Adam—other than Christ—has been adept at lying to herself and others about the condition of her soul, particularly in response to genuine and grievous sin against her. To be spiritually blind essentially is to be self-unaware, to one degree or another.

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit (Proverbs 16:2).

What hope, then, do you ever have of seeing clearly? One of God’s perfections is peace, which is a facet and product of love. If you have not been perfected in love (which is true of everyone to some extent, by the way), you will have anxiety instead of peace (1 John 4:18). Are you running when no one is chasing you?

It may be that you have moved with respect to the immovable God (James 4:6), and He has withheld peace from you as a form of gracious discipline. Thankfully, your self-deception cannot fully fool you because God’s testimony in your heart is greater than your own. The peace that passes understanding belongs to the Christian with a clear conscience. Turmoil during a trial is natural; the peace I am talking about is supernatural.

Diagnose Your Soul

A lack of peace in your soul is like a check engine light inviting you to run a spiritual diagnostic test. If your conscience is clear, your soul will be at rest. It is possible to have a weak conscience. Are you asleep in the boat while the storm rages, humbly trusting in God? This is a sign that you are worshipping Him in spirit and truth. Another way of saying this is that you are keeping the Royal Commandment to love Him with all your soul, strength, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. God is love; are you bearing His image or His enemy’s (1 John 4:20)?

Love is an attitude more than a feeling. 1 Corinthians 13 is like a prism that diffracts love into distinctive attitudes, so you can use it to look into your heart. Toward whom are you impatient or unkind? Whose faults do you keep track of? Whose sin do you overlook or excuse? When your soul lacks peace, these are the questions you should prayerfully ask God to reveal to you. I would encourage you to work through this article in response to what God shows you about your attitudes.

If you are grumbling, complaining, hopeless, or discontent, your primary problem is a lack of love for God. Will you confess this to Him and ask Him to change you? You don’t have to muscle through this on your own, dear friend. Freedom and joy are there for the asking.

Do Not Recast God

Just like love is an attitude more than a feeling, so is hatred. Biblical hatred is the negation of biblical love: impatience, unkindness, irritability, quickness to anger, jealousy, etc. If these things dwell in your heart, you’re spiritually deformed; if you’re lying to yourself about the truth of what’s going on in your heart, your blindness is going from bad to worse, and you are experiencing noise in your soul (Proverbs 28:1).

Many Christian counselors today give the people they serve permission not to love other people. God hates abuse, they say, and if you hate your abuser, you are just imaging God. They put forth an image of God, who simply cries with them without expecting anything of them. Anselm rightly said that God is that “than which no greater can be conceived”; what then can we say about the effects of recasting Him as something lesser?

Good is objectively rooted in the character and nature of the God who is. Worship of the impassible, immutable God is the only thing that leads to spiritual health. Love motivates these counselors, to be sure, but it’s an immature love that doesn’t edify those in its care. If this describes you, will you humbly reconsider your position?

Call to Action

I pray that the Lord will grant all who read this to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands. May you love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. I pray for unity in the body of Christ as we bear the image of the God who is.

  1. What is one thing you learned from reading this article? Will you share that thing with a friend?
  2. In what way did the Spirit of God challenge you as you read? Will you share that thing with a friend?
  3. What specific way do you need to change how you care for others? What is your plan to change?
  4. Have you recast God by bringing Him into your suffering and manipulating Him to think about your problems the way you do? If you have, will you seek the help you need so you can change yourself rather than trying to change the immutable and impassible one?
  5. If you wish to study more about this article, please explore the materials that I have linked on this page.

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