Children can hurt their parents. Christians can hurt God. Now, I know that God is immutable and sovereign and all the other good theological descriptors that show that he is totally in control. God is not, however, a big smiling yellow pie in the sky that keeps smiling at you no matter what you do. I love my children very much, and I don’t always smile at them. Sometimes they really frustrate me and I grieve over their behavior. Actually, the Bible gives us reason to believe that the Spirit of God can grieve over our behavior as well. Ephesians 4:29-32 says:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (emphasis mine). Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV)
The context is pretty clear in these verses. It’s even clearer if you read all of chapter 4, which gives lengthy instructions on moral conduct. If Jesus is the perfect picture of God’s love for us, then I suppose that’s another good example that God can be a bit frustrated with the actions of his children. Certainly the biblical scriptures give us the understanding that Jesus was frustrated and angry with those who would not respond to his grace. Mark 3:4-5 says:
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts (emphasis mine), said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (NIV)
One could suggest that a rebuke follows some sort of disappointment, frustration, or anger. We see in Luke 9:54 that Jesus rebukes James and John for their desire to enact a fiery judgment on a Samaritan village. I’m pretty sure that Jesus was frustrated with their request, if not disappointed. I could throw out a good many more examples from scripture but I don’t want to turn this post into a virtual VBS.
The reason that I wrote this post right now is because I just read an article by a friend of mine that addressed the issue of whether or not God is ever disappointed with us. Let me start by saying I have a lot of respect for my friend, Jonathan Merritt, and we share a lot of common convictions and beliefs. He handles hard subjects with respect and wisdom and I really appreciate most of his thoughts on this issue. What I take up disagreement with is the idea that God is only disappointed “for us” rather than disappointed with us. I’m also concerned that there is an improper view of love that is presented when all negative emotional connotations are taken out of it. The only reason we feel disappointment at all is because we care, and many times because we love. I’m disappointed with my children’s behavior because I love them and (like Jonathan pointed out) want the best for them. I’m disappointed in the thoughts, actions, and desires that emanate from my child’s heart, from their person. I’m not just disappointed that they won’t get the best prize, or have a nice house, or experience the joy of a loving family. I’m legitimately frustrated and disappointed because of the decisions they have made. I don’t stop loving them through all of this. Their actions won’t make me hate them. I know that I’m not God, but If what God really cares about is conforming us to the image of his son Christ Jesus, then what he cares about is our heart. He’s grieved when we work against his Spirit, who has his home within us. He’s hurt by us. He’s disappointed because of us, not just our circumstances. Evil isn’t just this metaphysical set of circumstances that lands around our lives and causes us to do bad things. Evil comes from our wills and intentions. God is disappointed with the evil within us. Those sinful thoughts and actions have been dealt with, but God still relates to us on a day-to-day basis. He still grieves when we choose to follow the way of sin.
Jonathan’s right, we can’t make God love us any more or less. He’s right there waiting for and pursuing all sinners so that they might repent and receive the forgiving grace that he provided through the life, death, and resurrection of his son Christ Jesus. Maybe Jonathan is right in making the distinction between disappointment “in” and “for.” All I know is that my actions can grieve him, and that I don’t want to grieve my father. Thankfully, he’s always there with open arms when I draw near to him. Someday I won’t grieve him anymore. I will be changed completely. I look forward to that day.