Don't Confuse God With Life

In October, 2009 I copied, with permission from my blogging friend Danny Simms, this beautiful post about disappointment. Enjoy the read. I will add a few comments after his thoughts.

When Phillip Yancey was writing his book Disappointment with God he interviewed a friend of his named Douglas. Douglas was a family man, a Christian leader and a trained psychotherapist. He had a lucrative practice but left it to work among the poorest of the poor in a large American city.

Sounds like a great guy, right? Surely everything will work out well for a guy like this!

Several years ago at a Pastor’s conference I heard Yancey tell about Douglas and how his life was going. As I recall the story, Douglas' wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer spread into her lungs. Her life was seriously threatened and a new series of treatment had started.

As this developed a drunken driver smashed into their family car head-on. Douglas's twelve-year-old daughter went through the windshield and was badly lacerated in the face.

At this same time Douglas was serving on the leadership board of his church. The group made a difficult decision to change the direction of a long standing ministry. Though the move was preceded by much prayer and deliberation, one of the deacons and a close friend of Douglas blamed him personally, angrily left the church, and told as many who would listen that it was all because of Douglas.

Yancey thought it was a natural fit to ask Douglas about being disappointed with God. "You know, Philip,” he said, “I don't think I've ever been disappointed with God." Yancey asked, "How can this be?"

His answer went something like this: "I learned a long time ago not to confuse God with life. Is life unfair? You bet. My life has been unfair. What has happened to my wife, what has happened to my daughter, the accusations within our church... it's all unfair. But I think God feels exactly the same way. I think He is grieved and hurt by the cancer, by what that drunk driver did, and by the breakdown of personal relationships as much as I am. But don't confuse God with life.”

Don't confuse God with life. That is a great insight.

There is a verse in Ezekiel where God tells us to consider three of His much loved people: Daniel, Noah and Job. They are specifically pointed out as being righteous. One of them spent the night with a bunch of lions. One of them lived through a huge flood that killed thousands of people. And then, of course, there's Job. He is the greatest example of unfairness in the Bible. Yet when God looks at those people, He says these are three of my favorites.

All three of them—Daniel, Noah, Job—and many others, including many of the people who wrote the Psalms—learned to have a relationship with God that didn't depend on how healthy they were or how many people applauded them and how well their lives were going.

As for me, when I focus on how life is going I can easily come down with a bad case of “woe as me.” I am much better off when I focus on how God is going.

I have struggled with enduring hardship several times in my life.. my first wife was blind for three years in my early 20s and was was healed of that blindness in 1975.. my heart broke when she passed away at age 43 in 1994. My second wife Ann has struggled with a crippling neurological disease since 2002 and I deal with painful arthritic wrists and ankles.

In all this I have discovered that Douglas' perspective is the only one that helps me live a productive life. When hard stuff comes I have not found it helpful to blame God for the difficulties. I have found that having that kind of attitude only makes me bitter. What Douglas says is true.. God is right along side of us in our pain.. He is touched by our sadness.. and our tears do not go unnoticed.

So when bad times come take Douglas' advice - don't confuse God with life.



  1. Wonderful truth. Thanks for sharing. So much is about the season's we are in. As long as we are where God wants us to be, close to Him, He will sustain us, even if it be in the belly of a whale.

  2. Great post. I think there's a depth of relationship we can have with God if we don't become bitter but look for His Presence in the suffering. Thanks.

  3. Yancey's book Dissapointed With God was one of the last books I read as a believer.

    Does the concept of not confusing God with life apply to good things too? Why is it that some bad things are beyond God's influence, but he gets all the credit for the good things?

  4. Sorry if I came off as being negative or if I brought anybody down, but it's an honest question that I have.

  5. "Why is it that some bad things are beyond God's influence, but he gets all the credit for the good things?"

    Good question Mike! Sorry I am a bit slow in responding.

    In a sense I do see "good things" coming from God and "bad things" coming from within His creation. I probably view it that way because I see God as a good and loving entity.

    Now what we call good is pretty relative.. one person's beautiful snowfall is another's blizzard.. if you get my drift :)

    Anymore I try to not focus too much on stuff like that and try to just live a thankful life. But I still find it hard to give thanks when life sucks and times are dark.. I guess that is the rub.. to separate life and God but not divorce them entirely.

    That is the best I have Mike.. nothing black and white.. my life is full of grays.. guess these days I kind of like living from a non-fundamentalist perspective :)

  6. Well, I completely agree on living a thankful life, I guarantee on my worst day someone somewhere is have a day 10 to 100 times worse than I am.

  7. Mike's question about crediting God with good things while not holding him accountable for bad reminds me of this story:

    There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

    “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

    “Maybe,” replied the old man.

    The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

    “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

    The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

    “Maybe,” said the farmer.

  8. Love that story Brian - maybe :)

    It does show the relative nature of things we often call blessings and curses. Have you seen the ad showing these days where a gal calls cancer a blessing? My wife and I think that it is a bad ad. IMO calling bad stuff good is just using religious lipstick and is never a good idea.

  9. Bob,

    I haven't seen the ad you're talking about. But, I have heard people say that serious or even terminal illnesses have been blessings. I've heard many parents of specials needs children talk about what a blessing they are.

    I think almost everything has an upside and a downside. But, with many things it's very difficult to see the upside while you're going through it. I think Mike made a great point though. I've heard many Christians give God credit for something as small as getting them a good parking spot, while giving Satan the blame for them not getting a good parking spot. I don't think it works like that.

  10. Great story, Brian.

    Bob, that reminds of Barbara Ehrenreich's recent visit to the Colbert Report to promote her book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

    I haven't read the book, though I may, but what I took away from the interview is that some in our society put people down for not being all happy and positive, when some people just aren't wired that way.


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