If you’ve been alive for any length of time, you’ve likely felt disappointment. It’s one of the common experiences all people share. We all know what it feels like to be let down or to have unmet expectations. Often the cause of our disappointment is other people, and at other times we disappoint ourselves. If we’re willing to be honest, I bet many of us would admit that we’ve also felt disappointed by God.
The rendering of Isaiah 49:23 varies between translations, but the New International Version reads, “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Other translations use the phrase “not be put to shame” in place of the word “disappointed.” Either way, the concept is fairly straightforward: those who hope in (or “wait for”) God won’t be let down. In the end, they won’t look foolish for having hoped in Him, because He will eventually come through.
Since Isaiah 49:23 seems to contradict our experience, we might be tempted to dismiss it as an error at best, or reject it as a lie at worst. This is not an option, however, for those who believe the Bible to be inerrant. When the Bible’s teachings are at odds with our experience, it is our experience – not Scripture – that needs reevaluation.
If it’s true that those who hope in God will not be disappointed, and if it’s true that I have been disappointed with God, then I need to ask myself if my hope was actually in God after all. Contrary to popular opinion, the word “hope”, at least in the biblical sense, does not mean “wish” or “really want.” The biblical concept of hope was best captured by one of my college professors when she defined it as “the constant expectation that God will be who He claims to be and do what He promises to do.”
In other words, when the Bible says that those who hope in God won’t be disappointed, it’s saying that those who expect God to be who He is and do what He promises won’t be let down. I may really want God to do something specific in my life, but if I’m “hoping” in Him to do something He never promised, I’m only setting myself up for disappointment.
Biblical hope takes our eyes off of ourselves, our circumstances, and our desires, and instead places them on God, His character, and His promises. Biblical hope moves us from the shaky to the stable, from the ever-changing to the always-constant.
There’s plenty of disappointment to be had in our broken world and much of it is inevitable. There’s one form of disappointment, though, that we need not experience. Look to the Bible for descriptions of the character of God and explanations of the promises of God – and believe them! Live your life assuming that God is actually who He claims to be and anticipating Him to be faithful to His promises. If you try it, I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.