If you’ve never found yourself disappointed in God, hang on. Sooner or later—days, weeks, months, maybe years—it’s going to be your turn. And if you don’t think it can happen to you, then you’ve forgotten that the student is not above his Master.
Disappointment (An Essay)
John the Baptist was in prison when he heard what Christ was doing, and he sent a message through his own disciples asking the question, “Are you the one who was to come or are we to look for somebody else?” Jesus gave them this reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see – that blind men are recovering their sight, cripples are walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised to life and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses his faith in me.” (Matthew 11:2-6 Phillips)
It is important for us in understanding the above passage to appreciate John’s situation. It is not a comfortable one. In fact, he is in a hard place—even for a crusty prophet used to the rigors of the wilderness where wild honey and locusts served as his daily rations. Jesus himself gave tribute to him saying that no one had ever been born of mankind who was greater. John the Baptist, this great prophet of God, is in prison.
It seems a strange place for one so called of God, this languishing in Herod’s dungeon. After all he is Elijah, the one sent to prepare the way of Christ’s coming, the one who himself baptized Jesus and witnessed the Holy Spirit descending and remaining upon him. Who, even as an unborn child within his mother’s womb, had leapt for joy at the news of his Savior’s arrival. (Mt 11:10,14; Jn 1:32; Lk 1:44)
Why is John in prison? Who put him there?
The scriptures tell us that John spoke out against Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, because of his wickedness—which included the adulterous taking of his brother Philip’s wife as his own. Herod responded by locking John up. (Lk 3.19-20) And so the great man of God, the herald of Christ’s ministry on earth, is put out of society’s sight while miracles take place all around him. Miracles that as the text points out, John heard about even in prison.
It would be easy for us to say that Herod put John in prison and leave it at that. But this would fall short of the truth of the matter. It would be a more accurate rendering to say that God allowed Herod to imprison John. And he did so for God’s own glory and John’s good. For the glory of God is inseparable from the good of his creatures. To claim that Herod did it all on his own without the slightest involvement on the part of God is to render God helpless and fail to understand that there is nothing that takes place within the reaches of the entire universe over which God does not reign, moment-by-moment, in sovereign majesty. No sparrow falls to the ground nor the hairs of a head perish but by God’s leave. Knowing these things is why the apostle Paul described himself as “… a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. (Phile 1:1) I don’t deny that this is a monstrously challenging truth! For it means nothing less than it is ultimately God who gives his sad permission to allow the presence of evil, horrendous evil, in this world.