Disappointment With God
If you have been a Christian for any substantial length of time you will have experienced disappointment with God. Your expectations were met with silence and your needs loomed ever larger until you were sure they will topple you over and bring your destruction. Yet, the God who is there doesn't seem to be there. The benevolent Father appears greedy and withdrawn. This is not what you heard from your Pastor. The promise has been broken. What is going on?
Expectations vs. Theology
Bad theology leads to bad expectations. Theology is the study of God and the emotional and intellectual commitment to follow and trust him. Theology influences every aspect of your Christian journey. Good theology leads you deeper into the mystery of faith and is accompanied by a rich fullness of the Holy Spirit. Good theology attempts to be a complete view of the Scriptures, covering all parts of life. When good theology is applied to the Believer's heart, the harvest is a Holy Spirit-empowered life.
But bad theology sucks the life from you. There is a difference between bad theology and heresy. Heresy is incorrect doctrine. Bad theology is an incomplete message. Bad theology is what happens when you focus on just one aspect of Scripture and you base your entire worldview on a specific fraction of God's truth. The Osteens', Dollars' and Copelands' of the world have some bad theology. They focus on the prosperity promised to the faithful, and while the Bible includes the earthly prosperity of the righteous, it certainly has much more to talk about.
Here is the problem for us as Christians: bad theology, or incomplete theology, tastes so good. Yeah, I would love to have my best life now and reap a harvest of $1,000 dollars to every $1 that I give. Who wouldn't? But I can't, in good conscience, read the entirety of the Bible and come to those conclusions.
The expectations set by poor, incomplete theology leave us disillusioned when the reality of this life does not match up to the promises that we are given. But what happens when you have good theology and life still fails to meet the expectations?
When the Promise seems Broken
We opened with the idea that Christians will deal with disappointment when their theology - the underpinnings of their faith - does not match up with the reality surrounding them. Even if the theology is good and sound and being made complete, there are experiences that make us doubt what we believe.
Almost every major character in the Bible experienced a time of spiritual disillusionment. They doubted that the promise would be fulfilled. On this fact alone, I know, then, that our current situation is not an unfamiliar one with God or with his people. Even the righteous suffer - Job proves that; the Apostles prove that. Where is God in the suffering? Didn't he promise a best life now? No. He did not. He promised the life that is to come. The Old Testament Promised Land is the New Covenant Paradise and we are on a journey to the land that is to come. But the journey to the Promised land has wildernesses, giants, obstacles, rivers, floods, famine, and fire. None of these seem appealing, do they?
These are the times when the journey gets hard and we think the promise is broken for us. In the 21st century, we face famine, floods, obstacles, rivers, and giants, too. In times of trial, we think that God has forgotten us or that we have pissed him off and he now ignores us. Failing health makes us question the promise of Jesus the Healer. Unemployment makes us doubt that our needs will be taken care of. Abusive relationships may cause us to recoil from the promise of a family and a loving Father. Once our theological expectations fail us we question the validity of the Gospel and we are tempted to give up and just do it on our own.
But have you stopped to consider the purpose of the pain?
The Purpose of the Pain
I am convinced that times of silence and ambiguity are part of God's plan. You and I tend to drift into comfort and having a sin nature means that our default comfort state tends to be more sinful than righteous. The Old Testament accounts for this harsh truth. God delivered his people from the slavery of Egypt but the difficulty of the journey to the promise land made the people want to trade their freedom for the leeks and onions of Egypt. Yes, they would gladly be slaves if they could eat some onions. But let us not look down our noses on the Israelites. We willingly choose the slavery of our addictions over the freedom of redemption offered in Christ.
A wise saying is this: Change will never happen until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. Why change destructive habits if it takes more effort to overcome them? Eating a whole chocolate cake is easier than running a mile. But that heart attack will wake you up! The pain of my food addiction suddenly became more threatening than the specter of hitting the gym. The pain has served its purpose in getting to change courses.
God uses pain in a similar way. He allowed the Israelites to be repeatedly taken into captivity so they would see the effect of their sin, repent, and return to Him. Like a good parent that disciplines her child, it is trading a present, temporary pain for the better result in the future. We hate going through times of discipline - because discipline sucks - but it keeps us from making worse mistakes down the road. It is a true statement that the Lord loves who he disciplines.
It Still Seems Like Betrayal To Me
Every period of God's silence is not a reprimand of our sin. There are times that trials of the faithful heart are hard to comprehend (think Job's conundrum). The temporary distance between God and Christian can feel like an utter betrayal. He promised to be closer than a brother and make his dwelling is us, but He just seems so far and he is refusing to hear our cries! I relate to the Psalmist when he cried "Why have you forsaken me?!?"
Learning how to swim entails my teacher letting me go and taking away my life jacket. I can't become a strong swimmer if my weight is constantly supported by the instructors hands or a kickboard. Wise instructors leave the pool and call out instructions from the deck. He watches the struggle and is tempted to intervene, but he holds out because you must do this on your own - so you can advance to the next obstacle - the deeper end of the pool. Always watching, but ever silent, the instructor knows that you need to be able to fight the fear and learn how to swim.
The essence of faith is taking belief and applying it to your soul. How do we expect to take abstract knowledge of God and learn to trust it except by being taught how to swim in the ocean of faith? God trains us, teaches us, empowers us, and then lets us swim. Do you really believe? You are about to find out. His watchful eye never abandons us, but his presence remains out of our limited sight. This gives us a greater appreciation of his grace. On the other side of the swimming lesson we realize his grace was the always there even when it seemed like His presence was not.
What feels like a betrayal is a sanctifying lesson on the journey to heaven.
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