Disappointment in God

Dec 20, 2010

If I print my blog on pretty paper or wrap it up like a Christmas present with a beautiful bow, will I disguise this truth about modern people and God?  Or maybe I should just whisper it: we are pretty disappointed in God.  Oh, nobody much talks about this, but I believe this disappointment is behind the slow leakage of people out of the mainline church; even the Southern Baptists, not part of the liberal church, are experiencing the same loss of membership.  Certainly our culture is anti-religious, anti-commitments, anti-beliefs and anti-surrender to anything or anyone, but there is more going on than just that.

Some of the erosion in belief in God can be traced to the Enlightenment of the 18th century in which the meaning of belief changed from giving one’s heart over to someone or something to holding certain thoughts or tenets—even if unproven—as true.[1] Certainly some of the erosion comes from the scientific community’s insistence on factual proof as the underpinning of all thought. And a lot of the erosion comes from the extreme stress placed on materialism in most modern cultures.  According to our culture having enough material possessions is the cure-all for all of a person’s woes: having everything our hearts desire is supposed to fend off any troubles. Now that is a belief system that is active and resting on something debatable.

Since the Enlightenment we’ve lost any sense of the mythic nature of life, or of our place on Earth; since we’ve crossed over completely to the material side of life, we no longer believe in mystery, the unknowable and miracles. Jesus life alone leaves us gasping for something material to cling to: the virgin birth, his long lineage back to King David, the miracles and healings he performed, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Not believing in these events in his life has undermined belief in anything he says or does.  We walk away slowly shaking our heads.

Either God is omnipotent or he is weakly ineffectual. Either God intervenes in our lives or she doesn’t. He’s either a personal God or she’s so remote as to be unreachable. Many people in the churches cannot say definitively that there is a God and that they believe in him or her.

We look at the world and the violent mess that it is in, we see our part in the wars; we cannot see anyway out of the mess; we feel powerless to turn the tide and we’ve lost our sense of hope in a better future and we’ve lost our faith in God who doesn’t seem to be acting to change it. We have a sense that if God cared he would clear up the difficulty: get rid of the bad people and leave just the good ones here. Then we would not have to face the challenges and difficulties we face– if only God would act. Then we would believe in him. This thinking is the crux of the disappointment in God and why so many people drift out of our churches—we should be able to have fewer challenges and difficulties, God should save us from the world and how it is. We are entitled to a better life.

Since most people have no idea of what God’s action in the world is, they would not recognize it if they saw it. We pray for peace and expect God to deliver it. We pray for healing and expect to be healed. We pray for others and hope their troubles are reversed. We put the whole problem in God’s hands without connecting what we do to the desired outcome. If we pray for peace, God wants to use us to accomplish that peace.  He wants to transform how we behave and think from the inside out until we exude peace in every transaction. Then she has someone who can be peaceful in all things and help bring in peace in the world. God would then gather the efforts of all those who were peaceful and multiply their efforts by adding in the Holy Spirit’s actions. That’s how we pray for a peaceful world.

If we pray for healing, we need to be the healing we pray for. We need to forgive ourselves and others, we need to love the other just as he is. God wants us to be transformed so that we can be truly helpful—not acting out of an idea of how we can be helpful, but out of inspiration from the Lord for how we can be truly helpful in the person’s life who is facing us at this moment.

If we want to fix something in this uncertain world of ours, first we must be fixed, we must let God transform us so that we can be truly helpful, then we must do what we are inspired to do. Then we can truly usher in a new age here. We are God’s hands and feet here on earth. If we allow God to inspire our action, then we are his instruments here. Then we are not just noticing what is wrong, we are acting upon it, transforming it as we have been transformed.

During the last decades of the 20th century and the first one of the 21st we have assumed a sense of entitlement to a life of ease. We’re like a child running home to his parent, full of hurt, and wanting the parent to fix the world for us. As the child learns, the world—what he experiences of it—the bullying and teasing, humiliation and exclusion are not fixable. The child needs to develop some coping mechanisms, toughen up a bit, choose different behaviors and learn to adapt.  We also need to do the same.

Like the fine parent that God is, we can go to him with our troubles, he will console us and redirect our energies. We can get back up, dust ourselves off and do our part to save the world, knowing that God is always with us. That’s the beginning of understanding the paradox that God is the director, not the actor. We are the actors on the stage. The script for your life was written with your creation in mind. Do we follow our script or not? Do you think you know better what to do with your life than your Creator? Will you give up some of your “stuff” in order to become the person you were created to be? If you do, you will find all that you seek: love, connection, fulfillment—all.

Also, do this: allow the sense of mystery to come back into your life. Hold paradoxes like these as equally valid: Jesus is totally man and totally God; God wants an intimate relationship with each of us and he is remote; miracles and healings do happen, but not in every case or every time we pray. The more we are able to embrace mystery and paradox, the more we’re able to see the action that God takes in our world. Once we train our eyes on him we can appreciate what he is doing.—all the time

God does not work on our timetable or agenda. He takes the long view in everything; she works for lasting change, not surface change. He does what is best for the individual and the world, even if we don’t recognize the gift.

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

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