I read an outstanding and thought-provoking article by Jonathan Merritt about whether or not God is disappointed in us. It caught my attention because Merritt argues that God is never disappointed in us–and that can’t possibly be true.
While Merritt’s argument contains great hope, promise, and solid theological arguments (even if you happen to disagree). But there is a part of me that is skeptical, that is having a hard time buying into this hopeful perspective. If I constantly disappoint myself and the people around me, then how can I not disappoint God?
Merritt’s initial premise is based on his conception of the word “disappoint” in our language. He argues that God would have to be surprised by us if he was truly disappointed in us. If we believe in an all-knowing God, then it is impossible to surprise God.
But what about God’s frustration with us and our lack of obedience, found throughout scripture? Merritt addresses this with an apt comparison:
“God is never disappointed with us. But I think God may often get disappointed for us.”
I would add something to this. God is surely disappointed for us, but God is also not disappointed IN us. For that to happen, He would have to put His faith in us, and that’s not how it works. We put our faith in Him, because we recognize–as God does–that we can’t do it all ourselves.
Okay, that sounds good and all. But there is still a part of me that hangs on to the guilt, and the unfortunate impossibility that I have to do enough to be worthy of God.
Perhaps I heard too many youth rally sermons that told me how the Russians were going to launch their warheads at us unless we all repented, or that Satan worshippers were going to drag me off and give me up as a live sacrifice to the devil if I listened to rock music. ESPECIALLY if I went to one of those demonic concerts, where all the Satan worshippers hang out.
I don’t know what it is, but I just cannot let go of the idea that God is disappointed on every level–in me, with me, and for me. And that’s unfortunate, because it creates another source of guilt: My lack of faith in God’s grace.
I think that it’s a good thing, on some level, to recognize that our sins cause pain. We need to recognize and deal with our sinfulness, but not because God is constantly disappointed in us or angry with us or is dangling us out there as bait so that He has an excuse to start the War of Armageddon.
We need to recognize the hurt that our sin causes so that we can change, and so that we can let God heal us and help us and offer grace to us. God is most disappointed for us when we continue to live in guilt and fear instead of just trusting that He knows a lot more about what He’s doing than we do.
As a PK (Preacher’s Kid), I did not grow up with a father who spewed flames and deadly proclamations from the pulpit every Sunday. But I heard enough of this from other places to have trouble letting go of the belief that I am the Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God.
While I don’t heap this kind of guilt on others in my own preaching, sometimes I am still haunted by it myself. Whether or not I–or we–deserve to feel that way is not the issue. God doesn’t want us to feel that way, in spite of the fact that He may indeed have every reason to.
Perhaps one day I’ll come to fully accept that, even when I do not fully understand. Perhaps I’ll give up those old ideas to realize that GRACE is an incredible gift that goes so far beyond our human ideas of sin, guilt, and punishment that we just can’t quite get it.
As I strive to find that, to fully take to heart what I preach, I will be even more careful about how I share the message of Jesus Christ. I will be cautious about how I approach issues of sin and guilt and conviction and condemnation. Because I would hate to give anyone listening to my sermons that God is constantly looking for reasons to be disappointed with or in any of us.
Instead, He’s looking to love and heal and forgive. He continues to offer His grace, even when we don’t quite get it or hang on to the guilt long after Christ has said, “You can let go now”.
The good knows is that grace doesn’t depend on us understanding it. Grace just is, no matter how much we struggle with our unworthiness.
And for that–Thanks be to God!