Theology must be wrestled with in community. We need each other to help us see clearly.
A faithful friend gently questions my statement that God is not disappointed with us. “Then what do you do with the letters to the seven churches in Revelation? God certainly seems to be disappointed with them. Or what about a Christian man who is unfaithful to his wife. Does that not disappoint God?”
I struggle to articulate what I’m feeling. I have witnessed the devastating tragedy of sin. God doesn’t just overlook it, nor would we want him to. He knows its horror far better than we. Our sin crushed him to death. How, then, do we hold the truth of sin’s horror in tension with the massiveness of grace that declares us “holy and without fault in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4)?
My sister gives me the word that supports the tension. Grief. Yes, God is deeply affected by our sin. But not because we have let him down, broken his expectations. Instead, because he loves us and wants us near him. He created us for Himself. He longs for intimacy with us, not because He is needy or incomplete in Himself, but because the love between the Father, Son and Spirit is so vast and complete that it overflows in creative desire to be shared. God knows that because we are conceived by His love, birthed through the labor of His Son into union with Him, we can only truly be ourselves when we’re living in the truth of this union. Because he loves us so deeply, he experiences grief when he sees us living a mere fraction of the life he wants to give us in Himself.
But in the end, does it really make a difference whether the emotion God feels over our sin is grief or disappointment?
YES! The two terms start us off in very different places in our relationship with God. Disappointment arises from unfulfilled expectations. If I think God has expectations of me, I will have expectations of myself. Expectations that I “should” love more. Be more unselfish. Pray more. Generally live more-or-less perfectly. I feel the tension rising as I write. The life-sapping pressure of the deep down suspicion that I will never be able to meet the expectations being compressed by the sense that I should be able to. What, really, am I believing when I live that way? That I myself have to meet the expectations. And that it’s possible that I can. But isn’t this precisely the good news – that we can’t and don’t have to do it ourselves?
When I see God as experiencing grief rather than disappointment over my sin, I too experience grief because I love him and don’t want to make him sad. It’s good and necessary to feel this remorse. But unlike the sense of disappointment which crushes me under the shame of knowing that no matter how sorry I am, I still won’t be able to meet the expectations tomorrow, grief sets me free, calls me back to his arms rather than driving me away in fear. This kind of grief brings me back to the only place I can ever begin to live well – in Christ. It releases me into the freedom of “no condemnation!” (Romans 8:1) Unlike disappointment, which results in loss of trust that may never be fully restored, grief quickly turns to joy when the relationship is restored.
Sensing God’s (non-existent) disappointment puts me in a place of do-it-myself, a place of crushing expectations that I know I can’t meet.
Sensing God’s (real) grief puts me in a place of desperate dependence on the only One who can bring me back into the deep communion for which we all long. And it brings me into a place of gratefulness and expectancy. I know I can’t do it myself. And I don’t have to. Jesus has fulfilled all of God’s expectations on my behalf. He has lived and died and lives again in perfect relationship with His Father. And he promises to live his life through me as I live in his love. He sets me free to live not under the burden of expectations that I cannot meet, but in the joyful expectancy of Christ gradually living more and more of His life out through me as I learn to live in His love.
It’s true! If you are in Christ, God is not disappointed with you! Let your heart sing . . .
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