This Is Now: 3 Things I Wish I’d Done Then
It was an Easter I’ll never forget. Standing in church and singing about the resurrection I was ambushed with an overwhelming sense of anger. Not the irritated with the in-laws type of anger or the ticked that I tripped on a plastic Easter egg anger. No, this was that deeply rooted anger that seems to create a red haze over everything. It took me by surprise because I can count on one hand the number of times that it’s happened. This time I was angry at God.
You can’t just talk yourself out of that kind of anger. I thought I was in a good place. Apparently not. As I stood there, no longer singing, I felt a wave of resentment. I had followed all “the rules.” I loved Jesus and had done what I was supposed to do. It didn’t matter. I still had to deal with the devastating fallout resulting (at least in part) from the depressive side of my bipolar disorder.
Logically I knew that I was out of line. I definitely hadn’t “done it all right.” I could spot my sin and shortcomings from a mile away. That didn’t change how I felt, though. Why had God allowed the nightmare I found myself in? Why hadn’t He intervened in the broken relationships or brought emotional healing? The anger faded within hours, but left a bad taste in my mouth for a long time to come.
It seems funny that I didn’t remember that day this past Easter. Instead it teased at the edges of my memory about a week ago as I drove home from a conference, singing along with Casting Crowns’ This Is Now a bit off-key and reflecting on the apostle Peter’s story.
when I thought my sin has closed the door
I see my Savior standing on the shore
With arms wide open
Just like the first time You called my name
You said that was then
And this is now
My child, I bore your cross, I wore your crown
When you couldn’t come to me, my love came down
So take My hand, I’ll lead you out
‘Cause that was then
And this is now . ~Casting Crowns
Now I can hear the words of Jesus and know that He was there all along. Working quietly. Molding me into someone that looks just a bit more like him. Now I have hope that He can still use me. Now I actually believe that He can use me better because I am more aware of my utter dependence on Him. Now I trust Him again. But it took a long time to get here.
Listening to the song and thinking about how God had brought me from that place of anger to a new place of trust, I thought about how Peter’s expectations and understanding changed. Just like today, in Peter’s time there were a variety of religious beliefs and ways of interpreting Scripture. Each of the disciples began their journey with Jesus with certain expectations that had been shaped by their religious traditions, political history, and culture. They were hoping for a political deliverer who would end the exile and bring about national restoration as God had promised.
“At that time
I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,”
says the LORD. (Zeph 3:19-20)
For three years, the disciples walked and talked with Jesus. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God.
Blessed are the
poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)
They witnessed miracles.
Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (Luke 11:43)
They experienced miracles themselves.
Then Peter got
down out of the boat, walked on
the water and came toward Jesus. (Matt 14:29)
They still didn’t get it. Focusing on status and privilege, James and John request to sit on Jesus’ right and left, positions of authority and honor.
“Let one of us sit
at your right and the other
at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying that
“the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders,
the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be
killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31-32)
It’s easy to judge them, but how different are we? Our upbringing, religious traditions, and culture influence us, too. We have certain expectations about what the Christian life looks like and how we are to relate to God. Do we believe that our faith is only a private matter? Do we believe that our happiness is God’s priority? Do we believe that God won’t give us more than we can handle? How many of our beliefs about the “abundant life” do we tie to material provision or physical well-being, even unintentionally?
On the surface we may deny that we believe any of these things. After all, when put that bluntly, the obvious answer seems to be “no” or “none.” But the question here isn’t what we think the right answer is or what we believe in our heads. The issue is what we believe in our hearts—it’s what we really expect God to do or to be like deep down inside. Before that Easter Day I would have told you that I “believed” that everything I had was a gift of God’s grace, but my anger suggests that deep down in the quiet, dark, and unacknowledged recesses of my heart I might have believed something else entirely. How about you?
Have you ever felt disappointed or betrayed by God?
I hope you can honestly say “never”! I hope you never experience the anger and devastation I faced that Easter. I’m guessing, though, that even if you haven’t, you know someone who has. But if you can name even one time, you’re not alone.
It can hurt and even be kind of embarrassing to admit that you aren’t the “good Christian” others might think you are. But without honesty, how do we move forward? Do you wonder why God allowed your spouse to die in spite of all the faith and prayers of your community? Do you face systemic injustices because of the color of your skin? Do you still suffer from debilitating pain or are you watching a parent be ravaged by Alzheimer’s? Do you fear for your children’s safety because of where you live? Will you go to bed hungry tonight, wondering where the rent will come from next month? Sometimes in these places we can join the prophet Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength. (Hab 3:17–19)
But sometimes we join Job instead.
Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me. (Job 23:2–5)
On those days that we’re more like Job, what is our real problem? The situations we face can be very real, even unbearable. I don’t want to minimize them in any way—my path may be a cakewalk compared to yours! But when you’re ready, let’s approach the problem from a slightly different angle: What is driving us to respond like Job instead of like Habakkuk?
Only days after that Easter I could see all of the theological problems with my perspective, but that clarity wasn’t possible in the moment. However, that moment did reveal a great deal to about what I really believed about God and how He works in the lives of those who follow Him. I won’t outline all of my misconceptions right now. They’ll still be here to dissect another day. Instead, I want to focus on one particular problem:
I didn’t trust God’s character. I trusted His provision.
Part of it was that I was walking by sight and not by faith, but that wasn’t all of it. In some respects, I had the same problem Job had: God hadn’t met my expectations.
Back to you. What was your answer to the question about disappointment or betrayal? Can I suggest that when we have these feelings about and reactions towards God they can be fundamentally related to our underlying understanding and expectations? Just like Job, we expect God to act in a certain way.
(Let’s pause a moment here—if you’re thinking about a friend, don’t be like Job’s friends. They did more harm than good by trying to correct him!)
Ultimately, it may well be that you or your loved one will need to seek professional help, but I also believe that in these places God invites us to do (at least) three things:
- Seek His presence. My focus here may stem from my own experience, but I think we also see a Scriptural precedent. Job demands explanations and answers, but God doesn’t give them—maybe that’s why I used to find the book so frustrating! God doesn’t explain Himself. Job didn’t get what he wanted, but he got what he needed: an encounter with God and a greater depth of understanding about God’s wisdom and his own limitations (Job 38–41).
- Identify our preconceptions. With the help of the Spirit we can look at our specific circumstances to try and understand what expectations we have that haven’t been met. Sometimes a friend, counselor, or spiritual director can be an important part of this process.
- Seek understanding. Having identified our preconceptions, allow our faith to seek understanding, something that Saint Anselm talked about. Here we can let our love for and commitment to God drive us to prayerfully seek a deeper and more nuanced knowledge of Him.
We’ll dig into these ideas more in the coming weeks, but my hope is that this list will give you a starting point—whether the struggle is yours or someone else’s. My prayer is that God will bring each of us to a place where the “now” isn’t one of failure, betrayal, or disappointment, but one of a deeper knowledge and experience of life with Jesus—a place where we can joyfully say “This is now.“
All Scripture citations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.