Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Less Personal Disappointment

It is hard for me to describe exactly what I mean by feeling relieved to know that the world is broken. Particularly because I already know it. But as I’m sure you know, there’s knowing something and then there’s knowing it. (I just wanted to see how many times I could use derivatives of the same verb in one sentence.) That Sunday, listening to how other people were disappointed, I felt for once as if the disappointments weren’t because God secretly likes to play games with us (although the book of Job might make it look like it).

But even this is hard to describe, because on the one hand, the correspondence I had developed with Brian (whom I have decided just to call Brian, because it’s both less cumbersome and less obstinate than calling him “Previous Commentator”) felt very intentional. By which I don’t just mean that I decided to write him and he decided to write back. There was something about it that felt very God-orchestrated. It didn’t seem like some random thing that God had just allowed, but rather something He had planned.

When my cloud castle came first came crashing down around my ears (who knew clouds could hurt so much? besides being so wet?), I was very irate about this. If God planned the correspondence, then He must have planned the disappointment, and that's just mean. Now, though, I'm more okay with the idea of His intentionality behind this, but only because of the equal certainty that the world is broken. A world where my friends David-and-Heather want to share God’s love overseas, but they get denied by the organisation they want to serve with. A world where T wants to teach, and she gets the runaround for two years and finally has to settle for an assistant’s job. A world where Chris wants to use his many talents but a two-year life-glitch keeps him stuck at MacDonald’s (which should not, by the way, be compared to working at Starbucks, because I actually wanted to work at Starbucks, but I don’t think he really wants to work at Mickey D’s). A world where someone of whose bone and flesh I think I am doesn’t recognise me and feels he has found his missing rib in someone else.

From the broken-world angle, even if God orchestrates the circumstances, it seems He mostly does it within the confines of the brokenness we humans chose back at creation. It’s like He limits Himself to those parameters. It’s like a glimpse of why and how He can mourn when we mourn, and yet cause the source of our mourning. Right?

I think it’s going to take me months (at least) to be able to verbalise all this. But here is a little more of what I mean:

I believe that God is sovereign. I believe He has ultimate control of the universe. I believe His will will ultimately be done. On the other hand, why would Jesus tell us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” unless sometimes it wasn’t? God's will is going to be done all right, but maybe not as it is in Heaven every time. (Praying for God's will takes on a slightly different shade when I think about it this way. It seems a little less passive and timid.)

So, for example, it might be God’s basic will for everyone to find a soulmate. (I didn’t used to believe that, but now I do; I may explore that one more later. Or not.) But the world is broken, so not everybody does. God could, of course, come in here and fix all our messes, and He does fix some of them, and He redeems all of them. But if everything were an immediate happily-ever-after, first of all we wouldn’t grow (as the Tanzanian taxi-driver intimated in October), and secondly He would be overriding our free will and depriving us of the dignity of choice. And the choice, back at creation, but also by every God-denying act each of us commits (or thinks, or says) every day, was for the world to be broken.

At Christmas people who think about such things, think about Jesus, and how God confined Himself to human form and human limitations. When we read the Gospels we see Jesus working supernaturally, but we also see Him not knowing everything immediately, and needing revelation and power from His Father and Spirit. I always thought that was the only way and time God limited Himself for us. But now it occurs to me that He’s been doing it since Adam and Eve decided not to trust Him. It’s not that He can’t break into our world and fix everything. It's that He doesn't. It’s that so often He limits Himself to the boundaries we set, which means that He has to be a lot more creative in order to get His will done.

What this implies to me for my particular situation in November is something like this: It may be God’s desire for me to meet and marry a godly man. It was surely His will for people to join in that sort of Christ-revealing relationship generally. So the desire for that kind of relationship is in me, and it is good, but it does leave me vulnerable.

It’s not like God wanted my pain. In that sense, the disappointment isn’t personal. He wasn’t, as I had first suspected, chortling over what a funny trick He had played on me—again. The world is broken, and we all get disappointed—even in things that seem like they should be God’s will. And maybe this is because most of the time, God plays by the rules we set (which is ironic, since I have some difficulty playing by His).

But He bends the rules, too, because He can make something beautiful out of anything. God would have known that Brian and I were not the right people for each other, but He also knew that I would learn things about Him and His will and myself and the strength He’s been building in me over the years if I corresponded with Brian for a little while. If I got my hopes up. If I got my hopes dashed. I’ve learned a lot from this kind of disappointment before this one. I didn’t think there was anything more to learn from it—and quite honestly, I didn’t want to find out if there was.

Too bad I had to. Or maybe too good. Because if it’s possible to say this humbly (which it probably isn't, and just the fact of my saying it may show just how unbelievably flawed I still am), it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe the beautiful thing that God is making out of this particular disappointment is . . . me.

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