Suffering & Our Expectations

Suffering and Our Expectations

Expectations color our reality in tangible ways every day. This is especially true in our relation-ships with others. What we expect someone to do or not do will have a big impact on the way that we get along with that person. There is nothing that will cause more trouble in a relationship than unmet expectations.

The same is true in our relationship with God. Whether we realize it or not, most of us have some type of expectations about God. About who he is or how he will act in our lives. When things are good it’s easy to think that we accept God as he is and follow him without question. But it’s when things go wrong, when we experience suffering, that our expectations of God begin to surface. It’s in those moments that we realize that we have expected God to show up in a particular way and he just seems to have not come through for us.

 

We’re Not Alone

We aren’t the only ones to struggle with these types of expectations of God. When Jesus came to the Jewish people there was much confusion about who he was. Though they had heard prophecies about who the Messiah would be, they seemed to have their own expectations of what Jesus should have done. Jesus just didn’t go about things in the way they expected him to. This is further illustrated by a story about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-6.

“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account me.’”

Matthew tells us that John has been thrown into prison by King Herod and it is clear to John that he is unlikely to get out of there alive…apart from a miracle. It is in the midst of this suffering that John hears about all of the things that Jesus has been doing and sends his disciples to Jesus with a question. It’s significant to understand that what prompted John’s question doesn’t seem to be the suffering only, but perhaps also the fact that he’d heard about Jesus helping others. As so often happens, despite all that John knew and believed about Jesus, it was in the midst of his own suffering that his expectations of the Messiah began to surface. Suddenly, he found himself wondering why Jesus would help others and but he wasn’t rescuing him. He wasn’t setting him free.

 

Struggling with a Question

Out of John’s expectations of Jesus arises a question that is not uncommon. He sends his dis-ciples to ask, “Are you the one?” It’s an odd question coming from a man who had preached about Jesus being THE ONE. But it’s not that unusual to us. In fact it seems like a logical way to feel when you’ve expected God to show up and he doesn’t.

But the key to understanding and navigating this question is to understand the reason we ask it in the first place. And that goes back to our expectations. As we said, we have trouble in our relationships when we have unfulfilled expectations. When we expect God to help us in a situa-tion and he doesn’t come through then we are left with this question or why. Why doesn’t God come? Is he really God? Is he really good? And even people who know and believe in God can find themselves asking these same questions of God.

 

How Jesus Responds to Our Suffering

At first glance, Jesus’ response to John may appear harsh. In essence, he affirms what John already knows. That Jesus IS the Messiah, the Son of God. And, that Jesus is NOT coming to help John. But why would Jesus offer this as a response to John, someone who he loved and respected?

While it’s true that Jesus was telling John that he wasn’t coming, he was saying much more than that. In Jesus’ description of what he was doing, he wasn’t just giving an itemized list of his activities. Rather, he was reminding John of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He was reminding him of who the Messiah was and pointing out that he WAS, in fact, doing the things the prophecies said he would do. He was showing John that John just didn’t quite under-stand who the Messiah was. He was inviting him to let go of his expectations.

And then Jesus invited John to see him as he really is. His final words to John were, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” What he is basically saying is,

There is joy for the one who can see Jesus as he is rather than stumbling over their own expectations of what they want him to be.

 

Joy in Suffering

While it’s understandable that we should let go of our expectations and instead see God as he truly is, it’s hard to see how that would allow us to have a sense of joy despite our suffering. Yet the truth is that seeing Jesus as he is, means that we understand a fuller picture of God and of his plans and purposes in the world. And it is from that perspective that we can abide in him despite our suffering. Jesus helps us to see this in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When we see Jesus as he is, we can know and believe that though we experience some suffer-ing in this world, it is only a temporary struggle. Ultimately, we know that God’s love and justice will be prevail. We know that this is NOT the end of the story. And it is in the confidence of this truth that we can have peace and joy in midst of our suffering and pain.

There Must Be More Than This

There Must Be More Than This

Growing up I always loved fairytales and Disney movies. I loved these classic stories of hope and redemption. Though at times these stories didn’t really seem to reflect the reality of my every day life, they seemed to speak to some other longing inside – a longing for the way things could be. As I’ve gotten older I still enjoy a good super hero movie, but nowadays I can’t seem to watch without sensing a bigger story. It’s like there are flashes of Jesus and the redemptive narrative of scripture in every movie.

King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that we shouldn’t be surprised by this. He wrote that God “has placed eternity within the human heart.” There is literally something inside of us that longs for something more. We are hard wired to believe that there is something greater than what we see. And Solomon tells us that it is God who has placed this feeling inside of us.

Solomon would certainly have been the one to understand this idea because he had it all. Because of the blessing granted to him by God, he was able to acquire wealth, knowledge, power, and every kind of pleasure or experience the world at that time could offer. There was nothing he couldn’t have. At the end of each accomplishment, he came to the same conclusion….everything felt meaningless and empty and he felt a longing within himself….a longing that there must indeed be something more.

There’s no doubt that within the human heart is a searching for something more. Perhaps like the U2 song many of us find ourselves at the place of saying, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

 

The Beginning

This is really where it all begins. The beginning of poetry, art, music, philosophy, religion – it all stems from a similar longing within the human heart to know the creator and to find meaning for the life we’ve been given. For centuries, we have sought to understand this longing, to define it, to discover how it might bring meaning to what we call life.

In the Bible, there’s a story about a group of people who lived in Athens who were searching, much like you and I, to understand life, searching to discover who God might be and longing to know how God might impact their lives. We are told in Acts 17:22-28 what the Apostle Paul said to these people about God, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

 

In Him We Live

All religion begins with a search for God. A search to understand the longing for something greater that lives within all of us. And Paul suggests that this search will only lead us closer to the God of Christianity. The God who gave life to all things and rules all things. The God who needs nothing from us and who gives everything to us. The God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

Life need not feel empty or meaningless. God has created us so that we would search for him. Not searching endlessly with no hope. But rather, searching knowing that He longs for us to find him. It’s comforting to think that he stays close to us – even as we search. He waits patiently for our hearts to find him and to open up to him.

And it gives me such hope to know that my life, my being, my very existence rests in a God who is near and longing to have relationship with me. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they learn to rest in you.”

 

Come Near to God

James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you…”. Sometimes we can overcomplicate faith. We believe that following God must require a lot of difficult steps. That perhaps there’s much we must change about ourselves in order to find God and be fully prepared to meet him.

Yet, we would be wrong to believe this. God simply calls us to come to him. He has already done the work to prepare us for a relationship with him through Jesus’ death on the cross. All we must do is come. It’s so simple.

Perhaps today there is a longing for hope that you are realizing can only be filled by God.

Take some time to pray.

Come close to God.

Reach out to him.

Let him know you are searching for him and he will come close to you just as he’s promised.