Thursday, July 19, 2012

God Let's Us Down

Coming to terms with God letting us down.

I hear it often: “People will let you down. Governments will let you down. The economy will let you down, but God will never let you down.”  Of course, this person either has very little experience with God, doesn’t know what “let down” means, is lying, or (most likely) has heard the cliché so many times that he or she just feels like the must repeat it. I think that there are three reasons God lets us down, but they can be summed up in a single sentence: “He’s God and you’re not.”

The Book of Job Letdown

When I hear someone say “God will never let you down,” my thought is, tell it to Job. Job was faithful. Job was doing what he was called to do and was being blessed as he did it. Then he hit hard times. Suddenly, his kids die, his wealth dries up, he gets sick and his wife tries to get him to commit suicide. Then his friends come over and basically tell him that God doesn’t let people down, and so Job needs to work on his relationship with God. Job finally gets fed up with it and says that God was wrong to let him down. Finally God shows up and tells Job’s friends that they are wrong. Then God tells Job that Job is wrong; God can do whatever he wants. Then God blesses Job a lot. He gets new children (as if children could be replaced), builds his wealth back up and lives to be an old man with a lot of stuff. There, I just summed up a book of the Bible for you in a single paragraph.

Of course there were all kinds of things going on in the spiritual realm of which Job was unaware. God had put a hedge of protection around Job (Job 1:10) that prevented the normal calamities of life from assaulting him. When God took it away, it seemed like everything hit at once . . . because it did. It seemed like God had stopped protecting Job . . . because God had. It seemed that God had let Job down . . . because God had let Job down.

Yes, God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and have grace on whom he will have grace and it is not our place to say that anything at all is “not fair.” Still, Job was COUNTING on God. Job knew that it was only by God’s blessing that he had gained and maintained what he had. Job was counting on that blessing to continue. Job had plans and dreams and goals all of which involved God continuing to do what he had begun in Job’s life. When God stopped protecting him, Job was let down.

A reader might point out that God eventually restored Job. That’s true. Job knew the whole time that he was going through this that he was going to be restored. He kind of thought it was going to be after he died (Job 19:26) but he was sure God would vindicate him. Knowing that God will eventually take care of us, possibly after death, does not keep us from being let down from time to time.

God let’s us down because we have bad motives

Job’s case is the most extreme one I can think of. Still, we are let down by God often to much lesser degrees. I remember being “let down” by God very young. It was a different time than it is today, and quite a few kids brought to school these plastic toy guns which fired rubber, suction cup darts (today students would be expelled for pretending a stick is a gun). I wanted one of those. I was aware enough of our financial situation to realize that approaching Mom and Dad for such an item would be unrewarded. Santa Clause was unlikely to respond to my requests because it was spring semester. So, I prayed. I prayed every day that when I came home from school, there would be a dart gun for me. I knew such miracles happened because I’d heard testimony in church and even seen it happen for my parents: there was a particular need, they prayed, the need was met.  I needed a dart gun, so I prayed for one. I prayed earnestly and fervently until the dart guns went out of style and all the kids were playing something else.  I only remember this because, even though they were now “out of style” so to speak, I still wanted one and asked for one for my next birthday and received it.

Praise the Lord! Your prayers were answered!
Six months too late.

I’m fairly certain that God letting me down, in this case, falls into the James 4:3 clause as to why I didn’t get what I wanted: “And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong--you want only what will give you pleasure.” I wanted a dart gun because everyone else had one and they were all enjoying shooting each other all over the playground. This is not to say that God doesn’t want us to have pleasure. He does. Sometimes he even gives us what we ask for despite the fact that we are asking from the wrong motives because he wants us to have pleasure. He is in no way bound to do it, however.

 When we don’t get what we are asking for because we are asking from the wrong motives, we feel like God has let us down. My motive for wanting a dart gun was so that I could “fit in.” What I didn’t realize at the time, however, is that God made me a unique person who was never supposed to “fit in.” I came to realize this several years later. I wanted another thing that many of my peers had (acid washed Jordache jeans?) and approached my Dad about it. When he asked why I felt like I needed them, rather than sturdy wranglers for one tenth the price, I explained that I wanted to be like other people. I remember quite clearly my Dad saying “You shouldn’t be like other people. You should be better than other people and when you can’t be better, you should at least be different because God hates a conformist.”

 My Dad was right. God was right. I don’t know about all conformists although I’m fairly certain I know some of the scriptures that were in Dad’s head when he said that (Ezekiel 11: 12, Matt. 5:48, Romans12:2, 2 Cor. 6:17, I Peter 2:9). I do know, now, however, that God did not call me to be like other people. I have a God-given personality that, even when abstracted by MBTI type, still only accounts for less than 5% of the population. I have been called to college teaching which requires a terminal degree, which fewer than 3% of the population of the US acquire. As far as people who work in my particular field (Communication Studies) the National Communication Association estimates that there are just over 8,000 of us in the whole flipping world. That is .0001% of the world’s population.  Oh, and I have a niche specialty within that discipline. God had a very specific and, yes, weird, plan for my life. And when I think that I asked God and my earthly Father to help me be normal, I realize that I would have been MISERABLE. Still, at that time, when I asked, and the answer was “no” I was very let down.

God has something else

Sometimes our motives are right and God is not removing his protection for his own divine reasons. Sometimes God just has something better for us. One of my favorite line from the film The Social Network is when Sean Parker’s character, played by Justin Timberlake tells Mark Zuckerberg’s character, played by Jesse Eisenberg, “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars!” I think that God lets us down because what we want just isn’t awesome enough. Ephesians 3:20 talks about this God being able to do “exceedingly and abundantly beyond all that we ask or think!”

I keep a list of things that I want. Part of the reason I started this is that my wife’s love language is gift giving, and if she’s going to spend my money on something for me, I thought, I’d prefer it be something I want. I kind of see that as a snotty attitude now, but I’ve kept the list going. It’s done a lot for me. First of all, when I see something new that I want I can check myself. Would I rather have that $20 video game now or that $200 projector for my classroom in a year? Here’s the thing that I didn’t expect when I made the list, however. Fully ¾ of the stuff on the list has come to me since I put it on there. The vast majority has come for free and not as a gift from my wife drawing on our joint checking account. Even when I did have to pay, it is always at a fraction of the price I list when I say I want something. It is like God saying “Letting you set aside $2000 to buy a used suv isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Getting you an SUV for $250” or “giving you a chance to buy that book isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Finding the book you want in the free box at the library” or "getting that paperback isn't cool. You know what's cool, getting the entire series in library editions for free." This stuff happens all the time.

Still, while we are waiting for what we want, and don’t get it, we feel let down. We want it and we want it now and if we don’t we’re let down.

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