When God isn’t who you thought He was.

Some mornings over breakfast the girls and I look at my phone together. There are two types of things we look at: it’s either that week’s celebrity best & worst dressed (don’t judge me), OR it’s bible study… maybe they balance each other out?

The bible reading app I’m currently using, Read Scripture, occasionally has videos that go with it. While they’re certainly not aimed at kids, they are a MOVING IMAGE, and therefore my children must each watch them in turn.

A couple of weeks ago I was starting the book of Mark, and the overview video hit home as it explained the disciples’ confusion around who Jesus was. Yes he’s the Messiah, they got that, but the Messiah they were expecting was a victorious military leader who would set them free from Roman oppression. However, the Messiah they got was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and that just did not compute.

Sometimes the God you get is different to the God you were expecting, because sometimes God just isn’t who you thought he was.

The disciples slowly realised that Jesus was not going mount a military coup, he wasn’t even going to confront the structures of government and religion head on, but instead surrender to their power. In fact, Jesus disappointed everyone’s expectations, except the Father’s (stop and consider that for a moment, and if the thought sparks something for you, I’d recommend this podcast from Pete Scazzero on differentiation in leadership).

It must have been profoundly disappointing for the disciples. I wonder if it was in that disappointment that the seeds of Judas’ eventual betrayal took root? When Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, when he gave himself up to death on the cross, they questioned his identity – who is he really then? And they questioned why they were following him, and, mostly, they walked away.

In a strange twist, it’s a Roman soldier, with no background in the Jewish Scriptures, who sees Jesus die and sees who he is. Mark writes,

When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:19

The disciples eventually learn to see Jesus in a new light, when he reappears to them after the resurrection. But to see him as he truly is, or at least to get closer to that truth, they had to give up a lot of their previous expectations. They had to deconstruct their understanding of God.

And that’s a process we all have to go through. Maybe in one big seismic shift, maybe in a thousand repeated adjustments. While we’re readjusting our understanding of who God is, we’re often also readjusting our understanding of who we are – our identity, our significance, our value and our place in the world. Fr Richard Rohr talks about this transition as the entry to the second half of life, where instead of focussing on building the container of our self/life, we shift to being more concerned about the contents of our life. There’s some pretty deep stuff here, and if you want to read more I’d recommend his book, Falling Upward : A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. But, suffice to say, if you’re in your late thirties and you feel like your world is being turned upside down, this is NORMAL. Phew.

It’s messy and it’s hard, but it’s good.

I listened to Sarah Bessey talking to Jen Hatmaker about this process of deconstruction (find the podcast here), and she described it as losing your “know-it-all-ness”. Great phrase that! I can certainly identify as a reformed know-it-all. Mostly reformed… somewhat reformed… let’s not dwell on this point, I’m a work in progress!

Sarah Bessey talked about how that kind of humbling happens on the threshold of grief. Often life has thrown something at you that you just can’t handle within your old framework of thinking. You’re losing something, it’s painful and messy, and the temptation to shrink back from the transformation is palpable. And often during that season you’re just not that much fun to be with – thank goodness for gracious friends who stand by you through the process.

To hold too fiercely to your old ways of thinking is to remain stuck in the first half of life, to lose the chance to grasp a truer picture of God, and the deeper intimacy that goes with it. You’re only deconstructing in order that you can reconstruct something more accurate, more beautiful, and more robust.

I, for one, am grateful for the process, and even for the experience of disappointment when God didn’t meet my expectations. Because, as I’ve often found myself saying to God, “you’re not who you I thought you were… but oh you are better!”. So much better.

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