Hickman, rather than describing those who have experienced disappointment with God and the church as fickle or unfaithful, compares them to a “wounded lover,” people who “longed to experience Jesus, but experienced rejection, instead.” These are people who sincerely want to know God, but experience barriers in growing close to Him. There are multitudes of Christians who feel this way. But why? Why would an all-knowing God leave us disappointed in Him? Why do bad things happen to us, even when we pray? Why don’t we feel as close to God as we wish to? Hickman, in his book, answers this question—we are not united with God. He writes that, after the fall from Eden, we experienced, “alienation from God’s spirit.” While we still maintain the free will God blessed us with, we are no longer fully united with Him—without that direct, guiding union, we can do harm to ourselves, and to one another. In our fallen world, nothing seems to work as it should.
What does it mean to be united with God? It is, in fact, a thing that everyone seeks, knowingly or unknowingly—a longing which C.S. Lewis names “this desire for our own far off country.” We fill this longing with people, with drugs, with work and entertainment, but these things don’t truly fulfill our longing. We are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and He is the only thing that can fill truly fill it. Many of us even try to fill that hole with church activities, rather than with God. We arrive early and pour the coffee, greet other churchgoers, attend meetings, and end up burning ourselves out in a futile pursuit to find God in church administration. But we won’t find God in coffee machines and copiers. His home is in our hearts.
Hickman writes that “God isn’t looking for a relationship with us in the way we usually think of relationships.” When we make a relationship with a human—with a spouse, for instance—we have certain expectations. Those expectations are reasonable; we want to be loved, treated with respect, and have appropriate attention paid to us. We expect to give the same. But God is different. He expects more from us, and applying those same expectations to Him will result in disappointment. Hickman writes that “God takes up residence in us, invites us to die in ourselves, and become a new creation in Him. Where we imagine a relationship between two individuals, God invites us to something infinitely more intimate: union with Christ.” One of the keys to why we feel disappointment with God, then, is that we attempt to place mortal relationship expectations upon Him. But God doesn’t want the conditional trust of humans—He wants our unconditional trust and faith, and He wants us to die to ourselves—in other words, putting God first in all things, and deferring to Him. Whatever happens, no matter how bad it may seem, is worked, in the end, for good by God. He wants us to trust Him in that, and when we can, much of our disappointment dissipates.
The longing to feel Christ’s personal love and care for us is another source of disappointment in the church. Many simply do not feel it, missing out because they are not united with Christ. And united we must be. Hickman writes that “if not, everything that belongs to Christ (salvation, forgiveness, eternal life) and everything that belongs to humanity (sin, transgression, iniquity) remains distinct to each person.” Christ will take onto Himself our sins when we become “one person” with Him, when we give ourselves over to Him through prayer, through sacrificial service to Him, and through the expectation that our rewards are eternal and spiritual, not simply temporal and physical. This isn’t easy. We’re trained, for our entire lives, to expect immediate, material rewards. But with God, that doesn’t always come. We must learn to be satisfied with His love of us, and with the personal relationship that grows from our service to Him.
God is far different from anything we’ve ever encountered. He doesn’t fit neatly into our human expectations. He calls us to “surrender our expectations, desires, and wants, in order to love, serve, and maintain the unity among members of Christ’s body,” as Hickman writes. When we can learn to surrender those expectations, especially, we can shed the disappointment we so often feel in God when things do not go as we plan. And in that shedding of expectation and desires and wants, we find the solution to the other major cause of disappointment in the Church— the lack of a personal relationship with God, caused by our attempts to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts with other things. When we release these idols, we are able to come closer to Christ that we never have before, and can finally develop that personal relationship with Him, one that is deeply satisfying.
And in that, there can be no disappointment.