Posted on in Sermons by The Rev. David Marshall
Today I want to talk about something difficult. I want to talk about disappointment with God. Many of us are reluctant to admit that we have been disappointed with God. Somehow disappointment with God has become associated with a lack of faith. Disappointment with God is equated with doubt in God, or at least, doubt in God’s goodness and love. We’re afraid to admit that we are disappointed with God because we don’t want to imply that we have lost our faith.
The problem with this is that when we are really and truly disappointed, or worse, when we are angry with God, we are left with the false choice of either denying our disappointment and pain or rejecting God. So, before we start talking about being disappointed with God I want to make clear that doubt is not a lack of faith. Doubt is a natural part of any relationship. We work through our doubts to make our way to trusting one another.
There is actually an ancient tradition of doubting God. Just look at the Psalms, like this first line of Psalm 10: “Why do you stand so far off, O Lord, and hide yourself in time of trouble?” Even Jesus cried out, as he was dying on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, and what greater disappointment in God could there be than this?
Today we heard the story of Peter’s disappointment at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and in a moment of profound insight Peter realizes that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter is very excited, maybe even overjoyed. The truth is so powerful! Jesus is the one to save Israel! Jesus, the man standing in front of him! Jesus, the great teacher and healer that called Peter to be first among his disciples!
So, imagine Peter’s disappointment when the first thing Jesus does is sternly order him not to reveal this to anyone. Then, just as Peter is struggling to accept the order to keep quiet about the biggest news EVER, Jesus starts talking about being rejected, arrested, tortured, and killed. I wonder if Peter could even hear the part about being raised again on the third day?
Mark doesn’t give us Peter’s words, but I can easily imagine them. “Whoa, wait a minute Jesus. Let’s talk about this. This is not right. You’re the messiah and we cannot let you be arrested, abused and killed! We have some serious work to do!”
Jesus doesn’t even let Peter even finish. He turns his back on Peter, and facing the other disciples, rebukes him, saying, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ (Mark 8:33)
If Peter isn’t already disappointed after Jesus tells him to keep quiet about the messiah thing, he has to be disappointed now. Peter has gone from first among the disciples, to “Get behind me Satan!”
From our place in history, we know that Jesus, as Messiah, had to suffer death and rise again. But from that roadside in Caesarea Philippi, Peter is not wrong. Everything he has learned about the messiah is about God’s triumph over oppression. The messiah is supposed to bring God to power instead of the Romans! What can Jesus’ suffering and death possibly accomplish?
Of course Peter was disappointed. And we too, of course we are disappointed: When a child is diagnosed with autism, or yet another family member is diagnosed with the cancer, or a marriage falls apart, or a child dies tragically, or you lose your job – the job that gave you your sense of identity and purpose – how can we not be disappointed in God? We are all disappointed in God at one time or another.
Perhaps we need to learn the lesson of Peter. After that painful rebuke, Peter stays with Jesus. He follows him to Jerusalem and witnesses the terrible arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Peter is also there to witness the risen Christ. What Peter learns, and what gives us hope, is this: The God that is revealed in Jesus shows up always in the broken places of our lives and the world. We will continue to be disappointed because we do not get the God we want, the God we have come to expect, the God that will make all things right. We, like Peter, don’t get the God we want, but in Jesus and his cross and resurrection we get the God we need.
Maybe the mistake we are making is less about God than our understanding of creation. We speak of creation as though it were some great and glorious clockwork created and set in motion by God the creator. We speak of creation as a thing, an object, and we want God to come down and fix what is broken! But creation is not so much a thing as a community. Creation is made up of all of us, and all of God’s creatures, living in relationship with God. Creation is not the object of God’s attentions. Creation is the subject of God’s attentions. That is like the difference between your relationship with your refrigerator and your relationship with your husband or wife.
You have an objective relationship with your refrigerator. If something goes wrong, you call a repairperson. You have a subjective relationship with your spouse and your friends. If something goes wrong in your marriage, you don’t call a repairperson to replace the broken parts. You work with your spouse, look honestly at your own heart, and you seek and give forgiveness. That is how God’s relationship works with you and with all of creation. We are in relationship with God and we participate in the relationship.
So maybe, when Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow him, he is saying that we have to do the hard work of relationship. If we want to save our lives, we have to give up our pride, let go of our expectations, and trust God. We have to trust that even when we are disappointed in God, God will not leave. God is faithful. God will not abandon us even when we are angry and disappointed with God, and God will stay with us as we work through the struggles of self-examination, as we struggle to forgive and then do the messy work of learning to trust again.
So Jesus says to take up your cross. Do the work now; let go of pride and anger and the need to be in control. Give up that life. Seek, instead, to give and receive forgiveness and love in your relationship with God and with one another, and when you find yourself once again in a broken place, you will know the assurance of God’s loving presence.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
March 4, 2012