Posted by Danielle DuRant on July 1, 2009Topic: BlogTopic: FaithTopic: Just Thinking MagazineTopic: LoveTopic: Practical TheologyTopic: Relationship and CommunityTopic: Worldview
Topic: Attributes of God
Spring cleaning in my house is rarely completely finished. Year after year, though I have forgotten about them until they are dusted and put back on a closet shelf, I still can’t bring myself to let go of them. They are books by the late cartoonist Charles Schulz. As a child I treasured his picture paperbacks, reading them over and over, and eagerly awaited his holiday television specials. Yet “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” evoked mixed emotions in me—and does so to this day.
On Halloween night, the Peanuts gang goes trick-or-treating and to a party, but Linus refuses. Instead, he persuades Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, to sit with him in a pumpkin patch to await the Great Pumpkin. Linus announces that if you “sincerely” believe in the Great Pumpkin and wait for him in a “sincere” pumpkin patch, he would arrive bearing gifts. “He’ll come here because I have the most sincere pumpkin patch and he respects sincerity,” Linus muses. Charlie Brown tells Sally that the Great Pumpkin doesn’t exist, but she joins Linus anyhow. What beckons her, however, is not so much her belief in the Great Pumpkin as her crush on Linus.
I recall as a child each year hoping against hope that the Great Pumpkin would appear, at least for Sally’s sake. After all, Linus sincerely believes in him and Sally believes in Linus. But he never shows. Instead, everyone—even Snoopy!—laughs at Linus and Sally is angry with him because trusting him has caused her to miss out on the sweet rewards of Halloween.
Charles Schulz’s popularity extends across generations and cultures, and his books have been translated into numerous languages. Watching this cartoon as adult, I am intrigued by Schulz’s many allusions to “sincerity” and Linus’s reinterpretation (or childish confusion) of the story of Santa Claus with this parable of the Great Pumpkin.
Interestingly, the television special first aired in October 1966—at the height of the “death of God” controversy. On Good Friday of that year, three red words appeared on Time magazine’s black cover: “Is God Dead?” In October 1965, a Time article opened with Emory University professor Thomas Altizer’s soon-to-be famous quote: “We must recognize that the death of God is a historical event: God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence.”1 Altizer would argue in his book The Gospel of Christian Atheism (1966) that the transcendent God we once hoped in and appealed to now no longer existed, for where were signs of him to be found? Nevertheless, he assured his readers that the God of our modern world intended that we live without his intervention, and rather than hope in heaven, our transcendent longings could be met within our own world.
Thus, in such an atmosphere, perhaps Sally’s and Linus’s responses to the Great Pumpkin’s absence give voice to both the anger and ambivalence of their generation. Sally cries, “I was robbed! I spent the whole night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, when I could have been out for tricks or treats. Halloween is over, and I missed it! …. What a fool I was…. You owe me restitution!” Conversely, Linus’s poignant letter to the Great Pumpkin reveals a quiet despair: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. Sincerely, Linus van Pelt. PS—If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
A year later, however, the American release of a groundbreaking book by German theologian Jürgen Moltmann would alter the religious climate in North America. Indeed, when Moltmann’s Theology of Hope was released in 1967, The New York Times front page announced, “God is Dead Doctrine Losing Ground to ‘Theology of Hope.’”2 Moltmann contended, “If we had before our eyes only what we see, then we should cheerfully or reluctantly reconcile ourselves with things as they happen to be. That we do not reconcile ourselves, that there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality, is due to our unquenchable hope. This hope keeps man unreconciled, until the great day of the fulfillment of all the promises of God.”3
Early in this work Moltmann builds upon John Calvin’s assertion that hope is the “inseparable companion” of faith. Moltmann writes, “Without faith’s knowledge of Christ, hope becomes a utopia and remains hanging in the air. But without hope, faith falls to pieces, becomes a fainthearted and ultimately a dead faith. It is through faith that man finds the path of true life, but it is only hope that keeps him on that path.”4
What is hope? “Hope,” observes Calvin, “is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when this truth shall be manifested; faith believes that he is our Father; hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.”5
Surveying the Territory
Moltmann and Calvin identify the critical nature of hope: “without hope, faith falls to pieces… hope nourishes and sustains faith.” Faith relies on hope to press forward; if hope becomes fragile, faith may lose its way.
Having been witness to the lives of many individuals who have crossed our ministry’s path over the years, we have heard various questions about the Christian faith. Can I truly know God? Is the Bible trustworthy? How can God be good if there is so much suffering in this world? These are real questions that can challenge one’s belief in God, even causing some to feel they are experiencing a crisis of faith. I know, for I have wrestled with similar questions as have those whom I know well.
Nonetheless, I have come to wonder if, for many, such a crisis of faith might be better described as a crisis of hope. That is,the struggle is often not so much about belief in God as it is an expectation of Him. Or, as a friend said recently, “I believe God’s Word is true; I just don’t know if it’s true for me.” In my friend’s case, he wasn’t questioning what God could do but rather what He would do on his behalf, and based on a past painful experience, his hope remains tentative.
At such crossroads we need direction—and indeed, hope. Just as one would take time to study a topographic map before venturing on a long hike, so we are wise to examine our spiritual terrain more closely lest we arrive at a place only to ask where signs of God are to be found. Here again, Calvin presents a thoughtful survey of the territory: “Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God” (emphasis mine). Hope anticipates the outcome of what faith believes, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Such hope is grounded upon a past and future reality—God’s saving and preserving grace—and offers an ongoing promise for the present.
Thus, when circumstances threaten to cloud our view of hope, we may not only lose perspective but also confidence in what we once held fast. A resignation of spirit may slowly give in to a rejection of what once seemed possible. We may then begin to doubt our faith, whether what we believe is actually true.
Though this experience may be best identified as a crisis of hope for some, we cannot rigidly demarcate the borders of faith and hope, for as noted thus far, each overlap and cannot stand without the other. Calvin writes, “[F]aith believes that he is our Father; hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us.” Additionally, we arrive at our expectations of God (hope) from what we believe (faith) to be true: his self-revelation in Scripture. As we continue on our journey these expectations in turn shape (or misshape) our beliefs about Him and his work in our world.
So, taking our lead from Calvin, we will want to examine our hope, our “expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God.” We will meet hope’s companions as well as some of its obstacles. And along the way, perhaps we will recognize signs of God’s faithful presence where we once did not and journey forward with newfound hope.
The Object of Our Hope
Unlike Linus’s beliefs about the Great Pumpkin, in the Scriptures, hope—and its antecedent, faith—are not circumscribed by “sincerity” or some abstract state of mind but rather by their object: the Triune God. In Psalm 25:3 David declares, “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame” and in 62:5 he pleads, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” (all biblical references are from NIV). The prophet Isaiah writes, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for (or hope in) him” (64:4). God’s name is even characterized by hope: the “God of hope” in the benediction “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Hope is, though perhaps not expected, the fruit of suffering as well: “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us (or ESV: “put us to shame”), because God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).
The biblical writers often portray faith and hope as nearly identical or as building blocks, with faith being the foundation and reason for hope: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6). Faith is defined by hope and also recognized as the necessary first step in a relationship with God. Likewise, hope expands faith’s horizon, believing God to be generous with those who expectantly seek after Him. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” says Hebrews 6:19. “This hope” is Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God and anchored, or intimately attached us, to Him. Like an anchor in a storm, Jesus holds us securely and keeps us from losing our way. “This hope” is also the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham long ago, both in Isaac and ultimately, Jesus: “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Hebrews 6:13-15). Paul puts this waiting in stronger words: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him…” (Romans 6:18). So hope denotes “to wait” and “to look in expectation” and is linked with “to trust,” “to desire,” and “to put confidence, take refuge in” God. The most common Hebrew expression, qawa, appears only once in Genesis and mainly later in the Old Testament. Yet hope—and God being the object of hope—is clearly implied in God’s covenant promises with Noah, Moses, Abraham, and David, and in the fabric of relationship that He unfolds with Jacob, Ruth, Hannah, and his people of every generation. As He reassures Joshua on the threshold of the Promised Land so He assures those who hope in Him, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor abandon you” (Joshua 1:5; cf., Hebrews 13:5). Hope is, thus, an expectant longing, a trust, which rests upon God’s spoken promise of his steadfast love, presence, and provision.
The Place of Trust
French philosopher Gabriel Marcel writes that when we place our trust in someone, it is as if to say, “I am sure that you will not betray my hope, that you will respond to it, that you will fulfill it.” Perhaps he had Hebrews 11 in mind—“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for’’—for “faith” and “trust” are synonyms in French as well as in the biblical languages.
Church historian Martin Marty cites Marcel in his slim volume The Place of Trust. (The book, which is well worth seeking out, is a compilation of Martin Luther’s pastoral reflections on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.) Marty begins his introduction with these thought-provoking words:
Trust is at the root of healthy human life. Psychologist Erik Erickson speaks of “basic trust” as the most profound need and outlook. The child, dependent upon elders, grows in confidence to the degree that parents and others provide reasons for trust. We base our marriages on ways of life that extend the wedding vows, which promise trust. Where trust is stretched we prop it up with contracts, documents that make possible some security. Where trust breaks down there can be no mental health….
Trust is also at the root of healthy spiritual growth. Philosopher Gabriel Marcel relates trust to belief in someone. “To believe in someone,” which means, “to place confidence in him, is to say ‘I am sure that you will not betray my hope, that you will respond to it, that you will fulfill it.’” To feel confident enough to say that and to have reasons for meaning it is close to the heart of what Christians call faith. They may flesh out the idea of faith by connecting it with contents: “I believe that God made me, that Christ saves me …” Yet such understandings of faith are hollow unless they are grounded in the rich notion of trust: “I believe in the God who made me, the Christ who saves me…”6
When I first read these insights a few years ago, I found myself wrestling with the same sense of hope and hesitation that I felt regarding Sally’s plight in the pumpkin patch. I don’t doubt God’s existence or the authority of Scriptures—the evidence and arguments are quite strong for both—but could I say with confidence that I truly trust Him? Not unlike my friend who wonders whether God’s Word is true for him nor perhaps like you, if I am honest, I sometimes struggle to say to God, “I am sure that you will not betray my hope, that you will respond to it, that you will fulfill it.” Rather, when I lose sight of hope, like Sally missing out on Halloween, I feel empty-handed and angry, wondering whether I can trust God.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” and “dependence on something future or contingent: hope.” In the Scriptures, the concept of trust rests at the intersection of faith and hope; it is confidence in God and his promises. To build upon Calvin’s metaphor, then, trust is an inseparable companion—or an indispensable element—of faith and hope, and a central biblical theme of foremost significance in the Old Testament.
The Hebrew word batah, which means “to trust,” “to be full of confidence,” and “to feel safe,” occurs numerous times, overwhelmingly (and not surprisingly) in the Psalms. “To trust”connotes “that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence.”7 When the Old Testament authors wish to communicate faith or belief, they use batah (or yare: fear). The New Testament writers use pistis, which is most commonly translated as faith or belief. Trust is essentially synonymous with faith, with the emphasis on the former in the Old Testament and on the latter in the New. However, both words are at root relational, concerned with the object of one’s faith: God. So as Marty suggests, faith begins with a belief that God exists and develops into a trust in God.
The other commonly used Hebrew word for trust is amen; its various verb forms connote “to confirm, support, uphold,” “to be certain, be assured,” “to believe,” “to put trust in, “to be reliable, faithful.” The word for truth is derived from amen andis often used to describe God’s character and his covenant: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
The editors of the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament argue that there is a “constancy” and an “assurance” associated with amen:
This very important concept in biblical doctrine gives clear evidence of the biblical meaning of “faith.” … At the heart of the meaning of the root is the idea of certainty … borne out by the NT definition of faith found in Heb 11:1. … [I]t expresses the basic concept of support and is used in the sense of the strong arms of the parent supporting the helpless infant…. The various derivatives reflect the same concept of certainty and dependability [and are] … carried over into the New Testament word amen which is our English word “amen.” Jesus used the word frequently (Mt 5:18, 26 etc.) to stress the certainty of a matter…. This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.8
Given that God has revealed Himself as trustworthy and true to his Word, it is not surprising that the Scriptures underscore that our trust (or hope or faith) in Him is foundational to our wellbeing. Over and over we read, “Blessed in the one who trusts in God” (see e.g., Psalm 40:4, 84:12; Proverbs 16:20; Jeremiah 17:7). Likewise, we are repeatedly warned about unbelief and its consequences. Indeed, though the Israelites neared the Promised Land, “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).
Thus we see from a brief biblical survey of hope and its companions, faith and trust, that they are rooted in the very person of God. He has shown Himself to be faithful, reliable, and true, as one who “rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Returning to Calvin’s definition of hope, then, we can confidently say that what God has “truly promised” is Himself, for as Scripture tells us, “there is no one greater.” So “hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us.” We can come to him expectantly, asking Him to guide us and trusting Him to steady and reassure us like an anchor and a parent’s arms in a storm.
Obstacles to Faith, Hope, and Trust
We have observed that trust rests at the intersection of faith and hope and is a confidence in God and his promises. Just as we cannot easily separate the boundaries of hope and faith neither can we separate trust: they are like “a cord of three strands … not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Moreover, I have suggested that sometimes a crisis of faith might be best understood as a crisis of hope, in that, often it is not so much an intellectual struggle with the contents of Scripture as it is a struggle with trustful expectancy in God. However, as we have seen, faith, hope, and trust overlap and are at root relational: faith begins with a belief that God exists and moves toward a trust and hope in God. Thus my aim in characterizing this crisis as one of hope is primarily to highlight that without such expectancy, our relationship with God becomes stagnant and over time, we may begin to doubt his Word. In fact, faith, hope, and trust are foundational to relationship and vital to our spiritual and emotional development.
Pastor Peter Scazzero adds, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”9 Scazzero knows this tension all to well, for though pastor of a large, growing church for many years, through his response to some difficult challenges he began to realize, “[H]uge areas of my life … remained untouched by Jesus Christ. My biblical knowledge, leadership position, seminary training, experience, and skills had not changed that embarrassing reality.”10 Similarly, Ravi Zacharias begins his last chapter in Beyond Opinion with these words: “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out.”11 As I have wrestled with these arguments and interacted with individuals in various stages of their journey with God, I have noticed a few mindsets or patterns of relating that often act as obstacles to our hope in God. Or perhaps more accurately, one sphere of influence, our family of origin, may shape our ways of thinking and relating, both positively and negatively, well into adulthood. Lest one wonder whether the following observations lean more toward “psychologizing” rather than theological reflection, I would add that God himself is Being in relationship—Eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and desires for us to know Him, calling his people his own children and his church his bride. So, as we have already seen, in speaking of faith, hope, and trust, they necessarily involve this relational dynamic. Similarly, to present apologetic arguments to someone without taking time to understand the individual’s particular obstacles to the gospel is to miss the heart of Jesus’s approach and teaching. For instance, Jesus interacted with the woman at the well in a very different manner than he did with the rich young ruler, as he did with Nicodemus versus Pilate.
The first obstacle (or primary one from which others develop) may be our family of origin, which continues to shape us long after childhood. Here, we first learn about boundaries, authority, expressing emotions (anger, sadness, etc.), addressing conflict, sexuality, and God, to name only a few. Our families may give us a rich heritage and prepare us well for adulthood. Nonetheless, if we have learned misguided ways of thinking and relating and have not addressed them as needed, they can prove to be obstacles even well into adulthood. For instance, in one Christian family, the son was taught that one reaches spiritual maturity when he stops asking questions (“challenging authority”) and learns to restrain his emotions. He has since abandoned his faith and struggles to believe in God’s existence because God appears to be emotionless and unresponsive to the suffering in our world (and in his own life). Yes, he has some intellectual doubts, but at root, he feels hopeless and angry.
The second obstacle is the mindset that “right doctrine” guarantees “right relationship” (trustful intimacy) with God and others. We are emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and physical beings and will languish if we believe (or have been taught) that one area is insignificant or to be avoided.12 True transformation will involve every area of our life: our thoughts, actions, appetites, emotions, relationships. Yet change comes slowly and through attention to each of these elements. As the late John White contends in his classic book The Fight: A Practical Book for Christian Living, “God does not change you by magic. No wand will be waved over your head so that your deepest problems vanish overnight. There may be breakthroughs, sudden insights, glorious experiences. But the major work of transformation will be slow and often deeply painful. Yet the pain is immeasurably reduced by trust and understanding.”13
Just as we would not expect our bodies to be able to run a marathon (26.2 miles) by only reading training plans and not actually running, so we ought not assume, for example, that giving our full attention to doctrine and moral behavior is all that is needed to develop us into Christ’s image and to flourish in relationship. (In many pietistic and fundamentalist circles, including the one in which I was raised, such thinking is quite common unfortunately.) To focus on these areas while neglecting or dismissing others is to overlook God’s design for us. Fellowship with other believers, enjoyment of nature and beauty, concern for justice, exercise, rest, worship, and even play all contribute to our development as children of God intimately related to our Heavenly Father and our world.
The third obstacle, already introduced, is our expectations. Earlier we noted that we arrive at our expectations of God from his self-revelation in Scripture. But, of course, this is only partially true, for from the earliest moments of life we develop certain expectations within our family of origin. A child learns to anticipate how her parents (or primary caregivers) will respond to her needs, and by age one, she is beginning to assess whether she can trust them. Are they attentive, distracted, or indifferent? Are they reliable (consistent), only occasionally reliable (inconsistent), or rarely if ever reliable (consistently unreliable)? Their styles of relating influence the child’s attachment to them, especially with the mother or primary caregiver, and her capacity to feel secure, ambivalent, or avoidant in relationship. So deeply imbedded are these expectations and patterns of relating that the child carries them into adulthood.
Though the word attachment in not found in the Scriptures, “In the Christian view of persons, it is a basic structural fact of our nature that we get attached to things and persons, a fact not to be resisted…. Jesus says, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matt. 6:21), thus saying, in effect, What you are like at the center of your personality (your ‘heart’) is a function of the kind of thing you are very attached to (your ‘treasure’).”14 Indeed, secure attachment is clearly at the root of the biblical concept of trust: “that sense of well-being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence…. [I]t expresses the basic concept of support and is used in the sense of the strong arms of the parent supporting the helpless infant …constancy…certainty and dependability.”15
The important research of attachment theory (and especially from Christian scholars16) reveals that we form our expectations in primary relationships very early. In his book Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love, author and clinical psychologist Robert Karen writes:
[T]he great promise of attachment theory has been the prospect of finally answering some of the fundamental questions of human emotional life: How do we learn what to expect from others? How do we come to feel what we do about ourselves in the context of an intimate relationship? How do we come to use certain futile strategies in a vain effort to get the love we (often unconsciously) feel was denied us as children? … Perhaps its most startling and controversial claim is that insecure attachment, which shows up at twelve months, is predictive of behavior not only at three, five, seven, or fourteen years of age—which has been well established in research—but also at twenty, thirty, and seventy, as people make romantic choices, parent their own children, get into marital squabbles, and face the loneliness of old age. Equally important, attachment researchers have attempted to show how insecure patterns of attachment can change, whether in childhood, as adjustments are made in the family, or later, as the adult attempts to work through his early experiences.17
Why, for example, does the patriarch Jacob dance with deception and fear and spend much of his life running from the blessing God promises him from birth? Why does he attempt to undermine his future by employing futile strategies to get what God already desires to give him? It is not a stretch to surmise that in his household of deceit, favoritism, and inconsistency, his expectations lead him neither to trust God nor anyone else. Of course, God holds Jacob responsible for his own actions as He does us; Jacob languishes in a foreign land for years with relatives that bring further deception and sadness. Yet throughout Jacob’s life, God offers him his blessing, hope, and steadfast presence: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…. I will not leave you until I have done what is promised” (Genesis 28:15, and see 31:3 and 32:9-12). Jacob receives these gifts halfheartedly, expecting little from anyone except perhaps the future blessing he wrenches from his brother Esau. Then on the fearful night before Jacob is to face Esau, God meets him and wrestles him until daybreak—until Jacob finally recognizes God is with him and cries out for Him to bless him.
Poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre poignantly senses Jacob’s deeper battle and restless longing:
Jacob leans into the struggle like a child dreaming on a mother’s lap, thrashing out his nightmare while one loath to awaken holds him safe.18
So like Jacob, we may form assumptions about God’s character through unmet expectations and painful experiences. Or we may have received constant approval but seldom faced discipline or had our estimations of ourselves and God challenged. Of course, we need not experience early deprivation to be felled by disappointment or mistaken expectations, for we may arrive at a distorted view of God through unorthodox doctrine or weak theology. Whatever our stories, we may hold misguided, rigid, or unrealistic expectations of God’s timing and work in our lives. We may ascertain that if God is all-knowing, wise, and loving, then surely He will fix our situation or respond in a certain manner. When life does not turn out as we hope or in our expected timeframe, we may question God’s love and even begin to doubt his Word.
Thus we might add, “As attachment figure, God is more than just comforter or protector. God is also a model, an object of admiration, a commander, a judge; and the maturity of one’s attachment to him may vary along these dimensions—in terms, e.g., of how seriously one desires to be like him and succeeds in being so, of how deeply one appreciates God’s goodness and beauty, of how obedient one is, of how reverently one regards God as moral observer.”19
Not surprisingly, our relationship with God usually reflects our first attachments and current pattern of relating to others. Thus we can learn much about our relationship with Him in asking ourselves, Do we normally feel secure, ambivalent, or avoidant in our relationships? Does trust come easily, or do we fretfully seek control, or dismiss others with anger or indifference? These are not just questions of psychology but of spiritual significance as well. If we labor with unresolved issues of trust and insecurity we will struggle with these with God even though we may cognitively affirm his sovereignty, goodness, and love. Or maybe we have lived with certain mindsets and expectations for so long that we have learned to manage them or are not even aware of them. But when what once seemed workableno longer works, hope may fade and faith unravel. We have seen this time and again with individuals who cross our paths at RZIM and our own personal lives. This is why it is so critical to examine possible obstacles to our relationship with God and the questions they may raise.
Faithful and Consistent
We have taken time to consider our hope and expectations because faith, hope, and trust are vital to our spiritual and emotional development. Perhaps if we have made some discoveries along the way we will want to share them with a spouse, trusted friend, or wise counselor. We may also want to bring our expectations of God before Him, asking Him to help us see them more clearly, how we may have arrived at them, and whether they correspond to his character. God is consistent and faithful to his Word, but He is not predictable. If He were, there would be no place for grace or mercy.20 He sends rain to the just and unjust. He rewards a prostitute’s shrewd deceit with a secure place in the Promised Land (Rahab) while barring his prophet Moses from it because of a rash act of rage. No, God is never unfaithful or inconsistent. Rather, as we have observed, our inability to predict how or when He might resolve something we have brought to Him in prayer can bring great unease and mistrust if we unconsciously perceive Him as an indulgent parent or unreliable one we must win over. God is not an unreliable or indulgent parent, nor is He a heartless judge, as Jesus reminds us in his parable on prayer and the persistent widow: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8a). “Jesus told his disciples [this] parable,” Luke records, “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (18:1). So might we always pray and not give up, for there is hope in the mirror of God’s Word: the one true and trustworthy reflection of who God is and who we are becoming. Here we are comforted and challenged, chastened and assured by the One who loves us and can speak into our lives like no other. Here we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:19b-20). We can bring our expectations, fears, and questions before his throne of grace and let the light of Jesus’s presence shine into every dark and confusing place in our lives. We can hope in Him and rest in Him because He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. So let us give Him our expectations and ask Him to give us trustful expectancy. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for we who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Then we may see signs of his faithful presence where we once did not and begin to find our way forward—with deeper hope.
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
1 Quoted in “The ‘God Is Dead’ Movement,” Time (October 22, 1965), 61.
2 Quoted in the Preface to the New Paperback Edition of Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 10. Interestingly, Moltmann would later become a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology (1983 to 1993) at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.
3 Ibid, 21-22.
4 Ibid, 20.
6 Martin Marty, ed., The Place of Trust: Martin Luther on the Sermon on the Mount (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), ix-x.
8 Ibid., 51.
9 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ (Zondervan, 2006), 17.
10 Ibid., 18.
11 Ravi Zacharias, “The Church’s Role in Apologetics and the Development of the Mind” in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend, Ravi Zacharias, ed. (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 303.
12 Scazzero, 18.
13 John White, The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 112-113.
14 Robert C. Roberts’s, “Attachment: Bowlby and the Bible” in Roberts and Mark R. Talbot, eds., Limning the Psyche: Explorations in Christian Psychology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). 208-209.
15 Harris, Archer, Waltke, 101 and 51.
16 See again, Roberts’s chapter in Limning the Psych, 206-228.
17 Robert Karen, Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 7. For an excellent summary, see his earlier Atlantic Monthly article, “Becoming Attached,” which was expanded into his book. The article is available online: www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/karen.pdf.
18 Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, “Jacob’s Struggle with the Angel” in Drawn to the Light: Poems on Rembrandt’s Religious Paintings (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 23.
19 Roberts, 227.
20 I am indebted to a wise individual for this insight.