In Praise of Disillusionment

I took a break from our Hebrews series at Bloom last night to give a talk on something that I think is crucially important for our growth – experiences of disillusionment.

Most of us run and hide from experiences or seasons of disillusionment, or at the very least seek to minimize them.  Whilst we are in them, we treat ourselves as “sick” on some level… “patients” in need of healing.  Disillusionment is a condition to be avoided.  You will be hard pressed to find a church in which a person gets up and gives a testimony in which they cry, “Praise the Lord, I’m not sure what I believe anymore…look what the Lord has done!!”

But the nature of the case with God is that while we can know him TRULY, we can never know him EXHAUSTIVELY.  We create images in our minds of what God is like and what to expect of him, and steadfastly he refuses to conform to those expectations.  He blows our mental frameworks to bits and calls us out into the wide open spaces of his Infinite Person.  

Therefore, I would say, a major and necessary part of our journeying deeper into God is the experience of disillusionment.  Whatever negative connotations we may associate with the word “disillusionment”, at it’s core the word is not really negative at all – it simply denotes the “breaking” (dis-) of an “illusion” of what something is like so that we can see the solemn (and much better) beauty of what actually is.

Those of us who have been married for any length of time can attest to this process.  You come into marriage with a very definite set of expectations of what marriage is going to be like, and who the other person is and is going to be for you.  By the end of day 1, those expectations have likely been dashed.  Or at the very least, they are quite near the chopping block.

But this is not a negative thing at all.  For as soon as the “illusion” begins to evaporate, you are on the threshold of having a real marriage with a real human being, which is always more interesting than the one dimensional fairy-tale marriages we all have in our heads.

It is noteworthy that when God reveals his name to Moses in Exodus 3, he says, “I am that I am…”  How funny.  I can imagine Moses, after asking this strange God talking to him out of the flaming bush what his name is and being told by this God that he simply “is” that he “is”, taking a minute to parse this out and retorting, “Um, Flaming Voice, I don’t believe that you’ve actually succeeded in saying anything about yourself. Have you ever heard of circular logic?”

But that is just to the point.  The Divine Name uttered by this voice does two things: first, it makes God accessible to humans (after all, that is what names do… that God has given his name to us is a gesture of profound condescension) and secondly, at the same time protects the mystery and transcendance of God.  This is surely reflected in the first and second commandments of the Decalogue.  “No other gods” is followed up swiftly with “No graven images.”  Immanence and transcendance all bound up together with the name “Yahweh” (which is likely shorthand for “I am that I am”); revelation and mystery are friends.

The God who ACTUALLY IS is always better, bigger, and more interesting than the god we would fashion for ourselves if it were up to us.  And his desire for us is that we would live a life of journeying ever deeper into his fathomless mystery.  WHICH IS WHY experiences of disillusionment are necessary for us; because WHAT IS is always better than our ILLUSIONS ABOUT “what is”, and if we’re going to stand any chance of seeing “what is”, then the illusions about “what is” must be broken – time and time and time again…

Unfortunately, within much of American Christianity, the tendency, as I said earlier, is to treat people in such seasons as “sick persons” in need of healing.  I think that is exactly backwards.  I think when we go through or encounter folks who are going through seasons of disillusionment, we need to rejoice with them, for those are the seasons that are pregnant with the possibility of something much better… they are thresholds of newness.  And I would also say that if you’ve never gone through seasons of disillusionment – with God, with your beliefs, with the things you’ve sensed God lead you into (community, career, relationship, etc) – then chances are what you have on your hands is not the living God of the Bible, but an idol.

…so, let us not run from but rather EMBRACE disillusionment as a friend on the path towards God’s Fullness.  After all, the countryside of the Kingdom is wider and better than we currently know.

Grace to you.

[UPDATE: I should add that “what a person should do” during seasons of disillusionment is basically “stay put.”  Most people abort the process by “opting out” of whatever story they’re in in favor of another story.  So when they’re disillusioned with marriage, they “opt out” of that story in favor of another story (singleness, or a new mate).  Or when they’re disillusioned with their church, they “opt out” in favor of a new church… you get the idea.  Career, beliefs, friendships, etc.  My experience has been that “hanging in there” through it leads us to new, deep, and more profound connection to whatever the thing is that we’re disillusioned with.]

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