Sunday, August 26, 2012

When Disillusioned by People and Life

[This article is Part 2 in in the series on Disillusionment. Scroll down to read Part 1  -BL]

The term "disillusionment" means to be freed from illusion and no longer be misled or deceived. Disillusionment can be helpful because it forces one to face reality. It is beneficial to see truth and be freed from misconceptions, but the term also has a negative connotation when it describes one who has been enlightened to some disheartening reality. It refers to the disappointment that accompanies the enlightenment, to the paralyzing effect that it can have on a person's will to act, and to the discouragement that comes with discovering the disappointing truth about someone in whom hope and trust were placed.

Disillusionment becomes a problem when a person does not respond to it correctly, when he overreacts and becomes overwhelmed by it. If it is not handled in the grace of God it can cause one to become cynical and bitter, to quit trusting people, and even to question God. Disillusionment, taken to an extreme, causes people to enter into another form of illusion— seeing only the negative and the bad. It is good for a person to see reality, but he who sees no good is no longer in reality and has moved from naieve idealism to the misconceptions and deceptions of skepticism and cynicism.

The person who is disillusioned needs to be encouraged to believe that truth and integrity do exist, that not everything nor everyone is false. He must be encouraged to learn from experience and grow in discernment so that he is not misled again. He must hold to the good and discard only the bad. He must stand in faith and walk on in obedience.

Psalm 73
Whether a person is disillusioned because he has been genuinely disappointed by some hope, or because his heart has perverted his perceptions of reality, his answer and deliverance are in the presence of the Lord. David saw the wicked prosper while the people of God suffered. He saw the ungodly appear to sin with impunity while he himself was chastened every morning. His first reaction was to feel his efforts at righteousness had been in vain. What he saw troubled him, and his reaction to it grieved him deeply. It was all too painful— until he went into the presence of God. He would have given up had he not sought the Lord.

It is at Jesus' feet that we gain the right perspective. It is there that we get our bearings and reference points. We present our hearts for cleansing, open the Bible and see what God's word says. The “dust” of life’s complications combined with the flood of negative input into our minds can harden our hearts and cause our understanding of the simple words of scripture to dim and fade from our spirit. Our answer is to sit at Jesus’ feet with God’s word and listen to the Holy Spirit. David did this, and his conclusion was, "I have put my trust in the Lord God."

"I went into the sanctuary [God's presence]...then I understood."  Psalm 73: 17

Monday, August 20, 2012

Disillusionment: Part One

[This article is the first in a series of postings on the subject of "Dealing with Disillusionment." -Billy Long

The Narrow Perspective
To have an accurate understanding of truth as God sees it, we must look beyond ourselves and our moment. We must see God’s purpose beyond our own comfort and pleasure. Disillusionment comes from a narrow and self-centered perspective, from making judgments based on ones limited "now" experience and current moment rather than faith in God and his power to fulfill His will and plan. Sometimes He gives us immediate victory and keeps us from harm and trouble, but other times He may allow us to suffer persecution, adversity, and hardship. Our circumstances may change, but God and His plan remain fixed and inexorably moving forward.

Mark Twain’s Mistake
Palestine, before the renewal of Jewish settlement during the late nineteenth-century, was virtually laid waste and its population in acute decline. Mark Twain visited the Holy Land during that period and seeing its desolation and the absence of the Jewish state, proclaimed, “See, this proves the Bible is just another book”. But had he lived until 1948 and beyond, he would have seen the miraculous rebirth of the nation of Israel and the reappearance of the “land of milk and honey” with the desert blooming. He would have realized what a tragic mistake he made by judging the bible based on his own limited and short moment in time.

We make the same mistake in our own lives. We become discouraged and disillusioned when we draw conclusions based on our own personal and immediate experience without considering God's overall long-term plan and His sovereign power to fulfill it. There are many periods in history when God’s people might have given up had they based their hope in what they saw and experienced at their given moment. We must never assume God has or will fail. Time and patience will always prove God to be true, faithful, and well able to accomplish His purpose.

Examples in Biblical History
As we survey the history of God's people in the Bible we have the advantage of having the whole story before us. But if we could set ourselves down anywhere into that history, we might experience any number of places where we would be tempted to be overwhelmed with despair and disillusionment. Here are a few examples.

The bondage in Egypt
You might have been disillusioned had you lived among the suffering Hebrew slaves in Egypt during the 400 years of bondage. You would have been tempted to think God had forgotten you and the whole nation. Living in what seems to be interminable grief and waiting can very easily produce a very negative and wrong theology unless the heart is fixed in God—no matter what.

Time of the Judges
You might have been disillusioned if you had lived in Israel during the time of the Judges. After having seen the glorious conquests, order, relative purity, and strength under Joshua, you would now have witnessed a nation of confusion, perversions, and subjugation that occurred on a regular basis throughout that period of Israel’s history. Were it not for the recurring emergence of Holy Spirit anointed judges, you might have been tempted to think God had forsaken the nation.

The Divided Kingdom after Solomon’s Glory
You might have been disillusioned had you lived through Solomon's glorious reign when Israel was at its height of peace, security, power, wealth, reputation, and prestige, and then later to see the kingdom divided into two third-rate nations fighting each other and harassed by their neighbors.

The Captivity
You might have been disillusioned had you lived during the revivals of Hezekiah and Josiah which tantalized hopes of strength and stability, only to see the nation at Josiah's death come briefly under Egyptian domination, then under Babylonian bondage, then on to captivity.

The Return
You might have been disillusioned had you been among those who witnessed Israel’s deliverance from captivity, expecting her to rise to power as God’s people, only to see her rise to a very disappointing stature compared to her former glory and then continue in subjugation to Greek and Roman domination during the 400 year period between the Old and New Testaments.

Jerusalem’s Fall
You might have been disillusioned had you known the bustle of Jerusalem and the grandeur of its temple when Jesus walked its streets, and yet within a couple generations witness its complete destruction. How disheartening it must have been that within a hundred years of Jesus’ first advent the Jews were not even allowed in the city except once a year.

Look at Church History.
The church’s history has often been as discouraging as Israel's history. Consider the dark ages with its corruption, ignorance, and cruelty. Look at our own contemporary examples. Consider the church splits, broken relationships, moral failures in leadership, foolish behavior, embarrassing antics, and other discouraging situations that have been on display to us and the world.

Our Response
The Bible makes it clear that in spite of Israel’s failures and Satan’s attempts to destroy them or cause them to stumble, God was able to preserve the nation of Israel and in the fullness of time bring forth Jesus Christ our Lord to bring redemption to mankind. Our Sovereign God has and is administrating history and the future to the fulfillment of His plan. His dominion is forever and His kingdom stands strong, inexorably moving toward the consummation of His eternal purpose. Israel’s “ups and downs” and “in and outs” never hindered the plan or kingdom of God. The same fact holds true for the church, for me, and for you.

If we stand faithful to God’s word and ways, and persevere with patient endurance in faith and hope, we will ultimately see the rewards that come in God’s time. Our experiences may seem inconsistent with what we expected and may vary from one end of the spectrum to the other, from wonderful to painful, from clear insight to the perplexity of looking through the glass dimly. But in all these we must stand in faith and know that God is God, that He loves us and has a plan for us and for the world, and that His kingdom purpose will be fulfilled. The land may be parched “today” as Mark Twain saw it, but “tomorrow” it will be a fruitful and fertile land of milk and honey overflowing with the bounty of God’s kingdom. And those who say “today” that God has failed will “tomorrow” look back and see how foolish they were to doubt the Almighty and Wonderful God our Heavenly Father.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” Psalm 42: 5

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Struggle to Find Comfort

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19.

Refusing Comfort
“Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for Him.” Genesis 37: 34-35
"Refusing comfort" refers to the state in which the loss or pain is so great and final that there seems to be absolutely nothing that could possibly heal the hurt, relieve the pain, or replace the loss. Jacob found himself in this condition as he experienced heart-wrenching grief over the loss of his son Joseph. No one was able to comfort him. No words could relieve or console him.

Genuine and Not Superficial
To a person in such grief the idea of comfort often seems like an empty and futile promise. Consolation is viewed much like the consolation prize which is usually given to the losers of a contest. The "consolation game" is a contest for those who have lost early in the tournament. Likewise, a person in the intensity of his pain often tends to view attempts at comfort as being merely the "consolation game" or the “consolation prize,” a substitute for the real thing, a shallow and superficial attempt to make him feel better,

This, however, is not what the Bible means by “comfort.” God's comfort is real and genuine, not imaginary or illusory." It is supernatural and comes from and with God Himself. There is a depth of reality and glory and a supernatural quality in genuine comfort which makes it substantial. It represents real healing rather than a mere superficial "second prize."

In God Himself
Job could find no comfort in words, rationalizations, or in sweet thoughts from friends. He, like Jacob, found that there are times when the anguish, the loss, the disappointment, and the hurt are so great that nothing will comfort because nothing can change what has happened. He also discovered that it is difficult to find comfort in the midst of so many unanswered questions, when there is suffering without explanation and understanding. The great question “Why?” sometimes stands between us and our comfort.

In these times our comfort, relief, and hope is in God Himself, not in ideas, words, or in anything that could be said. Our comfort comes only in God, in the revelation of His presence, in seeing Him and His eternal perspective. He comes to us Himself and brings a comfort that is supernatural and beyond comprehension. It is interesting to note that Job, with the confusion and questions that must have been swirling around in his head, posed none of them to God during the Divine visitation. Seeing the Lord brought a supernatural revelation and understanding that needed no further explanation.

God’s Visit Makes the Difference
Before God visited Job, no one could comfort him for the loss of his children and reputation. No one could soothe the pain of his boils nor answer any of his questions. But all of this was resolved when God came to him. Job arose in joy and relief as he looked into the eyes of the Eternal. Any questions he may have had were answered in the supernatural touch and in the revelation of God Himself. Once Job resolved his situation between himself and God, he was then able to receive comfort from and be comforted by his friends.

From Job and Jacob we learn that comfort does not usually come instantly but rather follows certain processes such as the normal time needed for grief, as well as the time required to take care of necessary spiritual transactions between us and God. We need to realize that God loves us, that He desires to reveal Himself to us and bring us into His presence to receive enabling power by His grace. He may come to us in our private prayers, He may reach out to us through the love and touch of a friend or through fellow Christians. He may allow us to grieve for a while, but He will not leave us bereaved and desolate. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be His Presence with us to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (John 14: 16-18)

“…It was too painful for me---until I went into the sanctuary.” Psalm 73: 17

“I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you…” Job 42: 5

“…in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Ps. 16: 11

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation…” 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4