Expectations

I've been thinking a lot about God and "expectations."

It started with Easter meditations. The Jews - and even the disciples - had very clear expectations about the Messiah. He was going to liberate them - from Rome. He was going to be a secular hero, saving them from their political captivity. When He didn't turn out to be that, He lost His following. And, in the human sense, His life. The God of all eternity, offering the greatest liberation of all, was rejected because He didn't meet the petty expectations of small human minds who couldn't fathom the enormity of the liberation He offered.

Then I gave a talk on chastity to young moms. One of them practically pleaded with me, "Please don't tell kids that they should live in chastity because it guarantees that God will send them a wonderful spouse. They told us that, and it really messed a lot of people up." Young people walked away from God because He didn't meet their expectations - He didn't give them what they mistakenly thought He promised them.

Then I heard a radio show about happiness. The topic was "expectations." Do they make us happier? Or unhappier? The answer: unhappier. Expectations, as opposed to hopes or dreams or goals, lead us to expect a certain outcome. And when we don't get it, we are disappointed. We can become bitter.

Those who walked away from Christ were suffering from mistaken expectations. As were those young people who believed that He promised something entirely different than He actually did.

It all boils down to this: They didn't know who God really is. To them, He's the guy who solves our temporal problems. He takes care of us. It kind of looks like a quid pro quo. You scratch God's back, He'll scratch yours.

That is not who He is. And it is not what He promised.

His promise, of course, is greater, not lesser. He promises eternal life to those who follow Him. We can expect that - not because we are somehow entitled to it, but because He promised it. And He is a God who keeps His promises.

But read Scripture carefully. He promises He will be with us. But He doesn't promise an easy time of it here on earth. In fact, if anything He goes the other way. He says that if we follow Him, we will face persecution. He wasn't spared from it Himself, so there's a good chance we'll see some of it too.

But, for some reason, it's all OK. Look at his interactions with the disciples after His Resurrection. They were terrified. Their leader had been executed by an unjust, brutal regime. They were targets. They were hiding behind locked doors. And yet, virtually every time He appeared to them, he said "Peace be with you." I'd say that, in those early days, they were anything but peaceful. They were afraid that they were gonna die.

So what did He mean by "Peace be with you"? Was He saying that everything will be fine? Was He guaranteeing their safety? Well, apparently not, since very few of them wound up dying of natural causes. Most of them were executed, just as He was.

And yet, "Peace be with you."

So what is this "peace" He promises us? Apparently it's not the peace of human safety, of knowing nothing bad is going to happen to us in this world. It's a peace that transcends that - a peace that makes it almost irrelevant whether we suffer in this life or not. It's the peace of knowing we are His, and knowing that He is with us in whatever happens.

Nor is it that He has no interest in our day-to-day lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has counted the hairs on our heads. He is deeply, intimately involved with us at every moment. He pours out grace upon grace. Graces and gifts we don't always understand, or even have the capacity to realize we need.

They just don't always fit into the small box of our human expectations.

All of which is a good opportunity for reflection. Who is God to me? What are my "expectations" where He is concerned? Do I expect Him to keep me physically safe? Do I expect Him to protect me from illness? Do I expect Him to deliver me a gift-wrapped spouse because I saved sex for the marriage He promised me?

He may do any or all of those things. But He may not.

As hostility toward traditional Christianity grows in our own culture and abroad, there seems to be very little doubt that we will be facing some level of persecution in the future. It may cost us our social standing. Or our livelihoods. Or even our lives. And, when it comes, it will reveal who God is to us. Those who worship a god of prosperity or a god of temporal welfare, will indeed be disappointed. Their expectations will be shattered.

By then it may be too late to adjust our expectations. So the time to start is now. Immerse yourself in Scripture. Learn who the real God is. Root out the misconceptions. And adjust your expectations accordingly.

Stop expecting the small stuff. Learn to expect the eternal.

And then peace will indeed be with you.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We're On a Mission from God and Real Love.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015