June 10, 2003
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration...in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:19-23)
It was all set. Michelle Markowitz's wedding, that is. The planning and anticipation started 18 months ago, immediately after her boyfriend Brad proposed to her. They set May 25, 2003, as the date and began making plans. They reserved the synagogue. Planned the rehearsal dinner. Got hotel rooms for out-of-town guests. They booked a flight to Tahiti for May 26. Everything came together, and the excitement built as the day approached.
And then Michelle turned on the news on the night of May 22 and heard that a patient at Toronto's St. John's hospital, where she works, had been diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS. The next morning, two days before her wedding, Michelle was informed that she'd been quarantined for ten days. Just like that, the wedding that they'd planned and anticipated for eighteen months was off. There would be no ceremony, no party, no Tahiti. Goodbye veil. Hello surgical mask.
Michelle's OK. She showed no signs of having contracted SARS, and by now I guess she's out of quarantine. But can you relate to the disappointment she's feeling? I'd guess that you can, on some level. Disappointment is part and parcel of the human condition, isn't it? We make our plans and work for our dreams. We share our hopes with the people we love. Perhaps we pray that God will bless our efforts to make what we want a reality. For most of us, our hopes and dreams are not grand. Security for ourselves and our families. Friends to depend on. Happiness and success for our kids. Much of the time we get exactly what we hope for. Much of the time we get other things that we hadn't planned on but that aren't so bad. But sometimes we get disappointed. The marriage we wanted so much ends. The longing for a child goes unfulfilled. We lose a job. A sudden accident or a doctor's report changes life forever. A child gets in serious trouble.
It's not easy to take, this loss of dreams. It's hard to regroup after a major disappointment, hard to live with the loss of the things you'd hoped for. Does it make it easier or harder for you to know that it isn't just a problem you have? It's a problem of the world we live in. There wasn't supposed to be disease and death. Hunger shouldn't have been an issue; God made the earth to bring forth food, not to lie dry and arid. There shouldn't have been jealousy, envy, or hatred. Wasn't supposed to be racial inequality or prejudice. God didn't create disease. The disappointment and frustration that is a part of all our lives is just a part of the disappointment and frustration of the world God created. After creation, remember, God looked it all over and said, "It's good." The problem is that it didn't stay good.
So if you groan over disappointment and pain, know that the entire creation hears and echoes your groaning. Whether it helps or not, know that you aren't alone in your disappointment. In a way, you could look at disappointment as a blessing. When life fails to match up to the hopes that we have for it, when the world around us isn't as good as God created it to be, the Spirit of God inside us makes us groan. Because of the Spirit, we're especially aware that life here isn't what it's supposed to be. He reminds us not to be content, that it's not possible in a sinful world for a person created in God's image to be truly and completely content. So we groan, along with the rest of God's creation.
But we don't just groan. We wait eagerly, like Michelle and Brad, who are looking forward to their rescheduled wedding on November 8. Yes, it's OK to groan over what you've lost. You'd be inhuman if disappointment didn't make you sad, frustrated, and angry. You'd be something less than human if you didn't shed some tears. But let that disappointment make you, not bitter and resigned, but hopeful. Let it create in you an anticipation for redemption, for the time when your dreams come true in union with God. Michelle and Brad have found a bright side in their experience; they hope that by November SARS will be under control and invited guests who had declined out of fear of the disease will come. They hope that the celebration will be even bigger and better. I don't know if it's true for them, but I know it is for you if you're in Christ.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) Believers in Jesus Christ have that promise to sustain us in disappointment, even disappointement of a catastrophic magnitude. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, God has assured that disappointment and death do not have to be the last word. There is hope, because in Jesus God is bringing everything in creation that has spun out of control back together. While Michelle and Brad might never forget their SARS-delayed wedding, they will see it in a completely different light on November 9 than they do right now. And the promise those of us who trust in Jesus have is that our own disappointments will look a lot less dire in the light of heaven and eternity with God.
Of course, it's hard to see things like that now. "Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?" (Romans 8:24) That's why we have the promise, and that's why you don't want to live in this world without that promise. One day redemption will come for all of creation, including you and me. One day the longings God placed within each of us, the longings that can only be filled by seeing his face, will be satisfied. "For in this hope we were saved...but if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (8:25) We wait, and we wait with a patience born of assurance. There is no doubt, no anxiety. The day is coming when frustration, delay, and disappointment end. The great wedding party will come, and we will have all we ever dreamed of. God has promised it, and he has sealed his promise with the death and resurrection of Jesus and the presence of his Spirit in our hearts. One day we will exchange the sickness of this world for the wedding clothes of heaven.
Until then, wait eagerly.
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