Experience and Expectations
Continued from a previous train of thought…
This questions begins with an assumption. It assumes that you’ve actually started from a place where this disparity is even possible. The first step to a solution is admitting that you have a problem, and the step here is to entertain the possibility that our deep understanding of who God is might not be right. Could God be different than we expect? Could what we deeply believe about God actually be different from what we think we believe about Him? These are crucial questions to ask.
This first step is the willingness to be open to mistaken expectations. Following this is the willingness to be open to mistaken experiences. We need to become willing, as much as is possible with our perspective filters in place, to experience things differently. We must choose to set aside our immediate interpretation habits and see what’s really happening rather than only what fits the potentially mistaken expectations. This can sometimes boil down to taking a risk. If your expectations of God are threatening, then opening up to experiences of Him is opening up to the potential for that threat. If you expect God to ground you down for your sins, then prayer, or perhaps honest prayer, can be frightening. Yet this is where one can begin to test whether or not those expectations are true. Willingness to experience something differently means sometimes that we have to be willing to potentially experience things that are the same, even if that might hurt, just to test our expectations out.
What may be of even greater importance, however, may be to allow ourselves to be changed. Some of what I’ve been reading lately strongly suggests that as our self-understanding changes and our understanding of others overall change, our expectations of God will change along with them, even if we’re not intentional about it. This, too, however, involves risk. Allowing our self-understanding and other-understanding to change requires us to experience ourselves and others and allow those experiences to reshape what we believe at a deep level. We have to put ourselves out there and openly and honestly interact with trustworthy, loving others, to be seen and be loved. As we experience others in a vulnerable fashion, our expectations of not just human beings but of God will begin to adjust to match that experience. When we are vulnerable to and receive others’ love, we will begin to expect God to be loving.
I always found 1 John 1:7 strange. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” Shouldn’t that be fellowship with Him? Perhaps. But real, open fellowship with one another will spill over into our relationship with God.
Of course, all of this is kind of risky, and all of it is potentially frightening. But if your expectations of God (and therefore experience to at least some extent) are that He is distant or angry or capricious or cruel or just otherwise negative, aren’t you already living in a frightening circumstance? I suppose the question is whether or not the potential for more negative experience is worth the potential for a trajectory of more positive. Is the risk of being hurt worth the possibility of experiencing over the long term a God who is better than you could have hoped?