Many of us struggle with discouragement. Even though our current western culture and society have more opportunities than every before, more wealth than ever before, more health care than ever before, and more convenience than ever before, . . . . . we still are often disappointed.
There are a few reasons for discouragement and disappointment: 1) Someone did something to us that we didn't like, or was unexpected. 2) We failed in some way, fell short of our expectations. 3) Circumstances aren't what we thought they should be. 4) God is at Work.
Now, #4 is under, beside, and in front of all the others, because God is at work in all circumstances. But, I think the reason for our discouragement and disappointment is because we forget #4, and consequently, we have a wrong view of reality.
We think reality is the events that happen in our life, the circumstances we find ourselves in, and the physical surroundings we all experience. While all of these aspects of life are important and are the places where we WORK OUT reality; actual reality is different. Jonathan Edwards helps us:
“Among other things, Edwards challenges the commonsense view of our culture that the material world is the ‘real’ world. Edwards’ universe is essentially a universe of personal relationships. Reality is a communication of affections, ultimately of God’s love and creatures’ responses.”
George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), page 503.
Reality. . . . .what is happening between God and you, and between you and other people. That gives a different meaning to our circumstances, doesn't it? If we knew that everything which is about to happen today is caused or allowed by God for his good purposes in our life. . . how would that affect our outlook? How would that affect our disappointment?
Disappointment and discouragement are biblical realities. David prayed "How long o Lord!", and wondered why his "soul is so downcast within me". But, look at how he ends that lament in Psalm 42: "hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God". David knew that reality was from God and of God. So, whatever he was facing, ultimately, is not circumstantial, random, or even diabolical. ULTIMATELY, God is at the wheel of reality. As we said, certainly others sin against us, certainly we have a spiritual enemy, certainly worldly systems are broken and will frustrate us. Yes, that is all true.
It is also true that, as Edwards says, we live in "a universe of personal relationships", so when people disappoint us, or relationships go wrong, that is real, it is substantive, and it is hurtful. BUT, it isn't ultimate. All of the things in the last two paragraphs cannot ultimately define us. They cannot ultimately mess up our life. We're disappointed because we're wrong about reality. We're forgetting. . . . . . God, and his relationship to us, is the deepest, truest, and most ultimate, reality.