Religious Dis-illusionment... A Growing Up

Dennis Diehl
 


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If you spend enough time on the planet, one of the great experiences we all will have is that of that of being disillusioned with persons, places or things. I personally hate it. It's annoying, takes way too much energy and makes my stomach hurt, or third chakra depending on your perspective. :)

Of course, we also have to admit from time to time, that we all are a source of disillusionment for others as well, so I suppose this keeps the universe balanced in some way, and the feelings we have about how it feels when we experience it in perspective. If you are like me, I tend to remember well what disillusions me for a very long time, but rather quickly try to dismiss my own part in the disillusionment of others.

I'd like to ask a simple question. Why would we want to have illusions? After all, DIS-illusionment should seem to be exactly what we want to happen. Who wants to live with illusions? Who wants to base their perspectives on that which is not real, true or accurate? We should beg for DIS-illusionment, but in fact we don't. Plainly, disillusionment in any of life's quests is painful and is the reason we tend to defend them, at all costs. Pain is to be avoided at all costs it seems.

I think we all know people who live with well thought out, well defined and deeply entrenched illusions. As a former, very sincere and hopeful pastor type, I was a master teacher of illusions and had darn good proofs that I was right to defend them. The problem was, ultimately, I was wrong. Let me share a few. I realize that some will be quick to point out my flawed thinking, because of their own illusions, and to refute my observations as a simple lack of faith, or trust. Some will say, I was in the wrong church, had a bad attitude or simply misunderstood God. Illusions are easy to defend and difficult to let go of at best. I understand that. But when simple theological promises are made, and then applied with either no results or negative results, that's pretty darn disillusioning. But the goal here is to not have illusions, so it's all good.

So here goes. Let me share a few of the most simple and yet theologically disillusioning concepts that many Christians struggle with. I know I am not alone, nor is it inappropriate to observe just how untrue, in human experience these concepts are in practical fact.

As a minister, I often anointed “the sick" with oil and laid hands on them offering “the prayer of faith. " In most cases, it was not serious stuff, but rather, the type of maladies that would pass in time with a little self care and patience. There were many times, however, where it was either be “healed" or die before one's time. I'd like to say that the “prayer of faith" did save the sick, after all that's what it says. . .

James 5:

14 “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. "

. . but it did not. I watched many die, in time, just as those who did not ask. Doing this hundreds, if not thousands of times did not result in my personally having any real miraculous stories of obvious healing to relate to you. I have a sense even now of not wanting to admit this, knowing the arguments that humans come up with to explain why this is as it is, but I experienced this simple theological promise as I did and wish to face it. I wonder now if it helped or hurt those who were facing final days? Did it encourage them or discourage them since God did not intervene? Did they feel a lack of faith and blame themselves or is this simply one of life's disillusionments to deal with? People get sick and die. Some live long, some die young. None of us are getting out of here alive. Believe me, I have heard every explanation under the sun as to why God did or didn't do what he said so simply in James would happen. The fact is, every explanation is a simple need we have to explain why something so simple, simply didn't work.

I have quoted in sermons the financial promises “God" makes to those who give until it hurts, “good measure, pressed down and overflowing. " I have noted that humans have “robbed God" of tithes and to give so that He might open the windows of heaven to the giver, and yet they simply end up with less income and worried about how to pay the bills. Again, the poor giver seems to take the heat for having little faith, patience or the ability to grasp that all of God's blessings aren't monetary. Yeah, that's the answer! “You have air don't you. . . why if God wanted, he could take the air away. . . sooooooooo. " You know what I mean. When God does not deliver, it's never God's fault, it's our fault and we spend the next six weeks examining ourselves for bad attitudes, poor faith or misunderstanding the text as explained by apologists. I have even given church emergency help to those who gave too much of their income to “God". Does God really need income, or is this a organization thing?

In my denomination, members gave much to help the “poor" and often I ended up giving it back to those who gave it, so I guess they were blessed by the church in a round about way with the occasional return of their own gifts to the church. But, in fact, giving to God or the Church of your choice is often just that, giving, with precious little to show for it in practical and real life returns. Oh I know we are not to give to get, but the promises of scripture plainly say we shall receive and the practical reality of it is disillusioning to say the least.

Try asking your church for financial help, in most cases, no matter how much you have given and see how far you get. “Why Mrs. Jones, if we did that for you, we'd have to do that for everyone, and we just can't. Don't you have some relatives you can call?" I always wondered if we are to give to and serve others so much, who are they supposed to give to and serve? Themselves it seems. If we are to esteem others BETTER than ourselves, what are all the others suppose to do?

Finally, there is the illusion of protection. While the Bible might boast of angels who watch and protect children and the idea that “a thousand shall fall (hey who protects them?) at thy right side and ten thousand at thy left, but it shall not come nigh unto thy dwelling, " it is a disillusionment of epic proportions to believe. I have buried too many children whose lives ended because they made one bad mistake at just the wrong time, or were the victim of a moment out of their control. I've gotten too many calls to come quickly, so and so has been killed, and so and so never made it to 18.

Were “their angels" on strike or vacation? Is this the time where once again, God gets off the hook and reminds me that “all things work together for the good to those that love Him. " Is this another time where I have to ask about who had faith and who didn't? Is it the fault of the human. . . again, that things did not work out so well? How come when it happens to a believer, it is Satan, with God's permission, trying to discourage them, and when it happens to a non-believer, it is God, trying to get in touch with them? It's all so disillusioning.

Time would fail, as would space to recite all the promises made to sincere believers by the writers of the Bible for their obedience, loyalty, belief and faith. I believe there is a book entitle “All the Promises of the Bible. " After a lifetime of application, I suspect it is a list of disillusionments.

But. . . GOOD NEWS! DIS-illusionment is a good thing! Who wants illusions! In the long run, they are more painful, harmful and detrimental than reality, which is something we innately seem to wish to avoid at times as humans. I suspect even Jesus, who just knew that if he did his part and pushed the Romans hard enough to ignite the final confrontation at the Temple in Jerusalem, learned a lot in his final moments on the cross. I don't think he was kidding when he is said to have cried out, “My God, my God. . . why have your forsaken me?" The Kingdom did not come in the nick of time to save him. I think he died honestly disillusioned about his own perceptions, unless the line is simply for dramatic effect. I think the early disciples were pounded with their illusions about how things would be if they followed Jesus. One of the first reactions was to flee and go home to catch fish again, like the whole thing never happened.

The historical church, that grew out of the great dis-illusionment would go on to offer the now familiar apologetic we experience today as “The Church, " with the best yet to come, always just around the corner, just ahead, in the near future, any time now for sure.

Life does what it does, not at times, but always. The experience of Disillusionment, while painful is necessary for our growth and when it comes knocking. . . let it in. It really does work for the good as the book says. :)

Dennis is a former pastor of 26 years and of no illusions. :) Well, not as many.

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