When ready through the Old Testament, we can be so quick to pass judgment on the ancient Israelites. No sooner were they delivered from slavery in Egypt by ten plagues, that they immediately grumbled on the shores of the "Sea of Reeds" about being lost in the desert. On the heels of being delivered from Pharaoh through the water, they complained about not having any water to drink. Right after being led to the mountain of God so that Moses could receive the Law, they can't handle feeling "abandoned" and construct a Golden Calf to worship. It seems they're always watching God do something amazing, only to immediately start doubting his care of them all over again. We click our tongues, shake our heads and generally role our eyes in disappointment at their lack of faith. After all, we would have acted quite differently in the same situation, wouldn't we?
As seminary draws to a close, I find that I am not made of fundamentally different stuff than they were. If anything, I might have weaker faith that they did.
Take, for example, my quest to become a Navy chaplain...
The timeline of events since I first started the process last November would seem to argue for greater assurance that God is working to make me a Navy chaplain. However, the process has contained many (seemingly insurmountable) obstacles. Each obstacle as seemed like a deal-breaker, making the eventual appointment unlikely. Yet in each case, events have transpired to suggest that God is actively making it happen. I don't just mean he's passively allowing it to happen. I mean it seems like he's actively working to make it happen. There's quite a difference between those two views. I know the difference, and confess that it seems like the latter all the same.
Having said that, you would think that I would have stronger faith. I don't. At every turn I find excuses for why God is under no obligation to make me happy or useful, enjoying any sense of significance. It's true. Much of the rhetoric we use to make Christ attractive to people is total crap. Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3), not our careers. Salvation is assured, not happiness. Though it may be accurate to say, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," without further explanation that phrase is intuitively taken to mean, "God is obligated to facilitate your wonderful plan for life." If indeed my life sucked (which it does not), and if none of my desires were met (which many are), and if my life experience was a steady stream of sorrows (actually it contains a truck load of joy), God would still be God and faithful to his character and promises in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, I have no expectation to get what I want in life, just an assurance of salvation from eternal judgment and acceptance into his everlasting presence because of the person of work of Christ, whom I am bound to by faith.
However, I have learned that my faith need not be merely historical (what the work of Christ has accomplished) or futuristic (what the work of Christ will accomplish). Although much of what people think God owes them in this life is truly bogus, this does not nullify any dynamic relationship with God in this life. In other words, my faith can be historic, futuristic and presently dynamic - and still be defensive from the Bible. But what do I mean by "presently dynamic?" I can walk with God, inhabited by the Holy Spirit, in a process technically called sanctification. However, passages of Scripture that speak of sanctification only point toward changing me to behave and believe in the manner most honoring to God. This is called being "conformed to the image of Christ." No passages related to sanctification guarantee my happiness. They only guarantee that God will be actively at work to squeeze me into the mold of Christ. This work of the Holy Spirit may, at times or perhaps even often, seem unpleasant and contrary to my happiness. I am obligated to Christ by means of the Spirit, but God is obligated to no one. He is free, truly free, to act as he wishes in accordance with the character and promises he has already revealed. So I can be confident that God is actively working on me, just not presumptuous about how he's working for me.
I'm such a hypocrite. The other day I gave advice to a man that was pretty good, but I have not followed this advice as well as he did. I said to him, "No and then event will transpire in life that reminds us not to trust in a process, but instead in a person." Those words were accurate, memorable and helpful at the time. If I were to meditate on those words more, I might have stronger faith than I do. Instead I have weaker faith, that remains fearful whether I will have a career after graduation. Though many obstacles to entering a naval chaplaincy career have already been overcome, I remain anxious about that new obstacles will be overcome as well. This is not the countenance of a strong believer, but the uncertainties of one struggling with weaker faith, trying to cling to God anyway.