I’ve been reading two books simultaneously in recent weeks. Actually, I’m reading several (a common practice!), but two that came into sharp focus are Calvin Miller’s Into the Depths of God and Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God. After some thought, the two seemed not such a strange juxtaposition.
Yancey wrote his book because “Disappointment occurs when the actual experience of something falls far short of what we anticipate.” He leads readers into exploring the Bible to see what can rightfully be expected of—and from—God. With his unique skill, he relates stories of those who are deeply troubled by the anxieties, pain, frustrations and terrors of our larger world and their personal worlds. After describing God’s promises of a future without the horrors of our present age, he asks, “But what of the meantime? The mean times?”
About a third of the way through the book, Yancey “introduces” Jesus. Without borrowing his exact words, he attempts to help us see that our disillusionments can be brought squarely to the person who, Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. If Jesus is God, did he—does he—disappoint? Or is there something about him and his message that will help me through those times when I wonder if God cares? If God is?
And then I read the last two chapters of Miller’s book, especially the chapter entitled, “Dwelling in Foreverness,” where he posits that heaven is not (or should not) primarily be a place anticipated because of its streets of gold, gates of pearl, jasper walls and crystal seas. Not even because all tears will be wiped away. “Our anticipation of heaven has only to do with Jesus…” Miller explains that if in this life we are falling more in love with the Savior, trusting Him more, learning to walk so near to Him that we are covered with “the dust of the rabbi,”* stepping into heaven at the end of our earthly lives will simply be that “next step.” Instead of fearing death, as it draws closer we will anticipate that royal reunion with the One we’ve come to dearly love.
So what connection did I find between the two books? Yancey reminds me that as I venture more deeply into the Bible to more fully understand the character of God as he has through the ages revealed himself—and his actions—my disappointments will have less and less vitality, less oxygen to exist. Miller dares me to plunge into a lifestyle that seeks such an intimate, and seemingly dangerous, relationship with Jesus that when I take that next step, it is the most natural, most unbelievably wondrous step of all. The clouds of disappointment will be crowned with the rainbows of promise.
*A term used by several authors meaning to humbly follow Christ so closely that his “dust”—his character, his essence—covers the follower as would dust from his steps on the path. The thought is first introduced in the Hebrew Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic thought from 200 BC to 200 AD that still forms the core of Jewish belief today.