At the altar of conversion, there was peace, joy, and happiness at the forgiveness of sins and being united to Jesus through faith. It was for better, for richer, and in health. Yet 14 years into the marriage, things changed. A lot. Devastating loss, shattered hopes and dreams, and almost no change or improvement over time. Jesus didn’t change, but life sure did. Way back in my head, I knew He hadn’t promised a bed of roses. I knew the gospel talked about taking up a cross, and Scripture says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer. But maybe I thought, “That was in biblical times, not now.” Maybe I thought, “That only happens to people in other countries and other time periods. Not me, not now, not in America.” After all, I’m supposed to have Jesus, a godly husband, a decent income, a nice little place to live, and a good church. Right? I mean, nobody’s life is perfect, so some trials can be sprinkled in there, too. But not too much, and not for too long. After all, that’s the Christian-American dream, others sure seem to have it, and the Declaration of Independence seems to tell me that I deserve it.
But that’s not what’s happened.
And I’m confronted with reality. A reality that the Christian bookstore isn’t likely to proclaim or even acknowledge. After all, I don’t exactly see Christian coffee mugs plastered with “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” Psalm 44:22. No, that wouldn’t sell.
In the best sermon I’ve ever heard on John the Baptist, Pastor Anthony Kidd discusses the pain of unmet expectations. http://www2.masters.edu/pulpit/files/2010/Fall-’10/20100913-AnthonyKidd-mp3 Consider John: a divine birth, staggering promises, and a fruitful ministry. Yet he ends up rotting in prison. In his moment of confrontation with reality and shattered expectations, he asks, “Are You the Messiah, or shall we look for another?” despite what he had witnessed at Jesus’ baptism. And then the greatest man born of woman gets his head cut off in a debacle with a lustful, intoxicated king, his vengeful and bitter wife, and her seductive daughter. And so John the Baptist’s headless body is buried.
And just as Paul Tripp wrote a book about human marriage titled What Did You Expect?, it’s fair to ask ourselves the question in our union with Christ, “What Did You Expect?”
We focus a lot on the cross of Christ, and how He did something there that we could not have done. And rightly so. Yet sometimes I think that we want Jesus to be the only one in the relationship bearing the cross while we coast behind on the coattails of His victory in comfort and ease.
I find myself staring my Husband in the face and confessing, “This is not what I expected.” I did not expect worse, poorer, and in sickness. I did not expect crushing pressure, overwhelming emotional pain, and at times, feeling like the walls of my world are closing in on me. I didn’t expect to feel like my life ran off the tracks and into a ditch. I didn’t expect that I would actually have to fix my hope completely on the grace that will be brought to me at the day of Jesus Christ, because there is no place in the world for my hopes to land. Just as Noah’s dove, it flew over a watery world with no place to land, and had to return to the ark.
And I need to learn that in the end, this world is a watery graveyard of unmet expectations, and I can never truly land. Jesus is the ultimate ark, saving me from the flood of God’s righteous wrath, and if I don’t fly back to Him, where else can I truly go? I know deep down in my heart, just like John did, that we should not look for Another, we cannot look for Another.
Yet in the midst of it, there is a treasure beyond compare, a truth so unbelievable. Jesus never leaves His wife. Ever. No matter what. Yes, life may be crushing, but the truth is that I am a sinner. I violate God and dishonor Him and wound Him every single day in my sin. I ask for forgiveness, and I do the same things again. And I’m probably blind to much sin that I never even seek forgiveness for. And that is where the steadfast love of God comes in, far exceeding any Disney fairy tale, far exceeding any human love, much of which is not true love anyways. He doesn’t store up my sins and use them against me. He doesn’t cast me off when the relationship doesn’t seem worth it to Him anymore, or too hard, or too inconvenient. He gives, and gives, and then gives some more. He will never, ever, ever leave me. He will never change His mind. I am absolutely secure in His absolutely unchanging love. Nothing in this world is ultimately secure and unchanging…possessions, positions, or people. And because He does not change, I am not consumed (Malachi 3:6). And because His love is steadfast, He never cuts me off (Lamentations 3:22).
So is marriage to Jesus what I expected? No, not in the temporal sense of circumstances and trials I didn’t think I’d have to experience. But it’s also not what I expected in another sense: it’s the most solid, secure, stable, true, pure, genuine, committed, loving, giving, sacrificing, forgiving, gentle, truthful, wonderful relationship I will ever know. And when you know that the very best thing you could ever have is the one thing that will always be there and never taken away, you realize that in fact, marriage to Jesus is the most wonderful thing that ever has, or ever will, happen to you. And in the end, it truly will be happily ever after.