I've known Legolas (his blog name, obviously) for going on 13-14 years now. And for about nine of those, he's been suffering with chronic pain...headaches. Actually, it's pretty much one headache that he's had continuously for nine years, with brief breaks of a day or a week here and there. Legolas is a devoted follower of Christ, and in all that time God has never given him any discernable sense of guidance or help to point him toward understanding what is going on or to help him find a solution. He's been to just about every specialist you can think of...and a few kinds of specialists you've probably never heard of. Nobody knows what's going on.
Legolas asks for God's help just about every day, but depite his great need he wouldn't say (or even think) that he feels entitled to God's miraculous divine intervention in his situation. He doesn't think it's necessarily God's job to always take away every form of opposition and struggle that we face and make it all okay. That's a childish view of faith...and of God's role in our lives.
But, what Legolas would say is that he feels entitled to God "throwing him a bone" once in a while. It's a tough line theologically to parse out...is it faith that expects God to lead us in a way we can understand, or is it entitlement? When a circumstance becomes so dire and so chronic (such as Legolas' health challenges), is it entitlement for him to expect God to "throw him a bone"--that is, toss him a hint, point him in a direction, offer a word of encouragement to his soul? Is it pride that fosters deep anger in him when God fails to do this for him?
I suppose the question comes down to this: In our quest to become all God dreams for us, what does authentic faith allow us to boldly expect from God in that process? Certainly by faith we can fully expect that God is good, that he loves us, that he is for us, that his disposition toward us is one of favor and blessing. But is there anything specifically that we can by faith expect God to do (by way of intervention into our material affairs) that does not creep across the line into entitlement?
Perhaps the sin of entitlement (and I would call it a sin*) stems at least in part from a lack of understanding about the nature of the partnership God has set up with us through Christ. It's the age-old question of "What is God's role, and what is mine?" In my own journey, I find myself moving (actually, full on sprinting) away from the more passive "ask and wait" paradigm I lived in for so many years of my life, and toward a more active partnership in which my role is just as engaging and intense as God's.
For example, I used to "expect" God to simply bring me my wife and plop her down right into the center of my life in a way that was both obvious and easy to grab hold of; I guess you could say I felt entitled to that specific blessing from God. I no longer believe that (and believe me, I have mourned the loss of that belief, because it's a pretty wonderful belief to have...it's easy, after all, and sublimely romantic). I don't expect God to drop my wife from the heavens right on my head. I now believe I have to go and get her; that's my role...to "take possession" of her in a way, and in this way, take possession of that arena of my life and heart. But I DO expect God to teach me how to go get her. I do expect him to father me in that. That feels clean to me, though much much less easy than my old entitlement ways of doing things.
So when it seems that God has not spoken or will not speak to Legolas in a way that he can grasp...to provide insight, encouragement, or to point him in a direction--in short, to teach him...is Legolas justified in feeling bitter at God about that, or is there some larger view of things that is trying to make itself known? I honestly don't know. But I can tell you this: When Legolas and I pray together, it's rare that he doesn't ask God for guidance, for direction and help, and for the humility to hear and obey. There may have been a time when Legolas judged God unfair and untrustworthy for what has happened in his life. But now, though he invites God to teach him, he can't seem to find evidence of him anywhere in his world. He's like the prodigal who got lost on the way back to the Father's house.
On further reflection, I think there is something to be learned here about the nature of teachableness in the journey of transformation. Often when we come to God and ask him to teach us, we naturally make assumptions about what it looks like to be taught, and when those things don't happen we make up that God is absent and we're not being taught anything at all. But for the truly teachable heart, the faith-filled assumption is that we are in fact being taught all the time--that all of life is a dojo and that God is the everpresent Sensei, infusing every breath, every moment, with the ripe potential for discovery and transformation. The lesson is available for the heart that is willing to surrender its assumptions, open its eyes, and take in a larger view.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15).
*Sin is a loaded word in our culture, so perhaps I should explain what I mean by it here. I define sin according to its literal meaning, which is "to miss the mark." The term originated in the realm of archery: whenever an archer shot an arrow that missed the bullseye on the target, he was said to have "sinned." That is an elegant and I think accurate depiction of what sin actually is. So when I talk about entitlement as a sin, I simply mean that such an attitude/perspective "misses the mark" of hitting the bullseye of the LIFE that we are made for and, in fact, most deeply desire.
After the hiccup
23 hours ago