Moments of disillusionment are devastating. Although we know, in theory, that the people we most love are fallen, nothing prepares us for the moments when that knowledge becomes experience.
Real life in real relationships with all too real people will provide countless moments of disillusionment. Spouses will hurt each other in deeply vulnerable places, friends will betray our trust, churches will likely leave us with wounds.
How are we to respond to such disillusionment? Is it possible that disillusionment, when interpreted through the lenses of the gospel, can serve as a divinely appointed gift?
A healthy disillusionment provides an opportunity to build marriages,
friendships, families and ministries on deeper foundations of the gospel.
Simply looking at the word disillusionment itself provides clues to the gifts it has to offer its reluctant recipients: dis – illusion, to take away illusions. Illusions are lovely bubbles; however, they cannot and will not withstand the blows of life in a fallen world. When illusions are popped, they create space for reality and redemption.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who knew deep disillusionment with his native Germany, the Church and himself; yet in his classic book Life Together, he shares a gospel perspective on such disillusionment.
“Innumerable times a whole Christian community is broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream… But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what is should be in God’s sight… He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”
Of course, this is more an agonizing process than an immediate arrival, as is most of walking with Christ toward glory. God knows our frame, that we are but dust (Psalm 103). He allows us to vent and tantrum and cry and grieve, as even a cursory glance at the book of Psalms reveals. When it comes to being disillusioned with others and ourselves, He gives us space both to reel and to heal in His presence.
However, like any good father, He refuses to leave us sitting on our piles of popped illusions. He patiently coaxes us, inviting us to begin rebuilding on the unshakeable ground of the gospel.
Swallowing our gospel medicine, we recognize that we have been on both sides of disillusionment: we have failed and betrayed others as we ourselves have been failed and betrayed, sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently. Much like Nehemiah’s work force, armed with the hope of the gospel in one hand, with the other we begin, brick by brick, to rebuild a gospel-mediated confidence in marriages, friendships and families of origin and faith.
While moments of disillusionment can be detrimental, through the gospel, they can become opportunities to expand the gospel in our lives and relationships. Through the cracks and fissures in our pots of clay and the pots of clay with whom we live and move about, we have opportunity to be brought more deeply into the light of the knowledge of the God’s glory played in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7.