Friday, January 16, 2009

Disillusionment is a Good Thing

Disillusionment is a good thing. That accords with the true meaning of the term itself. Disillusionment is technically a state of being freed from illusions or enchantments or false beliefs. It tends toward the loss of innocence but contrary to our notion that this is unfortunate, that loss of innocence is also a good thing. To be disillusioned is to be enlightened and undeceived. When we say were are disillusioned we customarily mean that we are experiencing a feeling that is stronger than mere disappointment because in fact we have discovered that a belief or expectation that has been central to our understanding, training, worldview or identity is actually untrue or unsupportable.

My own disillusionment during my adult years was invariably related to people. People can disappoint but when their actions or inactivity disappoint long enough, it becomes disillusionment. For example, friends and colleagues in whom we place confidence, prove to be fickle. Or, employers and employees make promises and then renege. Or, people whom we have respected, whom we have revered fail morally or ethically. We react negatively to the feeling of disillusionment when it happens to us because it can be manifested or accompanied by cynicism, suspicion, bitterness and distrust. We may only see the downside of illusion busting. Healthy disillusionment however is something which should be embraced. God endorses it. In fact it originates with God and it is manifested by understanding and clear thinking but without cynicism. Jesus did not experience disillusionment with humanity because he understood the truth about us. John 2:24-25 records that “… Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” In one of Mark’s accounts of Jesus’ teaching he quoted Jesus saying, “For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:21-22)

Innocence is associated with childhood. Characteristic of an adult, innocence becomes a liability. I speak to myself as I write. If I don’t trust God’s assessment of humanity, even the ones closest to me, I wind up enduring them rather than enjoying them, because people cannot satisfy me. Only God can. They can’t be perfect enough, or pleasant enough or consistent enough. God is.