We base all of our relationships on expectations. They might be acknowledged or hidden, spoken or silent, but we shape all of our relationships around them. Sometimes we make those expectations explicit: for instance, we exchange wedding vows, or sign contracts, or shake hands in agreement.
Often the expectations are implicit but no less real. For instance, a man makes promises to a child when he becomes a father; those promises bind him in love and responsibility to his child. A woman pledges care for a child when she becomes a mother; those pledges tie her to her child through difficult days and long nights. Whether or not they ever speak aloud words of promise to their children, simply by bringing them into the world, parents pledge to nurture their children. Children know, deep in their hearts, whether or not parents keep those promises.
Friendships carry implicit expectations. Friends agree to make time for each other, to listen, and to care. Friends help shoulder the load. They show up for each other when everyone else walks out. They support each other in times of failure and celebrate in seasons of success. Friends weep and laugh together. Whether or not we ever spell-out the terms of a friendship, we all know when a friend breaks a promise. The sadness we feel tells us. Conversely, when a friend keeps a promise, the love we feel reassures us.
Even our relationship with God is, in part, a creation of our expectations—of our perceptions about what God has promised. While we might be reluctant to admit it, we all expect certain things from God, don’t we?
In fact, a lot of the silent bitterness and apathetic numbness of some Christians is the result of frustrated expectations. They thought God had promised them something which they didn’t get, something like protection from trouble or insurance against crisis.
There are many people who are upset with God, because they feel like God cheated them out of something they had every right to expect. Quite often, the reason our expectations have not been met is that they were based on illusions in the first place, rather than on authentic promises of God.
Nonetheless, there are legitimate expectations we have of God, things God has promised to us: strength for our struggles, guidance in our confusion, forgiveness for our sins, compassion for our limitations, mercy for our brokenness, meaning for our days, and hope for a future beyond the end of this tired life.
To be honest, there are times when each of us wonders whether or not God will keep even these promises, but experience teaches us that the God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a God whose light the darkness cannot finally vanquish, whose love reaches us in the depths, and whose grace ultimately transforms tragedy. Jesus is God’s Word to us, and, in him, God is telling us what we can expect—the realities upon which we may depend.