The question was posed to me: "Apart from salvation, what can I expect God to do for me?" Sadly it's a question that many Christians would quickly pounce on and say "How can you ask that?", as if questioning God was not allowed. But God gave me a brain, and presumably I should use it (unlike some, Limbaugh comes to mind).
(This is not the question of what can I expect of God if I enter relationship with Him as damaged goods ... thats another story for another time)
It was a question that made me pause, and I had to resist the temptation to trot out all the platitudes we so unthinkingly use. Then the cynic in me wanted to say "we can expect nothing" ... for on what grounds can we expect God to do anything. He's sovereign, and owes me nothing.
But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that's not exactly true. The balance is between understanding the expectations of relationship, and what I think he should do for me. Its a fine line we so easily confuse. Many relationships founder on this, when one partner begins to run the relationship by their individual requirements of the other.
Here's my analogy (remember, analogies are finite): When I married, promises were exchanged. These were not promises of "I'll make sure you have a good job", "I'll prevent you from sickness", "I'll shield you from the evil of others", or "I'll be sure that you have a nice suburban house with big screen TV, iPad, and high speed internet". These promises are not made, because relationship can never grow if experience is not shared!
No, the promises were that "I'll love you, stand by you, never leave you, forgive you, not harm you, walk with you, and share the struggles".
God says the same things, with one exception. He also says follow me, and I promise these things. It sounds like conditional love, but its not. As humans we are so quick with our conditional love ... "I'll do this if you do that" .. and when the other person fails we withhold our favour (yet we are quick to complain when the situation is reversed). That's because human relationships are based on the equality of partners.
So if God's promises are not conditional, what are they? God's statements of "Follow me and I'll ..." are objective statements of the reality of relationship with a God. He's saying that while we are in relationship, his promises hold and I can expect that. If I break the relationship, the relationship is just that - broken! It's not that God then fails to deliver, its that we have walked out the room (amazingly God's grace even then may prevail).
So what can I expect of God? I can expect him to honour the promises of relationship. These are not promises of never being sick, never hurting, never knowing sadness, never suffering, never being hungry, never feeling lost, never having to make a decision for myself, never having to use my brain. Because part of growing in relationship is to take my share of responsibility. No, the promises are that God will be the strong partner, be a lover, share responsibility, collaborate (which in itself is amazing). And part of being in an unequal (healthy*) relationship is that the stronger partner desires to see the other grow.
(Remember the limits to analogies?) It's like the master trusting the apprentice to do a job, even though the master has NO need for the apprentice, but does so because the apprentice will then become more than he is now. He does it for the apprentice. This is dangerous, because the apprentice is exposed to danger. The apprentice may hurt himself, may fail, may know misery, but those are the risks of learning. To learn and never try is to never learn. And every success is built on the lessons of trying. Through this the apprentice becomes more like the master, and more skilled, more able to complete the tasks, and enters into a deeper relationship of shared understanding with the master.
The first time I could truly empathize with someone who had lost a parent was when I lost a parent. The first time I could really understand someone who has been hurt by another, was when I had been hurt by someone. When I failed at a task, I could help another who was struggling with the task. That is why I struggle to deeply empathize with someone in the gutter ... I feel sorry, I am moved, and may act in response, but the depth of my emotion is finite. Yet let me hear of someone being bullied, and my anger is roused because I know what it is like.
So what can I expect from God? God by definition is the senior partner in our relationship ... he leads and he has a mission. He is the master and I am the apprentice working to serve the greater wisdom. He sees the completion, and knows the steps to reach it. I am the pupil who he amazingly entrusts with tasks towards that end goal ... entrusted while we are in our relationship.
Like Frodo and Gandalf, who shared a commitment to a grand objective that was good, true, necessary, and important. Frodo was entrusted with tasks, and Gandalf walked with him into the tough situations. Sometimes he was alongside, sometimes Gandalf was far away and Frodo had to struggle seemingly on his own with the task entrusted to him. Yet all the time Gandalf is working on his behalf, often facing dangers and trials that Frodo could never handle. They are in relationship, and can expect all that one does of relationship.
So with God I expect relationship. I expect to feel close, yet sometimes to feel apart but know he is working for us ... I expect at all times that we work to a common purpose. I expect to be stretched, I expect troubles, sadness, and hurt. But I expect joy of the union of purpose.
Because of relationship. Take that away, and I can expect nothing except dismissal.
* Note we can be in relationships of unequals that are not healthy. Most particularly we can submit to other authorities, spiritual and physical, that harm us. Think of drugs, spousal abuse, or the occult.