Disillusionment isn’t fun. You thought one thing and it turned out to be another. You had a perception that turned out to be untrue. You hoped… but your hopes were dashed against the cold, hard rocks of reality. Disillusionment doesn’t feel good. At all.
Nevertheless, disillusionment is a gift from God. Disillusionment means that illusions are being removed, and this is a good thing, because illusions are unhelpful. Illusions are unhelpful because they don’t reflect reality. That’s why they’re called illusions!
Illusions are normally alluring and attractive, so it’s no wonder we have difficulty giving them up when reality sets in. Illusions try to tell us that life is a bit rosier, a bit smoother, a bit less messy, and so we hold on to them tightly.
Illusions Don’t Help Anyone
But as good as illusions can make us feel temporarily, they’re ultimately unhelpful because they are untrue. If we are embracing illusions (knowingly or unknowingly), we are walking in darkness, at least partly.
When we begin to walk with God, he begins working to remove our illusions, because the illusions we have are essentially lies we are embracing. God is light; there’s no darkness in him at all, and his desire is that we learn to walk in the light, as he is in the light.
This simply means that we learn to live according to the truth. The truth about who God is. The truth about who we are. And the truth about the world.
As soon as God begins to reveal the truth to us, it manifests as disillusionment, because he is removing our illusions so we can walk in the truth!
So yes, it’s uncomfortable and painful. Yes, it can be deeply disappointing and frustrating to find out that you aren’t as good as you thought you were. To find out your church isn’t as healthy as you thought it was. To find out your spouse doesn’t have it all together.
The Necessity of Disillusionment
This is one of the main themes of one of my favorite books of all time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. The insights in this little book about community life are some of the most profound and helpful you’ll ever find.
In one section, he talks about the need for disillusionment in Christian community, so that we can discard our “ideal vision” and embrace truth in all its messiness and inconvenience.
Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.
Bonhoeffer concludes that disillusionment is a wonderful gift from God, because until it happens, we cannot even begin the journey of becoming a real community.
The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both.
(The entire passage is worth meditating on, and can be found at the end of this post from Scot McKnight.)
The Cost of Disillusionment
As difficult as it is to be disillusioned, in the long run it’s far more costly to stay “illusioned”. Walking in darkness means we stumble and wander away from the life God gives. But God’s promise to us is that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Don’t fall in love with your thoughts about how things “should be.” It leaves you susceptible to embracing the illusions that leave us in darkness. And the cost of keeping your illusions is far higher than the cost of disillusionment.
It feels scary because the illusion is what we thought reality was! But we can trust God that the real truth doesn’t need to be defended or clung to, it just needs to be revealed.
Don’t resist the process; let God disillusion you so you can walk in the light today.
I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share your story of the gift of disillusionment.
Great post as always, Ben. I even shared it with a friend as we both struggle with this from time to time as we seek to plant the gospel in our neighborhoods.
mcduff Thanks Myron! Blessings in your neighborhood endeavors. If I can be of any service, please let me know.
Picked up Life Together again last month in order to read it along with the young couple that is sharing our home… So good. I hadn’t seen Scot’s post yet, so thanks for pointing back there as well. I’ve been that prophet-pastor far too often over the years. Thinking of making Bonhoeffer Works a bit of a theme for my upcoming sabbatical…
AndyDragt Sounds like a great idea, Andy!