or some The Great Disappointment refers to those Millerites who expected Jesus to return on October 22, 1844. But 1,800 years before that a tiny group of disciples stood at the Place of the Skull and wondered what they were going to do now that their dreams had been ground to dust and blown away. Talk about disappointment.
Indeed, disappointment is part of the human experience. These days we’re less likely to experience disappointment because Jesus didn’t return when somebody said He would. We’re more likely to know disappointment when a spouse declares that he or she no longer wants to be married, when your company or office announces you’re going to be downsized out of a job, when the people for whom you’re praying lose their struggle to stay alive, or when someone calls to tell you, “There’s been an accident.” There’s no question: We will experience disappointment. The question is: How do we then go forward?
Christ’s first disciples found purpose, in spite of their disappointment, in His conquest of the grave and in His global commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
Some of those early Millerites returned to their calculations and tried to figure out when Jesus would
return. But the larger number went back to living in a world that had less use for prophetic time charts and predictions about the end of the world than it did about practical, real-life Christianity.
Those who eventually became Seventh-day Adventists looked for ways to demonstrate in useful ways the values of Christ’s heavenly kingdom: love, justice, mercy, and humility. The result has been almost 140 years of churches, schools, hospitals, clinics, community service centers, and countless people touched by the incarnational ministry of Christ in the person of His followers.
Today we find ourselves living between the “now” and the “not yet,” in a society increasingly deaf to the teachings of the Bible. Even when we succeed in getting our message out, it’s just one of hundreds of conflicting messages in the many media outlets available to us.
We can’t merely be disappointed that we’re still here some 2,000 years since Jesus ascended to heaven. We have to be proactive, not only about preaching the gospel, but also about reflecting in our lives and ministries the character of Christ. It’s sad that in a world so often buffeted by tragedies and heartaches, disasters and disappointments, the response of many is to turn inward and indulge in passive self-examination, as if God cares only that they are ready for Christ’s return.
Prayer, study, and reflection have to be combined with service if we’re to move beyond the disappointment of Christ’s delay and bring light, life, and love to our communities.
When a community is threatened with some kind of natural disaster—flood, fire, tornado, earthquake—the entire community mobilizes to respond to the devastation. When communities are threatened by moral or spiritual needs—poverty, addictions, crime, illiteracy—Adventists should be among those working to solve those problems. To sit around and only be “disappointed” serves no useful purpose.
Make no mistake: a sovereign God will wrap things up on this planet when His purposes have been fulfilled. Our task until then is to be salt and light in a world in desperate need of both. In some communities Adventists are all but invisible. In other communities Adventists are well known because of their service to those who are poor, marginalized, disenfranchised, sick, illiterate, young, old, abused. They give Bible studies and hand out literature, but they also volunteer at schools, libraries, homeless shelters, recreation centers, and blood banks—wherever there’s a need.
Millennia ago the prophet stated: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This, beyond mere prayer and reflection, is what God wants from His people.
It is also, coincidentally, what our communities want to see in Christ’s professed followers.
Steve Chavez is managing editor of the
Adventist Review. This article was published October 20, 2011.