I glance at my watch for the hundredth time in the last thirty minutes. I stand crowded in an apparently endless line, sweat dripping down my exhausted body. My mission is simple – I am only trying to conduct a mundane financial transaction. Bank South Pacific, my home bank, the pride of the South Pacific, associates different things with “efficiency” than many of us might commonly associate with the word. Deposit, withdrawal, or transfer – it does not matter, it always means I must wait. I don’t wait well. Some people I see at the bank wait well. I look around and in the line there are some people who smile. I frown thinking that if a bank teller sees my dissatisfaction they will beg that I come straight to the front of the line. Others I see standing in line share in a conversation with a friend. I always stand alone. Still, others do nothing, but by the looks on their faces I can tell they wait well. How many times have I wished I would learn to wait well? Probably about as many times as I have looked at my watch in the now 45 minutes that have passed. You see, my sensibilities were formed in a different cultural context. My ears ring with the statements of North American wisdom, “Time is money.” I replay scenes of movies where we are implored to “carpe diem” [cease the day]. I am reminded of the limited hours God has given man and surely it is not my destiny to wait in line at the bank. I frustrate myself by thinking while I stand hopelessly in line that someone somewhere is off saving the world. I wait, now 60 minutes, wishing I could learn to wait well. Finally, I am saved by a pleasant invitation, “Next, please” and I realize the teller is looking at me. Perhaps next time I will learn to wait well. Photo by jurvetson
The Bible forces us to consider this issue of time. In his book, From Creation to the Cross, Albert Baylis remarks (in reference to Exodus) that we are forced to question God’s excessive slowness. Could it be true? That God is also hoping we will learn to wait well? There is an elderly man near the genesis of the Bible who, when he looks into the mirror at 75, sees a worn body accentuated with wrinkles. His hearing is fine as the words of promise are spoken (Gen. 12:1). A child. The promise is of a child.
My daughter Hannah loves to go to church. In fact, a couple of months ago she woke up at 2:30 a.m. My wife and I heard the commanding voice coming from her room, “Mommy, Daddy, I’m awake. I’m ready to go church.” This, my wife later clarified, is why we don’t tell her anything until the last minute.
Imagine what Abraham must have thought. Who he must have told. Then he begins to glance at his watch. Quickly he finds that the watch is an inappropriate way to track God timing. So he looks to the calendar, but never in his life would he have imagined that God would force him to take down and replace so many calendars before the promise was fulfilled – the child.
Then I also remember he is the same God who told Moses that I have seen the suffering of my people (Ex. 3:7). I used to associate this statement with God’s inability to exist in the face of our suffering. He sees the suffering at one moment and at the next he is lighting up a bush that really is not burning up. But, then I realize he is speaking historically. How long ago did God see the suffering? Moments or years? Because the Bible gives Moses’ birth narrative, we can be convinced that his birth and life was part of God’s plan of deliverance from the day Moses was born. But do you know when Moses first knocks on those gold plated doors at the home of Pharaoh? When he was 80 years old (Ex. 7:7). If I see misery I go running because “time is of the essence”. And yet God waits.
What a joyful day it must have been when the words of the prophet Ezekiel were spoken (now our chapter 34). Like many of the prophets, Ezekiel brought a word of hope, a promise of God, but neglected to mention the timeframe. Perhaps parents went rushing home to tell children that the day is coming when God himself will shepherd his people. These harsh shepherds who practice deceit and thievery will be replaced. “When, daddy, when will this happen?” Perhaps even that inquisitive life passed away before the promise was fulfilled. And the Lord requires his people to wait.
We also cry out. We are afflicted. There is within this world an apparent contradiction between the experience of life and the narration of the Bible. Ailments, sickness, disease afflict our bodies, the bodies of friends, the bodies of those we love so deeply. Layoffs, downsizing, and lost jobs are not too far from any of our neighborhoods. This is only the suffering we know. Then there is the other side of the world. There is genocide, civil war, mass murder. There is hunger, famine, and natural disasters. Even now we wait. How we long must we wait for wrongs of society to be made right. Anxiously we seek the soft cloth that will wipe every tear from our eyes. We desire the strong arm that will remove the burdens we carry. We wonder why God retards his response. What is to account for his excessive slowness? Surely there are answers. I’ll leave those answers to the scholars. But, I write today as a fellow sufferer. Once the scholar studies, theologizes, theorizes, and applies their teaching, the truth is we are still all forced to wait. I hope we all know God has an agenda. God is working. Possibly our answers will only bring partial vision. Only after we wait can God bring clarity to our blurred vision. Now we see only as a poor reflection and later we will see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). But, in the meantime God expects us to wait, hoping I’m sure, that we will learn to wait well.