One thing God never is, it seems, is in a rush. He is quite happy to announce plans to his people that will come to fruition in forty years’ time, or to his prophets, in hundreds of years’ time. The rescue for those in exile in Babylon was so long in coming that Daniel was the only one still bothering to work out that things were a bit behind schedule. Help does not always appear to come swiftly, and promised progeny can arrive so late in life as to be utterly laughable in human terms. Isaac means “he laughs” and though it is Sarah who is berated for laughing at the idea of a child, both she and Abraham did so.
The trouble is that we usually are in a hurry. And mostly this is because we are thinking in terms of the timescale of our human lives, which are so often nasty, brutish and short (as Hobbes would have it). God’s timescale is an overreaching and all-inclusive one. He is always looking at the eternal picture. As Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
Looking at things with an eternal eye is unsurprisingly difficult for us humans, especially if we aren’t really that invested in the idea of eternal life, more so if we are suffering horribly. We want the pain, the difficulty, the trials and troubles to end as soon as possible, so that we can get on with all that living we’ve got to do. We fail to see that sometimes that very pain and strife is the living we’ve got to do.
Paul puts our present troubles and lives in perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 NIV) And lest we think he is guilty of not being grounded in reality, we must remember that some of the “light and momentary” problems he has endured up to this point include being shipwrecked, imprisoned, and stoned until his persecutors thought he was dead.
Our focus needs to be on the bigger picture, even when we are having a dreadful time. Paul wasn’t seeking refuge from his troubles. It would not have surprised him in the least to know he would die a martyr’s death. And whilst this is not what we should be seeking, because frankly there are enough torments in life that seek us out without us going looking for them, it should not throw us off balance or damage our faith in the goodness of God.
These verses and others like it are one of the reasons I tend to be a bit dubious of those who teach mindfulness as the most important basis for spiritual living. Jesus himself told us to only worry about today, and being present to what is happening right here and now is necessary, especially when it prevents us from concern and angst that isn’t helpful. But it is not only the present that is important, and it is impossible for human beings to exist solely in the now, however hard we might try. We are built for eternity, not in our physical bodies, but in Spirit, and looking at things with that in mind is important.
For one thing, it helps us to understand the mind of Christ that Paul tells the Corinthians in his first letter, believers have access to (1 Corinthians 2:16). For another, it helps us bear our trials to know that we do not suffer without purpose. God sees things differently than we do, and time is one of the ways this manifests itself. Waiting, patience, these are all part of the learning curve for Christians, or any spiritual seeker. When we feel God is taking his sweet time, we do well to remember the verse before the one I first quoted above, from Peter’s second letter to the Church in Asia Minor:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)
©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay