Monday, November 14, 2011

On The Nature of Desire, Patience, and Waiting

[Ironically, a much delayed and still unfinished blog]


The thunderclap of wood against wood still resounds in my ears.
The ark door slammed shut with finality… the moment of vindication!

But all around, smug laughter;
And all above, empty skies.


“In a moment what has been is lost in what will be.”
(Steven Curtis Chapman, When Love Takes You In)

“Christ if you're ready to come back
I think I'm ready for you to come back
but if you want to stay
wherever exactly it is you are,
that's okay, too,
it's really none of my business.”
(mewithoutYou, Carousels)

“When you're waitin' for love,
if you don't mind believing that it changes everything,
time will never matter.”
(Jars of Clay, Sunny Days)


I. Empty Skies

When you’re waiting for something to happen, the most important thing in the world is time.  “How long?” is the most important question.  Or so it seems.

And it is a valid question, asked dozens of times in the Scriptures (especially in the Psalms).  But what is interesting to note is that there are only a couple times when God actually answers this question with anything specific.  Usually, as far as we know, the question goes unanswered.  It would seem that time is not on the top of God’s list of priorities.

Yet as humans, it seems like it’s all we can think about.  Case in point: Harold Camping.  He predicted that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011, and when that failed to occur, he revised his prediction to October 21, 2011. Yet the skies remain empty.  Camping is just one in a long list of people whose predictions about the timing of Christ’s return have failed.  As a Seventh-day Adventist, a failed prediction is in my denominational history as well.

What amazes me the most about all the predictions about the Second Coming is the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour when He will return (Matthew 24:36).  Our desire to know when is so powerful that we make predictions even in the face of such an obvious statement regarding our inability to make predictions!

Even when we aren’t making predictions, many of us seem obsessed with figuring out at least approximately how much time is left until the Second Coming or the Latter Rain or whatever it is.  I don’t want to say that the when of these issues is entirely unimportant, but I’ve been wondering lately if we’re missing the point by putting our emphasis on when.

Going back to Matthew 24, the disciples ask the when question, and while Jesus doesn’t leave them completely in the dark, His primary emphasis is to “keep watch.”  Stay alert.  Be on the lookout.  Be prepared.  So how long do you wait until you start preparing?  None at all. We start now.  Which really means that whether Jesus comes in two weeks or two centuries, our “task” is the same: to continually get to know Jesus more.  Everything else flows out of that.

II. Empty Gifts

So what about other types of waiting?  Maybe you’re waiting for the perfect job, or to get married, or have children, or some other dream.  Perhaps you’re even like me and believe that God has made you certain promises regarding some of your dreams.  And so you’ve been waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

In my own experiences, I’ve even believed that God has made certain time prophecies regarding things He planned to accomplish in my life.  Many of these predictions have come and gone, making me feel very much like William Miller or Harold Camping.  I keep adjusting my expectations, trying to figure out what when wrong and when these things will really take place.

Maybe I’ve been missing the point.  Oh, I’m sure that God has a timeline for me (though perhaps more flexible than I originally thought) and I even believe He has given me insight into timing (though I seem to be too dense to really get it), but I think I’ve been so focused on the when that I’ve been missing the point.  Perhaps, by focusing on the when, I’ve even delayed the fulfillment of these promises.

God wants to give us good things.  Great and amazing things.  And an abundance of them.  But He also knows that the greatest gift is Himself.  Himself alone and Himself in His gifts… but never His gifts apart from Himself.  This isn’t because He is selfish, but because He knows that His gifts apart from Himself are not only ultimately empty, but can also become curses which destroy our lives.

And when we focus only on the when of His promises and gifts, we prove that we care more about the gifts apart from the Giver.  The Giver of all good things is here now.*  Let us look forward with great anticipation to His gifts, but let us also bask in the glory of the Gift Himself through the entire journey.

III. Empty Stomachs

In Revelation 6, we find the final desperate voicing of the question “How long?” and while we once again don’t get a specific answer, we’re told to “wait a little longer.”  Perhaps this is all we need.  Perhaps it is enough to know that there is an answer, even if we can’t hear it, and that there will come a day when all is fulfilled, even if we can’t see it from here.

And when it does come, it will be so amazing that the years we’ve spent waiting will seem but a small price to pay for such joy.

Or so I’ve heard.  This is perhaps the most difficult thing to really understand. Sometimes I doubt that all that’s been destroyed, lost, and wasted can be worth the wait… or that there will even be anything at all to look forward to after such devastation.

But then Jesus gives me something like this: “I will restore the years the swarming locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) and I cling to hope that hope…  The hope that somehow the fulfillment is so grand that it swallows up everything that came before it.  The hope that love truly does change everything.  The hope that the emptiness only exists so it can be filled, and that when it is, we won’t regret all the time we’ve spent longing for fulfillment, but rather recognize that the hunger itself has led us to this moment of immeasurable pleasure.


*Now let me contradict myself slightly for a moment here.  Christ’s presence with us now is not the same as His presence will be when He returns… otherwise, what’s the point of Him returning?  Apparently, His actual presence with us changes everything… “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).