Scripture reading for today:
I have been absorbed in what is going on and the voice over my left shoulder catches me a little by surprise. Right – I’m not here alone. Watching. Waiting. Caught up in the action.
In an instant, though, I realize that this simple word of alignment and perspective isn’t even being spoken to me. Yet, it is one of those multivalent messages, spoken within this context to this immediate moment, as well as to the larger action… and perhaps even larger still, beyond this present episode to a greater narrative. Some words are like that.
It’s much easier to see things when you’re viewing the game from the bench. Watching what is unfolding while catching what can be salvaged of our win, my linemate leaning on the boards to my left and I can see what is going on with the clarity afforded anyone not actually on the ice at the time. It is clear that, while our team is holding its own, the action is escalating in our end. However, it is also clear that their players are tiring. If our teammates on the ice lose their cool and begin to play with a sense of desperation, costly mistakes will be made. It’s only a matter of time til something important happens.
Driving south on the highway in mid-December one year, I had it out with God.
It had been a dreadful Fall.
Just five months earlier, my wife and I had stepped out in faith, leaving good jobs and moving to another city in order to plant a church there because we had discerned that God had called us to do that. We had developed a nice plan that involved the quick sale of our house- located in a quiet and desirable suburb – and a downscaling move that would afford us some financial wiggle-room from the surplus gained in the sale. Although I had been in full-time pastoral ministry for six or seven years, I would go back into my first profession- teaching school- and proceed into an ongoing bi-vocational reality much the way I had read that the Apostle Paul did when planting the church in Ephesus.
But there were certain realities that could only be seen from the bench.
From where we were, we could not see that the housing market would suddenly go flat the way housing markets will sometimes and that we’d be carrying two mortgages throughout the Fall. Also, we had failed to note in our time of preparation that the existing hiring policies of the public school division in our new city required teachers not attending university to apply in January for the school year that would begin in September. Add to this the fact that, while my wife was eligible for employment insurance because she had ‘followed her husband’ to a new town, I was not because I had simply left my work, and you have a rather unwelcome reality check interrupting our lovely walk into the world of uprooted obedience.
So alone in my car with God on my way to supply teach in a community 30 minutes from town, having finally received and accepted an offer on our previous house, I felt it was time to surface my disappointment with the timing of things. God was quick to reply.
“I knew from the very beginning that you were going to go through this – I just didn’t let you know. If I had revealed these things, would you have stepped into the vision, or would you have chosen to sit this one out? I showed you what you needed to see in order to choose active involvement. And anyway – did your house not sell eventually and are you not teaching school in a way that enables you to both pay your bills and attend to meaningful networking in your new town? You just had to have patience.”
Patience with God?
Somehow this seems like a silly idea. We’re the ones with the ongoing sin problem – the ones who keep coming back regularly with prayers of repentance that all sound rather similar. God is the one with the patience and we’re the ones that demand it.
But how come it seems to be so easy for God to be patient with us, and yet it is so difficult for us – created in his image – to reciprocate? I think it has something to do with perspective.
See, we’re temporal, with all of the criteria of our existence defined ahead of time. Governed by the rules of this physical realm, we have perspectives that have developed within this closed system. We have come to exist in a world of beginnings and endings, and to try to think outside of these parameters gives most of us a headache if we spend too much time doing it.
God exists outside of the scope of his own creation. Where we are limited, God is unlimited. Where we are finite, God is infinite. Where we can only reflect, God radiates.
So when it comes to patience, we who are bound by time and space struggle with a sense of ongoing urgency that is born of this realm. When it comes to vision, we are driven forward by our own existential angst – we know we’ve only got so long to see it come to realization. When God seems to be taking his sweet time with things, we presume to grow impatient with the Creator of the Universe. We forget that this weird insistence is a thing that God doesn’t have to deal with the way we do because divine perspective is boundless and eternal.
In Advent season we live and seek to faithfully serve in the tension that exists between prophecy and fulfilment. Today’s readings in Hebrews 10 and Jeremiah 31 acknowledge that, while the meter is running, God is not as concerned about that as we are. God says ‘the days are coming…’ but doesn’t offer anything beyond that. Furthermore, we’re reminded that when these coming days arrive they will bring with them a mind-blowing new order to replace the old, broken one. This will consist of an agreement between Creator and created in which ‘redeemed’ will replace ‘fallen’ in the identity of all humanity.
With the coming of the Christ, the days were both complete and not yet. With the Christ, God’s new covenant began like a ray in geometry, having a beginning but no end. Perhaps with the realization of God’s new covenant in fullness, will come that boundless perspective that is currently God’s alone, and we will all enjoy the view from the bench. And perhaps with this perspective will come the kind of patience that lasts an eternity.
Until then, we continue to wait in the tension with our eye on the clock.
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