The Patience of Salvation
Posted by Margaret Manning Shull on March 5, 2013
More often than I’d care to admit, I find that I am in a hurry. Now, it’s not the typical kind of hurrying—rushing to get into the ten items or less lane at the grocery story, speeding through traffic, or running around juggling four or five tasks at a time. It’s more an inability to be present to my life as it is right now. So often I find that no matter the circumstances, I’m hurrying through them, wondering or worrying what is next.
This pattern of hurrying through life to the “next event” seems fairly typical and engrained from a young age. When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be in college. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to be a graduate student. When I was a graduate student, I couldn’t wait to be a professional. I look back on those hurried days now and lament that I rushed through them so quickly.
Of course, our efficiency-driven society doesn’t help our propensity towards hurrying through life. We live in an “instant” society, and our increasingly rapid technological developments only add to our impatience when things are not achieved instantaneously. While technology has greatly improved many aspects of our lives, I recognize that my own propensity to hurry, coupled with a society that moves at ever-quickening speeds, can be very detrimental for making myself present to right now. If my focus is consistently on the next event or milestone and if I want to get there with increasing speed, I cannot focus on the space that is now, nor can I be content.
The lives depicted in the Bible couldn’t be more different from our hurried lives. More importantly, and perhaps to our great frustration, the God revealed in the biblical stories is rarely in a hurry. Abraham and Sarah, for example, received the promise of an heir twenty-five years before they actually laid eyes on Isaac. Joseph had a dream as a seventeen year-old that his brothers would one day bow down to him. Yet it was countless years and many difficulties later that his brothers would come and kneel before him, asking for food. Moses was eighty years old—long past his prime of life—when God appeared to him in the burning bush and called him to deliver the children of Israel. David was anointed king by Samuel as a young boy tending his father’s flocks, long before he finally ascended to the throne. And Jesus spent thirty years in relative obscurity, not involved in public ministry, and only three years announcing the kingdom and God’s rule in his life and ministry.
Perhaps both from a Christian perspective and a skeptical one, it is difficult to understand why God wouldn’t be more in a hurry rushing to accomplish divine plans and purposes, not only in these individuals’ lives, but also in the work of redemption. The Messiah was prophesied hundreds of years before he actually arrived on the scene. We cannot help but ask why God seems to move so slowly?
In Peter’s second letter, what is considered his last will and testament, he discusses the slowness of God in relation to the second coming of Christ. Many arose even in Peter’s time asking why God was so slow when it came to delivering on his promise of an eternal kingdom. They began to mock God assuming that “as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.” Not so, Peter argues, for the slowness of God is in fact our salvation. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance… Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation” (2 Peter 3:9, 14-15).
The long, slow, journey through the forty days prior to Easter morning can also seem an arduous time for those of us who find ourselves in a hurry, racing towards the empty tomb and resurrection life. But these forty days can serve to remind us of God’s great forbearance and patience with us, even as they hearken to us to enter the wild spaces of wilderness waiting with Jesus. These days intentionally slow us and create space—what theologians call liminal space—making room for those of us who rush to wait and rest in the “in-between” and the “not yet” for God to act. Waiting for God in this liminal space gives us more opportunity to be patient—learning to regard, as Peter says, the patience of our Lord to be salvation.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.