Waiting is a normal human experience: for the kettle to boil, for the holidays, for exam results, for an end to the pandemic… The British are supposed to be good at waiting – we’re famous for queuing. We’re not the only ones: the Russians too have historically been good at waiting (and queuing):
A Soviet citizen goes to a garage hoping to buy a car. The salesperson says: 'No problem. But there's a fifteen-year waiting list'. 'You mean, if I come back fifteen years today, I can have a car?' 'That's right'. 'Morning or afternoon?' 'Does it matter?' 'Yes, I've got the plumber coming in the morning'.
Waiting is a traditional theme of Advent. Paul talks about waiting for Jesus to come again to this world to put everything right; another New Testament writer speaks of “waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which justice will be at home”.
Why do we have to wait? Why doesn’t God deliver justice now? People are suffering, the planet is suffering, his reputation suffers.
God delays delivering justice because he is patient. He too is waiting: waiting for us to acknowledge our part in what’s wrong with the world, our alienation from him which makes us less than we are meant to be and prevents us fulfilling our God-given destiny.
We were created to share with God himself in the government of the universe. That may sound absurdly grand but that’s what the Bible means by saying that we are created in his image. The plan only works if we acknowledge that he is God and work with him rather than against him or apart from him. In the Garden of Eden humanity said No to that plan and we’ve lived with the consequences ever since. (People differ about how you should take that story: as literal historical truth or truth communicated in the form of narrative. What matters is its truth.) Jesus came to get the plan back on track and enable us to be fit for purpose. We have to stop saying No to God and say Yes instead. Jesus and the Bible call that “repentance”. God waits for our repentance.
Repentance is just the beginning. God is also waiting as, little by little, we learn to be ready for the end of the story. The end of the story (which is also the beginning of the real story) is this:
“they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22.5).
God’s purpose is to prepare us for rule, for sharing with him in the shape and direction of the universe itself. We have a lot to learn. This life is our chance to do the learning: to trust him, to listen to him, to wait for him, to learn his way of doing things which is different from ours, to learn to love, to learn patience like his patience, and much else besides.
Dallas Willard was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. Here he is writing about prayer, but what he says applies to our whole life with God:
What are we waiting for? A future which is unimaginably glorious and fulfilling. Meanwhile, we are involved in a lifelong adventure of learning.