Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.Ps. 27:14,Proverbs 13:12
“Wait patiently for the Lord”: It is a recurring theme in the psalms, as for example in Psalm 27 quoted above. It reminds me of moral stories, that we tell children to teach them that honesty will eventually be rewarded, although that may take long. But how long? At what point will we accept that perhaps God’s plans are different, and opt for second-best? Will our hearts become sick by the deferred hope, as explained in Proverbs 13:12? How will we find the promised life?
In his magnificent book An officer and a spy, Robert Harris tells the true story of the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus was accused of espionage. An officer finds evidence that he is innocent, but is ordered to keep silent. This officer disobeys, gets into loads of trouble by heroically trying to find out what really happened, and in the end the truth prevails and the real culprit is condemned.
All the while that I was reading this most moving book, I kept asking myself, why? What drives this officer so much that he keeps going against strict orders, gives up all his peace and comfort and friendships, and persistently pursues the dangerous search for the real truth. What makes him do that, for a man he dislikes, and without (it seems) any higher religious motives? Isn’t this a very striking challenge for us Christians: are we as dedicated to the truth as this man?
It occurred to me that quite a few Christians might have told the officer that he should not get so upset. After all, it is not uplifting, nor patient, and we shouldn’t think we are all that important, plus stress is bad for your health and we should learn to ‘let go and let God’. These good-sounding advices bother me enormously, for they will lead us to condone bad situations.
Still, ‘wait patiently for the Lord’ strikes me as an important part of Scripture, and I would like to see how it can help us be courageous in times of great stress, like this officer fighting against the authorities to release the innocent victim and bring truth to light.
Is this story actually an example of “waiting patiently for the Lord”? Perhaps Dreyfus (a Jew) waited patiently until God saved him by means of this officer? Or, perhaps pursuing the truth is a kind of waiting for God. In that case the officer waited (frantically) for God, or truth, and therefore God helped him eventually. The story ends well. Evil has lost, we can see clearly again. Oppressors may have power for a while, but there will always be heroes who will see to it that the lies are eventually be exposed. And we, the normal people, can wait patiently for these events to take their turn, as they always eventually will.
But.. hey! What did I just say? We seem to have lost sight of the Lord! We are now patiently waiting for natural events. There will always be oppressors and heroes and victims. It is in the nature of things that secrets will eventually be exposed. What has God to do with this? These stories repeat themselves over and over again, and I am afraid that most of the time the truth prevails only when the victim is already dead.
Is it then silly to think that faith in God will be rewarded with eventual success? I struggle with this, for it seems to me that anything else is like a second-best solution. Let’s make things more vague, so that we have more chance that our words come true. That is not what I want. On the other hand, haven’t Christians of all times taught that we live in a broken world, with a lot of suffering? Learning how to bear this, together with God, is not second-best, but the primary concern in this age. There is something very profound in the fact that Jesus came to be human and be with us in the very depths of suffering. Not just then, but also now, when we ask him.
When we are victims, it is natural to put all our hope in some saviour to fix things. However, I do not think that God intends us to be so passive. No need to abandon all hope, but in the meantime we can and should be open for God being present in our current misery. It is my impression that such waiting is never long. God is always close and more than ready to help us bear the suffering if we ask him. This will also open our eyes to joys that we did not see before.
By contrast, the hero is obviously not passive. Instead, he is at risk of a burnout. The advice to ‘let go and let God’ is a reaction to this very real danger. I would not advise to stop pursuing the good, but regularly taking a pause to listen is essential. This can be very hard and even feel like the wrong thing to do if we have this sense of urgency driving us. But if we do stop to be still and acknowledge for God that we are but creatures — needing his presence and wider perspective — we will be refreshed and enabled to endure, and continue the good work longer.
This is a totally different type of waiting than I first thought. Not waiting, hoping against hope, for events to change in some future. But, being patient in the current circumstances, we expect God to be with us, and are open to him. This way, he can help us bear the current circumstances, and make us ready for his future. On top of that I believe this could very well enable us to make a positive change in our present time. Not everything can be fixed, but we do make a difference. No need to wait for God to do that. When God lives in us, we can finally stop repeating history, and live the life of his kingdom.