Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God makes us patient

It is no secret that the authors of the New Testament had the impression that Christ's second coming was going to take place soon, perhaps even within their lifetimes. Paul says the time is short (1 Cor 7.29). And yet Christ has not returned, so far as any of us can tell, and two thousand years have past, Christians being taught all the while that the time is short. What is going on here?

The deepest, darkest doubt which may appear in the heart of a person is that Christ is never returning, and that this whole Christianity thing is poorly mistaken. But that view has a very difficult time maintaining plausibility when we think of the origins of Christianity. We have the eyewitness reports and testimonies of the disciples and apostles and the first generation of Christians who saw Jesus during his ministry, who saw him after he had resurrected from the dead, and who saw him ascend into heaven. There is no doubt about all this. I think the lesson to learn is a different one.

I have been thinking recently about God's timing and God's patience. The Bible shows again and again, as does personal experience, that God's timing is nothing like our own, and God does not get things accomplished on our schedule. He tells us that the time is short and yet we have been waiting for two thousand years now. What could this mean?

Now I understand the essence of the Christian doctrine of salvation to be theosis: as so many of the Church Fathers would say, God became a human so that humanity can become like God. Our telos as a race is to embody the image and likeness of God, which Christ has (Col 1.15) and which we gain when we are united to him (see Athanasius, De Incarnatione). God does everything for our sake and for our benefit, St. Anthony affirmed (see On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life). This means that even the delays and tarrying must be for the sake of making us like God. But how?

The answer must lie in the transformation of our minds and understanding (cf. Rom 12.2). If God sees two thousand years to be a short amount of time, then we should begin to see it as a short amount of time as well. If God is patient almost ad infinitum with sinners, just as he was patient beyond what is believable to us with the Israelites (2 Kings 17.5ff.), then he must want us to embody the same patience and become like him. The lesson to learn is that we must be patient like God is patient. This is a patience that is willing to forgive a sinner seventy times seven in a single day (Mt 18.21-2).