One of our favorite cartoons was, if we recall correctly, published by the New Yorker magazine years ago. It pictured two scruffy prophets on opposite corners of an intersection clogged with pedestrians and traffic. The prophets scowled at each other, as their messages for the world were diametrically opposed. The first prophet held up a sign that read: “Good News: the world is coming to an end!” The second also held up a sign, but with a different message. His read: “Bad news: the world isn’t coming to an end, you’ll have to cope!”
All in all, the cartoon provides a nice little summary of what has become a perennial argument among people of faith. One way or another, we are often told, the world will eventually end. But will it be by a bang or a whimper, now or later? Modern people have said that earthquakes, climate change, AIDs, economic chaos, wars, violent storms and terrorism were proof that the end was near. At regular intervals through history personages no less august than popes, no less informed than scientists (like Isaac Newton, for example), and no less sincere than simple believers have all tried predicting the end of the world. Sometimes homes were sold and possessions given away in anticipation of the end. Whole Christian denominations were begun through shared belief in a fixed end date. But here we are. It appears we’ll have to cope for a while longer. And waiting can be difficult.
We all wait for something, don’t we – whether we wait for a birth, or a wedding, or a new job, or to graduate? Or maybe the wait we are waiting is over something we are less cheerful about. Maybe we wait for a health issue or a financial problem to be sorted out, or a broken relationship to be mended, or a loss to heal, or a loved one’s life to be made whole again, or an answer to be known.
We all wait. And for some of us, the waiting can be very, very hard … almost unbearable. Not all waits are happy ones. So what then? Is productive waiting possible when the waiting we face is no longer just inconvenient or mildly unpleasant? Is it possible to wait well, even through the worst of times?
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are literally hundreds of scripture references to waiting and its significance. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. (Is 40:3) Those that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the earth. (Ps 37:9) Wait on the Lord and he shall strengthen thy heart. (Ps 20:22), and on and on.
Maybe it’s helpful to acknowledge that while we are so often in a hurry – God is not! Maybe when we have to be patient, anticipating some long-awaited outcome, all that waiting serves a purpose. Maybe, as people of faith, all the waiting we do across the course of our lives, for thousands of things great and small, serves as practice in encouraging us to rely upon God and God’s strength when our own seems limited.
None of us can say with much accuracy when the end will come and all our waiting will cease. We can’t pretend to predict the end of the world – or even the end of our own lives. But we can learn to do more than cope. As we wait, we can deepen our trust in the One who is more patient and reliable than we can imagine!