For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:37
Many people have declared that the Lord’s timing is always perfect. God is never late. Nor is he early.
It’s a challenge to embrace God’s timing when you’re watching your brother die a slow and agonizing death. I don’t know if the process is agonizing for Darrell. He is non-communicative, non-responsive, and heavily medicated. We don’t see signs of conscious suffering, for which we are grateful. But his uneven, shallow gasping for breath is agonizing to watch. Apparently the fluid retained in Darrell’s swollen legs and feet are hydrating his body and prolonging his life.
How does this delay of death fit into God’s timing? Is God ever late to a funeral? Do bodily fluids take life and death out of God’s hands. In reality, is this merely a matter of nature?
The short answer is that providence, sovereignty and omnipotence imply God’s presence and perfect divine timing. Life and death are matters of nature from a human perspective only. God is above nature. He is supernatural.
But what about the natural, human side of prolonged suffering? What we are experiencing with my brother is not even an exceptional case. Prolonged suffering abounds throughout this fallen world. Much of it is far greater than we are enduring here in South Carolina.
What is God’s timing about such things? Hebrews 10:37 indicates that God’s timing is reliable. It is preceded by verses which issue a call for confident living and perseverance in the face of suffering. It is followed by a call for the righteous to live by faith. This is not a new idea. The writer of Hebrews is citing Habakkuk, who wrestled with the same problem around 600 B.c.
Habakkuk saw evil everywhere and pondered God’s apparent absence and indifference. God’s response shocked him. God told him things were going to get even worse before they got better. Judah would be carried into captivity by the Babylonians.
That’s like bodily fluid delaying the inevitable. Habakkuk explained how the suffering of God’s people would be prolonged. But “revelation” would come (Habakkuk 2:3). God would win in the end.
The writer to the Hebrews took that concept of approaching revelation and applied it personally. The Lord would come to remedy evil and suffering. God himself is the ultimate revelation.
What does all that mean to the reader of Scripture? It means that although the world appears to be falling apart, God is still in control. His timing is still perfect. It means we are to live by faith, not by what we painfully observe in slow motion on a hospice bed.
Based only on our sight, the Lord appears to be delayed, subject to bodily fluid in a dying man’s body. God appears to be absent or even indifferent. Life and death seem arbitrary and mechanical.
Habakkuk says, “Not so. God’s timing is impeccable.” The writer of Hebrews agrees. What appears to be apathetic tarrying to us is divine timing to God. We walk by faith, not by sight. Therefore we will not shrink back in the face of an agonizing loss. Not only will God be on time, he’s already present with mercy and grace. Life and death are still in God’s tender hands, Darrell’s bodily fluids not withstanding.
Three weeks ago a friend in Minnesota was retelling a story about a horrific motorcycle accident he had barely survived 45 years ago. I asked, “Where was God in all this?”
He answered, “God was late, but he eventually showed up.”
No, not really. God was there all the time. And God is present with Darrell here. To borrow a line from another pastor: In the meantime, God is not absent, apathetic or angry. (cf. www.meantimeseries.org)