In his book Oh the Places you’ll go, Dr. Suess lucidly describes a place we all know:
“The Waiting place … for people just waiting.”
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a place to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting …
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night;
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
Dr. Suess calls it ‘a most useless place.’ The waiting described here is useless, because it stops one living right now in the present. It keeps you stuck in the vicious cycle of ‘when … then.’
‘When … this is all over/I graduate/ I travel/ I meet that person/ I make that money/this pandemic gets under control …’
‘Then … I’ll be happy/thrive/ be fulfilled/be able to help others/enjoy life/won’t want anything else/really live …’
But that tomorrow never comes … life keeps rolling on, and it doesn’t wait for us to catch up.
But that tomorrow never comes; when it arrives it turns out to be another ‘today;’ with its own unique challenges, twists and turns; a day with worries all its own (Matthew 6:34). The world keeps turning, life keeps rolling on, and it doesn’t wait for us to catch up.
Dr Seuss’ picture which illustrates ‘the waiting place’ resembles a subterranean cave. There is no light, and the space is filled with lots of different kinds of creatures and people. Everyone is stuck in their own very dark, very small universe. No one has any perspective beyond their own single-minded desire. They have become fixated and single-minded, and everyone else: acquaintances, friends, neighbours, workmates, colleagues—even family members—have become obstacles that threaten that one goal.
But as we saw in the last installment, there is another kind of waiting described by James, and illustrated in the life of Job (and the other prophets), which is truly fruitful:
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:7-11)
The waiting that James describes enables us to live in the present, with love for other people around us. It doesn’t divide and destroy relationships; it doesn’t produce desperation or bitterness. Instead it is hopeful. It has an assured outcome: the certain return of the Lord Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead.
True Confessions of an Impatient Waiter
2020 has often felt like the waiting place in the Dr Seuss book. Human beings need to have something to look forward to. If I know the weekend is coming; or a long-planned holiday, I can hang in there and push through hard bits. I can say: ‘This is difficult but at least I have x to look forward to.’ But when week days melt into weekends, and holidays or special events are cancelled—when those landmarks and signs of change and progress are removed—we just feel stuck. And that is a very hard and powerless place to be.
When week days melt into weekends, and holidays or special events are cancelled we just feel stuck … a very hard and powerless place to be.
It hits each one of us in different ways. It hit me recently in the form of an email. In my TGCA bio. it states that I am ‘the author of a forthcoming commentary on Job.’ This is true; in fact it has been forth-coming since 2016. Each year I’ve hoped this would be the year, but then it’s delayed for yet another year. The most recent email informed me now not to expect it to appear before 2022. There are reasons for the delay that I do understand, and other reasons that I don’t. Either way, my initial reaction was to feel frustrated, angry, a little bit sad and tired.
It’s not just about the publishing delay, however. It’s bigger and deeper than that. There’s always something I’m waiting for—something trying to make itself my central hope. It may well be a good thing; like wanting a family relationship to improve, or a friend to become a Christian. But the waiting can be frustrating, and at times all-consuming. Then it breaks out. It produces road-rage or impatience or bitter words against the government. Why does waiting bring out such strong feelings in us?
Why does it happen? For believers, it is often because we have lost sight of the one certain event that puts everything else in its rightful place. That event is the return of Jesus; when we will be finally transformed to be like him; when we see him as he is (1John 3:1-3). This is the true end goal and consummation of God’s purpose for his people within the establishment of the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is the true and final horizon that every life and that all human history is moving towards.
For the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards, it is this final meeting with God—‘the beatific vision’—that gives meaning, purpose and shape to our whole lives now lived for God. As Rhys Bezzant [quoting Edwards] puts it:
“We are designed to partake in the delight of God,” for when we see God, this vision “orders the soul according to its human and supernatural purpose,” and indeed makes us more human than we previously were. Edwards argues from the lesser to the greater. “What knowledge the saints have of God in this world, is like the twilight that is before sun-rising; tis’ not the direct light of the sun reflected, and tis’ comparatively a dim light. But hereafter the saints enjoy the perfect day: they shall see God as we immediately behold the sun after it is risen above the horizon, and no cloud or vapour in the heavens to hinder its light.
If the central purposes of our lives are only for this world they are, in the end, destined to be frustrated and to disappoint us.
Death is certain and God’s judgment is even more certain. If the central purposes of our lives are only for this world they are, in the end, destined to be frustrated and to disappoint us. The only future really worth waiting for, is the one that cannot and will not be interrupted or delayed: the day when the Lord Jesus Christ returns and when God will unite all things under his Son (Ephesians 1:10).
The delays, disappointments, interruptions and failures; as well as the joys and triumphs we enjoy, are the raw materials God uses to achieve his great good for us; to redeem us fully in the image of his Son (Romans 8:9-11, 16-17; 28-30). God is the perfect housekeeper; and he wastes nothing. It is not apart from, or despite these things, but in all these things; that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). The late train, the delayed publication, the disappointment in friendship; and even those moments that we welcome now with joy; which carry their own reward, such as the birth of a child, are imbued with even greater meaning, purpose and blessing. Because, our future is inextricably bound up with the future revelation of the glory of God in Christ; glory that he shares with his people (e.g. Romans 8:18-21; Colossians 3:1-4; 1Peter 1:3-9; Revelation 21:1-4)!
Patience, Comfort and Hope
Job endured the silence of God throughout a long period of suffering and uncertainty.
The LORD was always going to break his silence and speak to him, and there was always going to be a ‘happy ending.’ But Job had no idea how or when this end would come. We live now on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and so we have a clearer picture. But the book of James still commends Job and other examples of patient endurance for Christians (James 5:10-11).
From one brother in long-term recovery from impatience, to other brothers and sisters, let’s encourage one another in fruitful waiting for the return of Jesus; to seek first his Kingdom, and to keep praying the prayer that he taught us to pray: Your Kingdom come, and your will be done (Matthew 6:9-13, 25-34). Hear these comfort-filled words from him who loves us.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24-25)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
 Dr Seuss. Oh the Places You’ll Go! (NY: Collins; 1957 (1997)).
 Rhys Bezzant, Edwards the Mentor. (New York: Oxford University Press; 2019), 103.