I have a friend whose faith is chronically shaken because of the delay in Jesus' return. Jeremiah (not the prophet) thinks, like Dr. Albert Schweitzer did, that the New Testament and Christ himself taught the immanent return of the Son of Man:
"Behold, I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:7,12).
"Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
I don't get shook by things like that when I can conceive of various possible satisfactory explanations, even off the top of my head. But that's not my interest in this column.
What interests me today is a completely different question. We tend to look at this timing "problem" as God's problem, something that God is doing wrong. But what if the delay in Christ's return is our problem? Our fault? Exhibit A:
"Let us rejoice and exult, and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7).
If the Bride hasn't yet bothered to clean herself up and make herself ready, and put on Christ in her attitudes and lifestyle, I don't see why the Groom should be in any particular rush to come to the ceremony. Do you?
Of course, I could be overblowing the imagery of Revelation 19. Maybe it doesn't mean the Bride has to do much: God will apply the robes and the makeup and slip on her stiletto heels.
But then again, even if salvation is by grace from start to finish, surely we have something to do with it. Surely we have to cooperate with that grace.
Moreover, we have this verse to contend with:
"Since all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . ." (2 Peter 3:11,12a).
If we can "hasten" the coming of the day of God by our holiness, I presume that we can also delay the coming of the day of God by our unholiness. It wouldn't seem out of the question. It would be suggested by the plain English meaning.
Objections to this notion on the grounds of the sovereignty of God in setting times and dates? I don't think so. God knows all things: He can have foreknown our lackluster behavior from all eternity and have set the date accordingly. Within his sovereignty is room for human responsibility.
To be sure, we know that his "delay" is from one perspective not "delay" at all, not in the sense of slackness. Another description of his "delay" would be "kindness" and "forbearance" and "patience" (Romans 2:4). For the wise, this time lag means salvation. For others:
"Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (v.5).
As if anticipating Jeremiah's concerns 2,000 years earlier, Peter writes:
"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9).
Isn't it a terrible thought, though, that the Church may be actually delaying the second coming of Christ by its spiritual laxity and uncleanness? Makes me want to go out and get serious about walking in his commandments, so that I can glance up from my computer now and then to look for that fist-sized cloud outside my window.
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