Patience Beyond Ourselves

According to Guinness World Records, the world’s longest continuously running laboratory experiment is the pitch drop experiment. Pitch is a sort of tar that was used back in the day to waterproof boats. You may remember it being mentioned in the story of Noah (Gn 6:14). Now if you don’t know anything about pitch, you would be surprised to find that at room temperature it feels solid and can even be shattered by a hammer. Yet, despite it’s appearance and properties, it’s actually fluid. It just moves really… really… really… slow.

Back in 1927 a professor poured some heated pitch into a closed glass funnel and gave the material 3 years to settle. After this time the glass was altered so that the pitch could pour out of the funnel. The 9th drop of pitch fell through that funnel just a few years ago in 2014. That’s a whole lifetime invested into a small part of a project! It’s thought that the experiment could continue on for another hundred years. Now that’s slow—so slow that the project will actually outlive the scientists observing it (and already has).

What kind of slow things are we involved in? What projects do we take part in that will outlive us? Are we constantly trying to accomplish everything here and now and quickly? Or are we willing to invest ourselves in planting small seeds now that will slowly become 300 foot tall redwoods in the next 500-2000 years?

Can we be so patient that we outlive ourselves? Science shows us that we have many problems coming up down the road like global warming, but we often don’t do anything about it because we know we’ll be dead before anything super catastrophic happens. I imagine Christians down the road are going to turn to God and say, “You promised you’d never flood the earth again!” and he’ll respond, “I didn’t. You did.”

“Jesus is going to have come back sooner than he expected,” I often joke with my friends.

“Or maybe the reason he said he didn’t know when he was coming back was because he was waiting to see when we destroyed it all,” they joke back.

We don’t want to stop something down the road from happening when there’s so much more we could do right now. “It’s someone else’s problem,” we say. It’s easy to fall into that mindset. Even King Hezekiah was guilty of it when he was told that his kingdom would be exiled after his reign.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Is 39:5-8)

Peace and security outside of our days requires patience beyond ourselves, because we literally have to think and plan ahead of our own lives. In an episode of the cartoon Futurama, which takes place about a thousand years in the future, a giant ball of trash is going to crash into New New York City and turn it into a crater. It is discovered that this trash ball was launched into space nearly a thousand years ago when the original New York City ran out of room to throw all their trash away. After a few failed attempts to stop this trash meteor from destroying the city, they decide to just send a second ball of garbage towards it to bounce it into the sun.

After having successfully pulled this off, Leela remarks, “Should we really be celebrating? I mean, what if the second garbage ball returns to Earth like the first one did?

“Who cares?” replies Fry. “That won’t be for hundreds of years.”

“Exactly!” exclaims Professor Farnsworth. “It’s none of our concern.”

“That’s the 20th century spirit!” yells Fry.

We laugh, though it definitely hits close to home.

Its hard to have the patience to stop and confront far-off problems today, and those who do will never see the fruit of their work. But that’s a world that’s as slow as pitch and as patient as God. That’s a world we should be a part of.

“The Pitch Drop Experiment.” The University of Queensland, Accessed 22 May 2017.

An excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.

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